Thursday, August 09, 2007

Labor's looming razor gang

Labor has foreshadowed multi-million dollar cuts in the public service should it regain office, declaring that “the days of big government are over”.

Addressing the National Press Club yesterday Labor’s Finance spokesman Lindsay Tanner said that public service employment had grown much faster than overall employment since the start of the decade.

Whereas total employment growth had been 15.1 per cent, public service employment excluding Defence, ASIO and the AFP was 25.3 per cent.

“The number of senior public servants has soared by an astonishing 44 percent. The number of ministerial staff has increased by 30 per cent since 1996,” he said.

“Individual agencies seem to get more money whenever they ask for it...

...According to former head of the Budget Division of the Department of Finance, agencies are double-dipping. They’re getting routine annual funding for depreciation, and special new budget allocations for projects like IT upgrades.”

Mr Tanner said that if John Howard had been spending at the same rate as the former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke at the end of the 1980s, government spending would be nearly $17 billion lower.

Even though the Australian economy was growing strongly, the government’s own Budget projections suggested that by 2009-10 government spending would be 0.5 per cent of GDP higher than in 2005-06.

“The party of small government is not the party of small government any more. The Financial Review is now calling John Howard the father of big government in Canberra,” the Shadow Minister said.

Mr Tanner announced that under a Labor government Ministers’ staffs will be cut by 30 percent to return to 1996 levels, departmental liaison officers “who act as de facto electorate support staff” will be cut and the Government Communications Unit will be abolished. MPs printing allowances will be cut from $150,000 to $100,000.

He said the package of savings was costed at $209 million over four years would come on top of previously announced savings of $3 billion.

Among the agencies to be cut would be the National Capital Authority, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Digital Australia, and Invest Australia.
“Instead of getting a new handout every time they ask, agencies will be expected to do more with existing resources”.

Describing the Minister for Finance as “Santa” rather than Senator Minchin Mr Tanner said it was extraordinary that governments $10 billion dollar water plan and the $45 million takeover Tasmania’s Mersey Hospital were developed without input from either the Department of Finance of the Treasury.

“The water plan wasn’t considered by Cabinet. A $350,000 contribution to the building of a jewel encrusted horse-drawn carriage as a private gift to the Queen was. Spending on the carriage was approved by Cabinet without anyone actually checking the project was genuine. What kind of government runs the nation’s finances like this?” he asked.

The Treasurer Peter Costello had been correct to describe Mr Howard as a big spender. The mining boom had “drowned the government in revenue” and spending discipline had collapsed.