Canberra Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson. Photo: Jay Cronan
ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson has lashed out against his Liberal colleague and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Mr Hanson said the nation's leader should urgently reconsider his government's unjustifiable decision to move 600 federal public service jobs to the NSW central coast city of Gosford.
His call comes months after the ACT Liberals were described as being seen as "Abbott's foot soldiers" by the party's former territory senator, Gary Humphries.
It also arrives as the Prime Minister battles a rebellion from Coalition premiers around the country about cuts to health and education, which they see as a strategy to increase the GST.
"I'd rather not be at odds with the Prime Minister, but what I'm doing is standing up for Canberra," Mr Hanson told The Canberra Times. "We are the national capital. The public service should be here unless there's good reason for it to be elsewhere.
"I see this [decision to relocate staff] as robbing Peter to pay Paul.
"I call policy as I see it. If it's good, I'll support it; if it's bad, I'll say that, too."
Mr Hanson sent a letter to Mr Abbott in early May which said Canberra should not carry an unfair burden in the budget.
Last Thursday, two days after the budget, he sent another letter saying the relocation of positions would disproportionately affect Canberra as the territory is already due to lose jobs through redundancies and attrition.
The nation's capital could be hit with as many as 6500 or more job cuts in three years as the bureaucracy loses 16,500 jobs nationally.
When asked whether he could see the benefit of boosting jobs on the central coast to help his fellow Coalition politicians, Mr Hanson replied: "That has absolutely no bearing on my decision-making."
But he added: "I understand the Prime Minister is in a tough position because of what he inherited from Labor."
He has not written to Mr Abbott about the projected 16,500 job losses and noted there was little difference between the two major parties regarding redundancies - about 14,500 jobs would have been lost if Labor held onto power, according to Finance Department advice.
Mr Hanson said he could at least see the financial reason for the Coalition’s 16,500 cuts, but could not see a strong enough argument for the relocation of positions.
Half of the 600 jobs about to be relocated to the central coast will be from the Australian Tax Office, which Joe Hockey's federal budget hit harder than any other agency or department.
The ATO will lose 4700 jobs over the forward estimates period to 2017-18, some of which have already been cut.
In a move undermining the territory as the home of the federal bureaucracy, the federal government will open a new building at Gosford to house the new workers and boost employment in a region dominated by Liberal MPs.
Accounting, information technology, professional services and legal roles could be some of the job descriptions to relocate.
In March, former ACT chief minister and ousted Liberal senator Gary Humphries said the Abbott government’s push for smaller government created a distaste for the party brand in the territory.
Mr Humphries called on the Canberra Liberals to differentiate themselves to beat Labor at the next election.
A spokesman for the federal Treasurer’s office said on Thursday the number of staff being relocated from Canberra had not yet been determined.
On the same day, Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann said the decision was a slap in the face for Canberra and betrayed Sir Robert Menzies' vision for the territory as the nation’s public service headquarters.