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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Labor will dexter the public service

Lindsay Tanner will not take a meat axe to the public service. He’ll dexter it.

Although the techniques are very different, the results are the same. Tanner will destroy public service jobs, programs and lives.

In Long-term sustainable growth, a speech Tanner gave to the National Press Club on 11 March, the Minister for Finance said:

The Rudd Government inherited an inefficient, wasteful and disorganised public sector.

This will come as something of a surprise to the many diligent, hard working public servants who day in day out slave for this or that uncaring Government.

Just to make sure he got his message across, in response to one question he said in relation to the Public Service that ‘…over the past five or six years of the Howard Government, enormous fat crept in.’  He sees the last four Federal Budget as having provided ‘…virtually no savings.’ 

In other words, after 20 years of the efficiency dividend and ever increasing demands on public servants the Government is going to cut the ‘fat’. Talk to any public servant and they will ask “what fat?”

Tanner goes on to say that ‘from 2001 to 2007, public sector employment grew from 212,000 to 247,00, far outstripping private sector employment growth.’

A reply might be that the growth reflected increased Government activity, activity the then Labor Opposition supported. For example the 247,ooo presumably includes increased defence staff, people needed to address Labor’s commitment to 3 percent real growth for warmongering.

The Minister’s talk about inefficiency and the reference to numbers is significant. Clearly Tanner wants to cut the public service. 247,000 is too many staff for him.

That’s why in his speech Tanner emphasises the Rudd Labor Government’s commitment to productivity. For workers productivity often means doing more with less – more work, less jobs.

More work, less jobs is  precisely what the Minister has in mind for the public service.

He praises last year’s ‘efficiency’ dividend which saw Government departments forced to cut their budgets by 3.25 percent across the board. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) estimates the dividend last year destroyed  3000 jobs (although I suspect this is an underestimate.)

Tanner mentioned some minor savings he is looking into, like videoconferencing and travel procurement. 

The media seem to have picked up on frequent flyer points, but the savings here will be minor because many agencies actually negotiate lower prices with airlines in exchange for scrapping the points program when employees travel on business. 

These savings the Minister mentions are a glimpse into the future. Although minor they hide a deeper reality.

Here in Tanner’s words is what is driving Rudd Labor:

In the midst of the most savage global downturn in decades, we don’t need less reform, we need more. We can carry waste and inefficiency in government in good times if we choose to.We simply can’t afford it when things are tough… Sustained recovery … needs improvements in efficiency and productivity…[I]t’s why we are intensifying the search for efficiency improvements within government.

De-coded, this means work harder and harder whoever is left. More work, less jobs.

There will be some programs that Rudd Labor axes. While significant, I think the main game will be the efficiency dividend and public servants’ wages.

This means that instead of taking a meat axe to public service jobs, Tanner will slowly fillet the victims à la Dexter.

Through the efficiency dividend agency heads will do the Government’s job-cutting dirty work and, the Government hopes, get the blame.

That is the tactic that has worked so well in the Tax Office. The efficiency dividend has forced tax management to develop plans to cut up to the equivalent of 3000 full time staff from just one area of the Office over the next few years.

Bob Hawke introduced the efficiency dividend as a ‘temporary’ measure in 1988. Howard kept it, at 1.25 per cent, and Rudd last year ‘temporarily’ increased that to 3.25 per cent.

Tanner must be tempted to keep the dividend at or around this same high level for the next few years. So instead of getting rid of 25,000 public servants as Howard did when he was elected in 1996, Rudd and Tanner will achieve that gaol through the efficiency dividend over a few years. Death by a thousand scalpel cuts.

Rudd recently urged employers not to sack works.  Doesn’t my analysis contradict that?  Not really.

First Rudd’s comments were political, aimed at giving the impression he actually cares about unemployment.  Secondly they are a smokescreen for the new role the social democrats have given themselves.

Economic crisis provides an opportunity for cleaning out the Aegean stables of capitalism.  As I have mentioned (perhaps ad nauseum) this creative destruction is destructive, and not creative – destructive of jobs and lives and capital and maybe, in the very long term, creating the conditions for the whole stupid boom slump crisis process to begin anew.

An important part of this process is stronger capital taking over weaker capital for rock bottom prices.  That is happening around the world and in Australia. Rudd is happy to encourage this, even if it destroys jobs. 

Why? Because social democracy, like conservatism, has at its heart defence of the profit system. Not jobs, not living standards, not lives. Profit.

Rudd’s social democracy positions the Labor Government as the overseer of this process of creative destruction.  Rather than a full blown approach of letting the market prune capitalism to its roots, (and perhaps killing it), Rudd wants to guide the gardener’s hand and add a little fertiliser.

Workers are both a cost of production and a consumer of goods and services.  So Rudd’s aim is to stimulate demand (through inadequate packages) at the same time as leading an attack on the costs of labour. 

The stimulus package is the social democratic trade off between the two aspects of labour as cost and consumer.  Cut wages, conditions and if need be jobs and have increased demand at the same time is the forlorn hope of the HowRuddistas.

Rudd Labor will also attack public servants’ wages and conditions. 

The Rudd Government believes that one person’s wage increase is another person’s job. What better way to show the private sector how serious you are about this than by freezing the wages of your own employees?

One backdoor way of doing this would be to keep the ‘efficiency’ dividend at around 3 percent, forcing the agency heads to look for more savings from labour, i.e. job losses.  (Really, Rudd Labor could do the same thing by not indexing the next funding round to agencies and forcing them to cut wages and jobs.)

Already strong unions like the Metal Workers and the Construction Union have accepted postponing wage increases and claims. Weak unions in the hospitality and retail industries have done the same.

What about the public service? The CPSU has been running advertisements to convince the Government not to attack its own employees. What a waste of members’ money on a completely ineffectual campaign.

As I said in The Public Sector Union and Affiliation to the Labor Party, these ads should have the tough love men and women of the Rudd Labor Government shaking in their boots (with laughter).

The union is also in the process of affiliating to the ALP to give it greater influence over the ALP when it is in power to protect its members. It’s rubbish, of course, as Tanner is showing clearly.

Will public servants accept Rudd labor’s attacks on them? Perhaps.

After all the union leadership has destroyed any sense of struggle and combativity amongst its members. In doing that it has lost credibility and members. So its likely importunings to members not to take action against the Rudd Government might not convince its rank and file this time. 

There is deep anger among many public servants at job losses, ever increasing workloads and the vilification they have received at the hands of both the Liberals and Labor. But public servants, like workers everywhere, fear for their jobs and living standards.

The two will battle each other in the minds of every public servant. Anger may overcome fear.

Tanner’s dexter cuts might provoke a fightback. 

I am a former public servant and member of the CPSU.


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