Libs Hate Public Services - It's in their DNA

  • 22 March 2013


In 1990-91 a group of employer organisations commissioned the Tasman Institute/ Institute of Public Affairs to develop a blueprint for reforming the Victorian economy.

The Tasman had been founded by Michael Porter

Those recommendations fundamentally overturned accepted orthodoxies of economic management.

Those recommendations attacked the role of the State as a supplier of goods and services.

Those recommendations undermined the role of the State as an important contributor to the skills development and employment opportunities of Victorians.

The Blueprint was called Project Victoria.

Throughout 1991-92 aspects of this agenda were floated in opinion pieces in the media by one of the architects Des Moore.

These articles generated public disclaimers from the then opposition leader Jeff Kennett.

So strong were those disclaimers of any such radical agenda Kennett and his shadow Cabinet went on the attack, citing poor journalism or no research, and publicly committing to observe traditional consultative mechanisms when and if any change was considered.

Kennett wrote in response to a letter from my predecessor Mr Jim Young dated 7th September 1992 stating, and I quote:

“The Coalition has no plans for immediate change or abolition of the PSB or the (PS) Act itself.  Indeed, were we to contemplate change, it would occur only after discussion with those directly affected, i.e. your members.  We would expect to talk with your association on matters of Government policy which affect your membership.

You can assume from my response that should the Coalition be given the responsibility of Government after 3 October, all of the issues your raise in points 1-7 would be discussed were we to contemplate change at some future time.”

The union published this letter to all 28,000 of our Victorian members pre-election.

On the 3rd October the ALP was swept out of office on the mantra of the “Guilty Party”.  

The Coalition playing up all the scandals, economic woes besetting Victoria and the ALP Government that had run the State since the early 1980’s.

Yet no one expected what was to come.

Government claimed it had to “deal with”:

•    Budget Black hole
•    Burgeoning Budget Deficits
•    Bloated P.S.
•    Unfunded Liabilities e.g. Super, LSL
•    Under resourced programs
•    Problems in Health and Education
•    Resourcing Regional economies
•    Modern and Accountable Government and Parliamentary processes.

A mini Budget was brought down scarcely 4 weeks from taking office by then Treasurer Alan Stockdale.

The mini budget was followed by an avalanche of radical legislative reform that was, in some parts, based on Project Victoria’s Blueprint.

A blueprint which they had so determinedly distinguished themselves from.

A quick summary of that tumultuous summer will assist in framing the analysis of the public commitments being made by the current federal opposition.

•    In 1992/93 on IR:

    o    Abolished PS Act
    o    Abolished PSB
    o    Abolished Annual Leave Loading
    o    Abolished 2 public Holidays Easter Tuesday and Show and removed substitution for public holidays that fell on the weekend.
    o    Abolished Industrial Relations Act
    o    Abolished IRC of Victoria
    o    Ended Compulsory Arbitration
    o    Ended payroll deductions
    o    Applied a public comment gag on PS, Public sector & the community sector in receipt of Government money
    o    Introduced individual contracts, firstly by deeming everyone to be on one and secondly by only offering appointment, secondment, promotion, transfer etc. if one agreed to sign a non-negotiable contract.
    o    Closed our Defined Benefits Super Scheme

•    Workers’ compensation:

    o    Abolished VARC
    o    Abolished Common Law
    o    Sacked 12 ACT judges (status of County Court judges)

•    Law reform:

    o    Abolished Law Reform Commission

•    Education:

    o    Compulsorily closed 57 schools

•    Tax:

    o    Household levy: $100
    o    Increased tobacco excise
    o    Increased registration fees

•    Jobs:

    o    15,00 – 20,000 jobs from VPS

    o    More jobs went in

            Teaching/ Education
            Health
            Environmental management

            Public Transport*

            Public Utilities*

        *Primarily as a result of contracting out and privatisation

And on it went.

