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Prime Minister won't 'slash and burn' public service

Date

Chris Johnson

Prime Minister Julia Gillard poses for a portrait in her Parliament House on Thursday.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard poses for a portrait in her Parliament House on Thursday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised not to ''slash and burn'' the public service despite some tough budget measures affecting the sector.

Ms Gillard said hard fiscal choices had imposed an efficiency dividend that was temporarily hiked for this financial year.

But while she would not commit to ending further job losses, she said the public service would always be treated with respect by her government.

''What I can certainly say to public servants is that I am incredibly respectful of their role. I think they do remarkable work for the nation,'' Ms Gillard said.

''We've had a focus on working to minimise job losses and focus on voluntary redundancies rather than forced redundancies.

''We'll be very clear on a continuing basis about what our settings are for the public service, but we're not coming at this with an anti-public service slash-and-burn mentality. That is what characterises the other side of politics.''

Amid speculation the Canberra bureaucracy is being primed for an election early next year, Ms Gillard has given little away with regards to when Australians will be sent back to the polls.

But she did say there was still plenty of governing to do first in 2013.

''We've got work to do to build the National Disability Incentive Scheme and we've got work to do to deliver school funding reform - the two big bills I introduced to the Parliament this week are about doing just that,'' the Prime Minister said.

''There's more to do with getting our economy ready for the Asian century; more to do in working with families on the issues that really concern them, you know jobs, quality jobs, secure jobs, healthcare needs, education opportunities for their kids. We'll be relying on our friends in the public service to help us with that governing agenda.''

In a wide-ranging interview with The Canberra Times, the Prime Minister said Australians should now be fully aware that she is prepared to confront head-on anything that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott throws at her.

''For me, coming out of 2012, I think I'm entitled to say that I've well and truly proved my mettle to the Australian people,'' she said.

''I think I'm entitled to say too that I've proved and Labor has proved that we are a party of political purpose.

''That we are prepared to go into the most ferocious battle and to stare down the most strident critics to get done for this nation the big things it needs done.'' Her comments come at the end of a particularly volatile week in parliament in which the opposition relentlessly scrutinised her involvement in the establishment of an association linked to the Australian Workers Union in the 1990s while working as a Slater & Gordon lawyer.

Two AWU officials, one Ms Gillard's boyfriend at the time, subsequently allegedly defrauded the association's slush fund.

Ms Gillard insists she was guilty of no wrongdoing and as Parliament rose on Thursday for the last time this year, the opposition had not proved any case to the contrary.

It was the end of a long year of personal parliamentary politics in which the Coalition took every opportunity to insist Labor's minority government was dysfunctional.

''The opposition has had now two very clear negative campaigns full of overreach and dishonesty.

''One was carbon pricing, the other is Slater & Gordon,'' she said ''Either they will continue with this negative overreach and dishonesty about this AWU matter or they'll find the next campaign for negative overreach and dishonesty. What you won't ever see is a positive plan.

''Tony Abbott's 'let's wreck the joint' style campaign has always been ill-conceived and negative. He didn't need to conduct himself like that.

''I'm a Victorian and I lived there when Steve Bracks had a minority government and the Liberal Party did not conduct itself like that. So that's a choice he's made and he'll be judged by it.'' Victorian maybe, but the Prime Minister says she enjoys her time living in Canberra.

''Obviously, the nature of the job means that I'm frequently not here. I'm travelling around Australia or indeed the world with the summit season and international meetings,'' she said.

''But when I get to spend some discretionary time here - you know, do a few things that I want to do - it's an easy place for me to get out and about.''

Renovations at The Lodge have not yet begun except for security bollards being installed at the front gate.

Work on the bollards sparked reports that Ms Gillard had moved out and that restoration was underway. But that was not the case. The renovations will start much later than first thought.

''Obviously it's an old heritage building and there have been some occupational health and safety issues with asbestos and the like. So it's just taken some planning.'' Ms Gillard insists her government is very engaged with the ACT and promises to be a serious contributor to next year's Canberra centenary.

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