A life in Public Service: Julia Gillard's speech to the NLC, 28 August 2012
29 August 2012, 8:48am
Julia Gillard addressing the conference
To the hundreds of workplace leaders who've gathered here tonight from around the country and to the work you're doing to grow in numbers and strength and ideas. Yours is the model of a modern labour union.
Committed to the oldest union principles. Sharing, sticking together, the strong in the workplace protecting the weak. Organising always, working with the employer when you can, fighting when you must. And committed to the future of unionism too. To responsible leadership which sees the future, understands where change is necessary, ensures change is delivered for the many, not the few.
When people ask how should modern unions drive change in their members’ interests I say: look at the way the CPSU engages its members and delivers for them.
And you do it in two distinct and vital ways. Your contribution to the cause of labour through the movement and the Party is enormous. Your contribution to the cause of Australia, in the Australian Public Service and your other workplaces, is indispensable.
In the same way, here addressing you all, I do wear two hats. When I get along to dinner with the “tee dubs” or the “miscos” I can safely tell them to stand up for themselves and not to go easy on their boss. Here, I’m not quite so gung ho! But for all that, I know that here, I’m among friends: because of the values we share.
The values I have always seen in the CPSU and your predecessors, in my life’s work in the labour movement – the values I recognise in all of you here tonight – the same values I see in the public servants I work with and rely on every day. A bright passion and a deep enthusiasm for the life of public service.
That enthusiasm and passion in you is the same fire that drives me on, that drives everyone in my Government on, every day in office, to build a strong economy, to make a fair society. What you do matters to Australia and to every Australian.
Ours is a remarkable nation. That didn’t happen by accident. Australians worked for it, you worked for it, our public sector worked for it. Of course some of our advantages are natural – natural wealth and location. But I see our greatest advantages as human ones. In world terms, we’re a top ten country on many measures. Openness to international ideas, public institutions that operate free from corruption, the list goes on.
And we’re a top two country on measures that are most important to us. Like political stability, social mobility, human development. We’ve worked for those things and we’ve done it our way. We don’t work exactly as others do. We’ve always seen the public good, the public interest, the public sector, in our own distinctively progressive and Australian way.
Just one example: the way we regulate banks, very different than the US for instance. It works, we’ve got four of the ten ‘AA minus’ rated banks in the world here. And it works because of you. Those banks are regulated by public servants.
The same is true of so many areas where our nation has achieved good things. No developed country emerged from the global financial crisis stronger. The political decision to take strong and immediate action was the vital beginning. But make no mistake, the best thing we did then was to get the best advice. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz called our stimulus packages "One of the most impressive economic policies I've seen.".
But he went on: :Not only was it the right amount, it was extraordinarily well structured, with careful attention to what would stimulate the economy in the shorter run, the medium term and the long term... When I look around the world, it was, I think, probably the best-designed stimulus program in the world and you should be happy that in fact it worked in exactly the way it was designed to work."
That was a Nobel Prize winner talking – and he was talking about you. That stimulus was designed and implemented by public servants.
And the same is true across so much of Australian life. Who got the relief payments to the flood victims? A public servant. Who makes sure older Australians are cared for and safe in aged care homes? A public servant. Who keeps our planes flying and our airports safe? A public servant. Who helped Australians caught up in the earthquakes in New Zealand or Japan – who works to alleviate the suffering of the world’s poorest in the Pacific or Afghanistan? A public servant. For that matter, who shows a group of school children a Sidney Nolan painting of Ned Kelly? That person is a public servant too.
And to put it mildly – none of those people is in it for the money. I know you make sacrifices, you move your families between cities, your forego higher private sector salaries. And perhaps the most demanding sacrifice of all – all the time you spend at work and away from those you love. You do it all for a reason. For that passion, for that enthusiasm, that we share.
So I really do want to salute you for your life in public service. And like anything that’s important, the stakes are high, and sometimes the decisions are hard. That’s true of the decisions we make together, as public servants and ministers, true of the advice you give us, true of the work you do to implement our plans.
That work is sometimes hard but we get through it together. That’s also true of the areas where we negotiate as employer and employees. Big decisions we work through, changing our workplace, improving how government works, and of course, balancing budgets.
You’ll have discussed a lot of those issues while you’re here and I’m sure you’ve been frank.