It had spent it’s last three (3) years in Opposition, using its majority in our Legislative Council to block all budget revenue measures.

It had contributed to the economic downturn and budget situation then used, as the Government, the economic situation facing Victoria as justification for its radical changes.

It commissioned an “Independent Commission of Audit” to oversee what other structural changes were needed to get Victoria “On the Move Again.”

This audit was Chaired by Bob Officer – who would later be used by John Howard to undertake a similar review of the causes of the so called Beasley Black Hole.

Howard used Bob Officer to recommend radical changes to the structure and role of the Commonwealth as a regulator, employer & provider of goods and services.

This model was used throughout the 1990s by the various state governments, Court (WA) , Brown (SA) , Groom (Tas) to justify their wholesale attack on IR and PS employment in those states, as did others to differing degrees.


Let me now turn to the current crop of state governments and let’s look at their rhetoric, in opposition and their practise once in control of the levers of power.


The Barnett Government’s unexpected win in 2009 saw them commission an Economic Audit Committee to review and recommend change for how the state operates.

The Economic Audit report, along with the Amendola IR recommendations, Amendola was a Vic lawyer from the Kennett days, and the Report on Strategic Directions for Public Sector Workforce 2009 -2014 made wholesale recommendations about the structure of the WA economy, its provision of public services and its relationship with Business and Community Groups in the delivery of services.

It states as the Barnett Government’s vision for WA:

“The public Sector will increasingly act as a facilitator of services, rather than a direct provider with all areas of service delivery opened to competition. Citizens in need of services will exercise control over the range of services they access and the means they are delivered.”

The report of the Committee along with the Workforce Plan for PS and the Amendola recommendations uses language like “managers need... the freedom to manage in flexible and responsive ways to meet the needs of citizens.”

                   Note: nothing about PS rights

These recommendations are underpinning the introduction of contestability in price for service delivery.  

Prisons and youth justice facilities, forestry and housing are just the first of many being now targeted for privatisation using these principles.

Barnett adopted the framework of “Collaboration for Community” and in its base, unadorned meaning, who would oppose “Collaboration for Community”?

The WA IR/ Amendola changes talk about

•    decentralised service model
•    Identification of efficiency and productivity opportunities
•    Streamlining discipline
•    Removing unnecessary prescription from those instruments that regulate the recruitment, management, performance management and discipline of the PS employees

Stating “...significant benefits and efficiencies were gained from exposing the delivery of WA public services to competition.”

It also notes the “trend worldwide of governments exposing their public service delivery to competitive sourcing to drive value for money outcomes.  

The introduction of competition also serves as a catalyst for innovative and cost effective delivery, whether by existing or new service providers.” p42


The South Australian Government had also set up a Sustainable Budget Commission which also focussed on SA’s economic woes and how changes to PS could assist businesses.

Its second report recommended amongst other things “aligning public sector practise with current private sector practices..” p13

Significant disputation regarding this principle focussed on the SA Government’s unilateral removal, as a budget measure, of a number of terms and conditions, including calculation of LSL.

After a change of leader (Rann for Weatherill) many of these attacks have been reversed.

However like W.A. the move for redundancies underpins the budget management strategy.

N.S.W. :

In NSW the O’Farrell Government commissioned an Audit, under the leadership of Kerry Schott, and devoted a full report on Public Sector Management, brought down in 2012 (for this audience you should know that Peter Shergold is on the Advisory Board to the CEO of the Commission of Audit as is David Gonski).

The Expenditure and Management audit had as one of its terms of reference:

“Examining public sector management and service delivery issues, including procurement, corporate services and asset management and identify potential improvements to productivity, service quality, and public value across the public sector.”

It notes that there is fragmentation of both services and back office systems and a lack of coordination between and across agencies and recommending program ‘clusters’ (with devolved IR capacity) to deliver Inter Departmental Services.

Extensive analysis is provided on how certain multinational companies operate and utilising some of these principles to underpin PS reform.

