Tuesday, November 06, 2007

So, you've been feeling fairly comfortable as a public servant...

Look out. Rudd Labor is planning a Razor Gang “with a view to ripping into the existing outlays base of the current government”.

The Labor leader Kevin Rudd has declared war on what he says is “bloating” in the Commonwealth Public Service committing an incoming Labor government a razor gang to cut back fat.

Declaring that “previous Finance Ministers in previous Labor governments have been pretty good at applying the axe” Mr Rudd said yesterday that one of the first things he would do on taking office late in November would be to set up a razor gang.

“I’m serious about that. If you’re going to produce budget surpluses, then part of that means having absolute control on outlays and the last time this Government applied anything like razor gang disciplines was back in 1996 and 1997. That is a long time ago,” he told reporters on the campaign trail in Lismore.

“The razor gang would be set up “with a view to ripping into the existing outlays base of the current government”...

He expected the full support and engagement of the Department of Finance.

“Even from opposition Lindsay Tanner the Shadow Finance Minister has been able to put forward $3 billion plus worth of savings. It shows how much there is to be extracted,” he said.

Asked what exactly the term razor gang meant he replied: “A razor gang is precisely what it says. You look at the totality of Government outlays and see the extent to which fat can be cut in administration and actually delivered to frontline services instead – people who are doing the job.”

“We have had too much bloating of administration in the federal bureaucracy and it is time that some of those resources were actually put into frontline services.”

Labor has committed itself to ensuring that its election campaign spending promises (but not its tax promises) are fully funded by spending cuts to be announced before polling day.

So far Labor has run up about $3 billion in spending commitments not counting its $4 billion pensions and carers policy almost identical to the Coalition’s, which has already been already included in budget estimates.

Labor’s finance spokesman Lindsay Tanner is expected to announce spending cuts to offset those promises in two weeks time, a few days before the close of the campaign.

Among the agencies he has already nominated for spending cuts are the National Capital Authority, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Digital Australia, and Invest Australia.

Kevin Rudd’s commitment to st up a “proper institutionalised” razor gang on obtaining office indicates a desire to cut more deeply.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review last month Mr Tanner gave an insight into the scope of the review asking rhetorically “What have we got a Department of Communications for?”

In an address to the National Press Club in August he said that public service employment had grown far faster than overall employment since the turn of the decade. Australia’s total employment had climbed 15 per cent; public service employment excluding defence, ASIO and the police had soared 25 per cent.

“The number of senior public servants has soared by an astonishing 44 percent,” 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 are getting routine annual funding for depreciation and special new budget allocations for projects like IT upgrades.”

Describing the Minister for Finance as “Santa” rather than “Senator” Minchin he said that in an unguarded moment the Treasurer Peter Costello had blown the whistle on John Howard’s big-spending habits. “I challenge him to open the books. Government revenue is soaring because of the mining boom."

"Where’s it all going?”