Government departments filleted as budget looms

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Government departments filleted as budget looms

Updated April 04, 2012 11:08:42

A series of federal departments, including one that drives climate change reform and another demanded as part of the deal to form minority government, are preparing to axe jobs ahead of a budget Wayne Swan says will be his toughest yet.

The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport (DRALGAS) is today expected to announce it will downsize, just a day after the Climate Change Department detailed plans to slash a third of its workforce.

Independent MPs who hold the balance of power in the House of Representatives wanted the regional department set up as part of their deal to hand Labor minority government.

The department has indicated all regional offices will remain open, but Opposition Regional Development spokesman Barnaby Joyce says he is worried too many of the department’s staff are working in Canberra, and that the government is “overweighted with top-end bureaucrats”.

But key independent MP Tony Windsor says the announcement does not change the deal he and Rob Oakeshott struck with the Government, saying it was “never about the specifics of who was going to be in which town”.

The ABC has been shown an internal financial statement from February that shows the department was bracing for a blowout of more than $2.2 million, but the department argues that was a forecasting document and the budget will be balanced.

But the ABC understands while the workforce will be downsized, that is due to a number of key programs winding up.

Mr Swan says services will not be affected by the cuts.

“The Government is absolutely determined to ensure that we deliver our services from the frontline with adequate resources,” the Federal Treasurer said.

“But over time, we have to take decisions to make sure we do this in the most efficient way and that’s what the Commonwealth is doing.”

Climate change jobs cut

The Climate Change Department issued a memo yesterday detailing its plan to shed 30 per cent of its staff over the coming year through voluntary redundancies, closing programs and natural attrition.

The department has already issued a staff notice calling for expressions of interest in those voluntary redundancies.

The department says it is facing a tight budget, and needs to downsize from 900 employees to about 600.

The Public Sector Union says the cuts raise major concerns about the Government’s ability to deliver services and tackle climate change, and have shocked workers.

“Public service agencies simply have nothing left to cut other than jobs and frontline services,” said Nadine Flood, the union’s national secretary.

“What we are seeing is those cuts starting to occur and I think they raise serious concerns for the community about what government will be delivering to them.”

At the end of last week the Veterans Affairs Department announced 90 jobs would go, and Ms Flood says the squeeze is also on at Medicare and Centrelink, affecting staff safety.

“We are hearing increased reports of client aggression and violence in Centrelink offices and I think that raises serious concerns where we would expect any Australian can walk into a Centrelink office and safely access government services,” Ms Flood said.

“I think there’s a real question if there are further cuts in the May budget whether that will be the case.”

‘Same overall’

Federal Labor frontbencher and ACT Senator Kate Lundy is playing down the cuts saying overall staff numbers will remain the same.

She says it is an appropriate way to manage staff as programs wind up and new ones begin.

“Overall, those numbers won’t reduce across the public sector so there is still the stability people are looking for across both the public and private sectors in the ACT and in the region,” she said.

“That is a very important principle that the Opposition choose not to match.”

But ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries says he doubts the numbers will remain the same.

He says once the cuts are tallied, the figure could be as high as 12,000 job losses.

“I don’t think there is a plan, I think the Government is flying by the seat of its pants, it is trying to put together – with increasing amounts of panic – a plan to deliver a surplus next financial year,” he said.

“They are desperately scrabbling for savings across the public service and it doesn’t matter where the jobs are coming from that are going to go, and I very much doubt the figures will be stable by the end of the financial year.”

The ACT Opposition has slammed the cuts, saying they will hit Canberra’s business confidence and budget bottom line.

Leader Zed Seselja says he also disagrees with job cut plans put forward by his federal Liberal counterparts.

“I’m saying to federal Labor, and I say the same thing to the federal Liberal Party, that the jobs of Canberrans are valuable, that those people have families, they have bills to pay as well and I think that needs to be taken into account when this cost cutting is taking place,” he said.

Topics:budget, federal-government, regional, australia, act, canberra-2600

First posted April 04, 2012 06:37:28

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