Service charge

The promise to cut the civil service threatens the balance of the Senate

It only applies to administrative expenses, and agencies such as NDIS, ABC and those with fewer than 200 employees are exempt.

The belated election economy offsets the government’s extra election promises but was immediately attacked by public sector unions, the ALP and Senate candidate Mr Pocock when it would mean the loss of more than 5,500 jobs.

That would bring a similar increase from 5,000 to 174,000 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Pocock said he would oppose the ‘ill-conceived’ plan.

“APS cannot do its job for Australians if it is operating with a reduced crew. Now is the time to invest in APS, not snatch money,” he said.

“This is a short-sighted approach that will do more harm than good and lead to greater long-term inefficiencies.”

Mr Pocock is in a close battle with Senator Seselja, the international development minister, and Labor finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher for the two Senate seats in Canberra.

Local polls have shown a rapid rise in support for Mr Pocock, who is well known in the nation’s capital after playing for local Brumbies rugby team. It is backed by the climate advocacy group Climate 200.

Balance of power

“With nearly 40% of the civil service based in the ACT, politics is kryptonite for Zed and dynamite for David,” said Senate expert and director of the Australia Institute, Ben Oquist.

“It is a key seat when it comes to determining the balance of power in the Senate, because it would remove one from the Liberal side, and then in a finely tuned balance, each [Senate] the seat will count.

The government had to rely on minority parties to get its legislation through the Senate.

Senator Seselja said the Labor Party’s proposal to save $3 billion would be worse for Canberra.

“Labour will cut $3 billion from APS contractors. These are real jobs and real people, around 5,000 in Canberra,” said Senator Seselja.

“They will be replaced by just $500 million in jobs, probably in departments outside of Canberra.”

The main public sector union, the CPSU, has long argued that the ongoing annual efficiency dividend has significantly reduced the capacity of the civil service.

“Snatching billions of dollars from the public sector will have a devastating impact on jobs and services, and further reduce the ability of the APS to support Australians,” said CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnolly.

“Let’s be clear about what these public sector cuts mean – it means people are waiting longer on the phone for Centrelink, veterans are waiting longer for applications to be processed and backlogs will continue to grow.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison scoffed at claims the cuts would hurt services.

“If our senior civil servants – you know, and they’re well paid – if they don’t find $2.7 billion out of a budget of $327.3 [billion] well, I have a lot more faith in them that they can pull it off.

Departmental operating expenditures have declined over the past 15 years, from approximately 8.5% of government expenditures to 6% for the next fiscal year. Before the latest efficiency cut, spending was again expected to fall to 5% of all government spending by 2025-26.