It makes a significant recommendation that

“Treasury carefully analyse various capital expenditure scenarios in the general government and non-commercial Public Trading Enterprise (PTE) sector and analyse the level of ongoing operating surpluses required each year to meet the borrowing costs, principal repayment and interest of both general government and non-commercial PTE capital expenditures on an ongoing basis.”

It cites approvingly, the second Victorian Audit (under Ted Baillieu’s Premiership – headed by Michael Vertigan former Secretary of DFT in Victoria under Kennett’s Treasurer Stockdale) noting Governments shouldn’t borrow to build needed infrastructure but should “save” for it by reducing the demands on the recurrent budget. (aka: cut staff)

Setting up a false tension between building things or employing people to deliver services.

It has become a silly competition.

The Vertigan Report, like the Costello Report in Queensland has not been made publicly available but has been used like all the others to oversee the loss of public service jobs in the thousands.

NSW – 15,000;
VIC – 4,500;  Despite a public commitment on the eve of the election that not one public service job was under threat. Similar to the public commitment made by the Northern Territory Opposition prior to their election.
Qld – 15,000;
WA – 700 (pre-election);
SA – 4,000;
Tas – 2,300;

Assets and functions are being privatised and for Victoria as a justification for a little referenced document (tabled 21/12/12) called ‘Securing Victoria’s Economy’, more jobs are slated to go, contracting out recommended, and government ‘deregulating’ the business of business by reducing red tape.

All this leads me to Tony Abbot’s address to VECCI on Friday 9th March in which he announced that the economy will be made stronger to assist the Coalition’ agenda for building a better Australia.

Abbott announced:

“...a further commitment to reduce cost and complexity of government through the swift establishment of a Commission of Audit that will examine the detail of what the Commonwealth Government does – and whether it could be done better and more cost – efficiently.”

He noted in that speech that the last time such an undertaking was initiated in the Commonwealth was by Bob Officer in 1996 at the commissioning of John Howard.

He stated that “as the Howard Government demonstrated, prudent fiscal management is in the Coalition’s DNA” and he went on to commit that it would be required to report within four months of being established.

Assuming this Audit will already have its riding instructions pre-election, as Kennett’s did in 1992, then 2014 will be a challenge for all of us working in or for the Commonwealth.

Cutting public services is in the Liberal DNA.

This point has been underpinned by recent articles in which the IPA are calling on the future Abbott Government to sack 23,500.

Further, the rhetoric tries to belittle and degrade the work of our members in the sector by stating as ‘fact” that the PS is neither productive nor efficient.

Yet they do not acknowledge that there is not a measurement designed anywhere that measures the productivity of the type of longitudinal work that is undertaken by the Public Sector.

CPSU/SPSF has called for the establishment of a working group under the auspices of the FWC of all tires of Government (as an employer) and public sector unions and labour economists to develop such a measurement.

Rather than continue to have the application of the use of a productivity dividend or an efficiency measurement which is to all intents and purpose a blunt cost cutting measure.

Like their state counterparts and in many cases overseas, Abbot will couch the real intent of any such attack on PS jobs or industrial relations changes as delivering:

    “Better Services’ [Vic]

    “Better Admin and support services” [NZ]
   “4 Pillars” of good governance [Qld}

    “Better Services and Value” [NSW]

    By     “Putting the Public First” [W.A.]

Or being about “Big Society” as you have discussed earlier today.

The lessons of twenty years in my job as Victorian Secretary and now the Federal Secretary for all State Government workers has taught me that if a politician says “have they got a plan for us...” then we as public service union officials should show them for what they are:

advocates for Private Sector profiteers who put profit before people and quality services.

Let’s call them on the language,

Let’s call them on the lies,

Let’s call them for the disdain they show the democratic processes.

Let’s stand up for our services and our jobs

Let’s  make our community a Civil Society.

          Thank you.