Yesterday, Cuts Hurt took its first step publicly to paint the real picture of the devastation underway because of the cuts unleashed on the people by Liberal state premiers. Yesterday, we explained that those cuts hurt everyone. It’s worth another closer look today.
One way of thinking about this is comparing the actual cuts to the what those cuts actually mean in the your daily life and the lives of the hard-working people in the public sector.
Staff reductions or voluntary redundancies have been announced in about 40 agencies
• Department of Human Services (includes Centrelink, Medicare & CSA) = 521
• Department of Health and Ageing = 378
• Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations = 500
• Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade = 150
• Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency = 300
• Australian Bureau of Statistics = 121
• Department of Veterans Affairs = 46
• Attorney Generals Department = 130
• Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry = 111
• Department of Resources Energy and Tourism = 100
• Treasury = 217
• Fair Work Ombudsman = 70
• Commonwealth Ombudsman = 35
• Regional Australia = 220
• Prime Minister and Cabinet = 40.
And, then, the impact, per the CPSU:
What has been the impact on services so far?
• The number of outstanding DHS debts has blown out to 300,000
• Some DHS customers now wait 26 days for follow up appointments, this used to be 14 days
• Waiting times in DHS office are now very often over one hour
• Cuts in DHS regional office management has resulted in administrative confusion, including
no responsibility for health and safety issues, lack of basic office supplies so that staff hide
stationery for their team, and staff cleaning tea towels for a whole building as there are no
• Some DHS programs have been told to divert all calls to voice mail and only respond to email
queries resulting in frustration for staff committed to helping their communities
• Baby Bonus claims should be processed in 21 days, some now take 70 days
• DHS call centre waiting times have blown out from two minutes to more than 30 minutes
• Student claims processing are regularly exceeding their 21 day target
• Family Payments claim backlog has jumped from 30,000 to 70,000 and it now take 22 days
to process a claim
• Security guards have been put in 70 DHS offices (at a cost of $7 million over 18 months) to
counter a rise in aggression, violence and anger from welfare recipients
• Quarantine cutting sniffer dog screening at airports
• Once staffing numbers drop below a certain level, Customs district offices may not have
enough people to safely perform their duties. Similarly, declining staff numbers will makes
shift-work difficult which means that on some days, vessels may not be boarded after 5pm
• Veterans now have to wait 40 days for pension increases to be processed
• Customs budget was cut by $34 million in 2011. This meant the loss of 77 front line staff
causing a peak wait time of increase of up to 24 minutes at Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne
and Perth airports. At the same time, passenger arrives are set to increase by 4.5% a year
over the next 10 years
• Fair Work Australia is going to close its call centre with no plan for how these calls will be
handled by the organisation
• The Australian National Maritime Museum sold a number of vessels in its working vessel
fleet as a saving exercise. This included the historic tugboat Bareki. They now hire another
• The Bureau of Meteorology announced it will not back fill positions when people are on
leave. This creates increased workloads for when people return from leave and will
encourage some people to work when on leave
• Cultural Institutions: the ongoing 1.5% efficiency dividend and capital expenditure cuts have
lead to major problems at Screen Australia, the National Museum, the War Memorial, Old
Parliament House; the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives, The
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the National Library and
the National Maritime Museum. Two major exhibitions planned for the National Gallery
have been postponed, including the internationally significant National Aboriginal triennial.
So, that’s one way of looking at the direct connection between cuts and services.
Let’s bring together a few strands today: why is the popularity of Liberal state premiers on the decline, why is Tony Abbott panicking when John Howard goes off message and why has Labor’s polling strength been a bit on the upswing? It comes down to a simple reason: a lot of people are starting to see that the Coalition’s meat cleaver, and ideological love of the “free market”, is hurting everyone as it whacks at our social safety net and services. Because cuts hurt everyone.
Indeed, that’s the simple but pretty clear message of a campaign launched by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) called “Cuts Hurt”. Over the next few posts, I’m going to go into some details about these cuts. But, for now, consider this, from the Cuts Hurt site:
Compared to most OECD countries, Australia already has a modest public sector. It is the same size today as it was in 1991, yet our population has grown by 5 million people. Every year, public sector workers deliver big things for Australia.
In 2010/11 public sector workers:
- handled 37 million Centrelink enquiries
- processed 319 million Medicare claims
- issued 6,000 flood warnings
- seized 5,187 kilograms of illicit drugs and drug-making chemicals
- cleared 13.9 million air passengers through customs.
Everyone benefits from the services provided by public servants. Try it: think about what you service you used from the above list—which is just a small sampling—or ask a friend, family member or neighbor. Then think bigger to defence, tax collection, managing our water supplies, health policy and demographic planning. It doesn’t happen by itself.
And the most recent polling from Essential Media shows the public doesn’t support the Liberals’ promise to slash 12,000 jobs from the Commonwealth public service::
The polling showed that 53 per cent of people believed the cuts would lead to worse services, while only 14 per cent believed they would lead to better services. It also showed that a clear majority of people believed the cuts would adversely impact rural and regional areas while 60 per cent believed that cuts to support staff would hurt frontline services.
Nadine Flood, CPSU’s national secretary, had it exactly right when she wrote recently:
The Coalition’s plan may deliver short-term savings, but will do long-term damage to services that have helped generations of Australians.
Australians shouldn’t be asking themselves if we can afford our public service, they should be asking if we can afford not to have it?
My father used to use the old cliche that a recession is a downturn that hits your neighbor, while a depression is a economic crisis that hits you. That’s the bottom line here: sometimes, in the rush of the day, we don’t see the impact of the cuts to our society—until we need a service that isn’t there or has been so starved for funding that it can’t respond fast enough.
Cuts hurt. Everyone.
Read Essential's ongoing research on the public response to Covid-19.Download this week's Report