And it’s important that I say clearly, I believe the latest round of APS bargaining showed us that we need a clearer bargaining framework and that before the next round more pre-bargaining work should be done. And that I say, we will work with you to develop a more flexible and fact-based approach to lifting public sector productivity, through the Public Service Commission and the Strategic Centre for Leadership, Learning and Development. And to achieve increased commonality of terms and conditions for APS employees.
I know you’ll keep pressing us in areas where we don’t agree and where you’re making a case for change. Whether that’s how the efficiency dividend works or how agencies fund pay rises or the balance between agency and central bargaining. We’ll keep talking about all of it and I know you’ll keep working for your members’ interests.
With all that understood, I’m proud that the Australian Government is a good and fair employer of around 170 000 Australians.
As a Labor Prime Minister, fairness at work is central to my task. What I see as I look around Australia today, is that this is at risk. Profoundly at risk. The decisions made by new State Liberal Governments in the past eighteen months have shown that dramatically.
First, remember what State Liberals say before their elections.
Barry O’Farrell: “we will need more public servants, not less”.
Ted Baillieu: “absolutely no reduction in public servants”.
Campbell Newman: “no forced redundancies”.
Then, look at what they do after elections.
In NSW the Liberal Premier has cut.
Almost 250 police.
Funding to 272 special needs schools.
More than 400 hospital beds.
100 child protection workers.
In Victoria the Liberal Premier has cut.
$481 million from the education budget.
$300 million from TAFE.
$25 million from community health services.
In Queensland the Liberal National Premier has cut.
$400 million from roads.
30 beds from the Prince Charles Hospital in Chermside.
$80 million from Metro North Health District.
$22.8 million from the education budget.
$2.5 million from services to protect vulnerable children.
He’s even dismantled BreastScreen Queensland, a cut so brutal I honestly didn’t believe it when I first read the reports.
The bottom line?
10,000 public sector jobs in NSW gone.
25,000 public sector jobs in Queensland – gone.
That’s how the Liberals roll.
Now, I would come here to warn you that Tony Abbott will do to the APS what the State Liberals are doing to their public services. Because first term conservative governments are like that. But amazingly, it’s actually worse than that. Last week the Coalition announced plans to gift core Federal responsibilities to the Liberal States. They won’t just copy the Premiers – they’ll actually hand you over to the Premiers.
In their own words, “to cut thousands of federal public servants from the payroll”.
Again, take their word for it, from Shadow Minister Robb: these plans are not “incremental” – they are “huge” – they are “more radical” than what happened when the Howard Government was elected in 1996.
Now – think about those brutal cuts delivered by State Liberal Governments which promised “more public servants, not less”. And think about what they’re doing to the industrial conditions of the public servants who remain.
What is going to happen if a Federal Liberal Government is elected which in Opposition already boasts of huge, radical cuts and from Opposition already promises thousands of public servants will go?
The difference could not be more plain. Labor stands for jobs, the Liberals stand for cuts. And in the words of your own campaign – cuts hurt.
I am just astonished by the total disrespect of conservatives for the public service, for expert advice. Andrew Robb, who wants to be Finance Minister, tells the Australian Financial Review that much of the bureaucracy does no more than "leave a paper trail, to cover backsides". That the problem in the public service is “bad apples”.
Campbell Newman, the Queensland Premier, is asked in Parliament why he’s cutting public service jobs and says that his job is to “get the poopa scoopa out every day of the week”.
And that’s all of a piece with a populist politics that rejects expertise and independent advice, whether it’s from scientists, economists, lawyers, engineers, architects, pretty much anyone they don’t agree with.
The public service doesn’t deserve that. Just like you don’t deserve another 1996. You don’t deserve it – the country can’t afford it.
My vision in Government, my Labor vision, is very different. And the reality of how we’ve governed and worked with you is very different. The Australian Government and the Australian Public Service has worked together. And we’ve worked with the whole public sector.
Many of you here tonight, Telstra, Australia Post, Medibank, the ABC, and of course the two Territory government services. You’ve all served the Australian public. To deliver better services, to engage better with citizens, to make government simpler and more efficient, to build your skills. And the Government has relied enormously on your advice and expertise to meet the big challenges to our nation’s wellbeing.
To restore balance to Australian workplaces. To grow jobs and to build a strong economy. To set the nation on the path to a clean energy future. To get equal pay for caring workers. To build hard infrastructure for the future, like the NBN. To achieve hard policy reform for the future, like the MRRT.
And we’ll only need you more for the work ahead. In our plans for school improvement. In our plans to care for our ageing generations. In our plans for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
There’s much more to do. I look forward to doing them together.