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Ghosts of green schemes past fuel warning on public service job cuts

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Australian Financial Review chief political correspondent

View more articles from Phillip Coorey

Wary of cuts ... Christine Milne.

Wary of cuts ... Christine Milne. Photo: Peter Mathew

THE Greens leader, Christine Milne, has demanded the government reconsider the job cuts being imposed on the public service, saying it risked bungling the rollout of the carbon tax.

In an interview with the Herald yesterday, Senator Milne said the government's record in rolling out green schemes such as green loans and solar rebates was not good and it could ill-afford to bungle the biggest of them all.

''In the area of climate change we have just developed a huge, comprehensive, internally consistent package to respond to the climate crisis,'' she said. ''It has four pillars: renewable energy, energy efficiency, the carbon farming initiative and emissions trading.

''This is a highly complex field; it's going to be the biggest reform of this government and the one that in history will be looked back upon as a significant achievement of this term of government.

''Do not compromise our ability to roll it out in a robust way by reducing the workforce that enables that outcome, given the experience we have had with the rollout of many green programs, especially green loans.''

Senator Milne was referring to the so-called efficiency dividend imposed across the public sector at the last budget, forcing each department to cut its expenses by a further 1.5 per cent a year.

Next financial year that dividend will go up by 2.5 per cent to 4 per cent, except for cultural institutions.

The public sector has begun shedding thousands of jobs.

The Department of Climate Change has said 300 jobs will go, and the Education Department has signalled 500 retrenchments.

Senator Milne said the education cuts flew in the face of the government's stated commitment to building the skills of the national workforce.

She said she would use her first leader-to-leader meeting with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, possibly today, to argue against the cuts, which are part of the government's drive to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13.

Senator Milne wants the dividend removed altogether for cultural institutions.

She said she shared the view of many mainstream economists that the surplus was a political target. Turning a forecast $37 billion deficit for this year into a forecast $1.5 billion surplus next year would require cost-cutting so severe it could drive areas of the non-mining sector into recession, she said.

Treasury's growth predictions ''did not stand up'', and ''if you're going to take this level of spending out of circulation, several of the economists have warned of recession in south-east Australia''.

Senator Milne reaffirmed the Greens would not pass legislation granting a 1 per cent company tax cut. The Greens would block the benefit for all companies with an annual turnover of more than $2 million.

She said she would renegotiate this only if the government dropped its surplus ambition.

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