Gary Humphries. Photo: Colleen Petch
The public service is hoping the pressure for job cuts will ease following the government's ditching of the long-held promise to deliver a balanced budget this financial year.
Treasurer Wayne Swan has admitted defeat, saying a ''sledgehammer hit'' to government revenue meant a return to surplus was unlikely without resorting to damaging spending cuts.
''At this stage, I don't think it would be responsible to cut harder or further in 2012-13 to fill a hole in the tax system if that puts jobs or growth at risk,'' he said on Thursday.
Andrew Leigh. Photo: Lyn Mills
The Community and Public Sector Union sees the backdown as good news.
''If this minimises the chance of further cuts to the public sector then we welcome it,'' the union's assistant national secretary Louise Persse said.
''The Treasurer has acknowledged that it would be irresponsible to cut further or harder this year, and our members who have been under pressure to do more with less would also welcome that. The fact that the Treasurer is also talking about 'responsible savings' rather than deep cuts shows that the government recognises the value of the public sector and what our members do every day, no more so than at this time of year when agencies like Centrelink are there to help people in the natural disaster season.''
The union is concerned about the cumulative effect on the public service of government cuts. It believes that the ''efficiency dividend'' increase to 4 per cent last May will cost 4200 jobs.
The government says it is also saving money through non-staffing cuts, such as greater use of economy class when flying, , reduced reliance on external consultants and contractors, advertising jobs solely online and, increasingly, publishing material solely online .
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has assured Fairfax Media she will not ''slash and burn'' the public service.
The Labor member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh, also gave assurances to public servants facing uncertainty. "I think the jobs of Canberra public servants are an important priority for the government,'' he said on Friday. "Wayne Swan said this decision was first and foremost about jobs, and that includes the jobs of Canberra public servants.
''I'm aware that the 4 per cent efficiency dividend is tough on Canberra public servants and I certainly don't think there's any more room for … cuts.''
The Coalition says it will cut 12,000 public service jobs across Australia, by natural attrition, if it wins the election next year .
ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries said this week the midyear economic statement delivered in October showed the government had failed to implement a strategic repositioning of the public service.
''The midyear economic statement simply cuts government programs, some so deeply that it's obvious some government in the future will need to reverse these decisions,'' he wrote in The Canberra Times.
''The once-celebrated computers in schools program has been turned off, $1 billion is cut from health and $3.9 billion is cut from education.''