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Defence Minister labels public servants 'fat and happy'

Date

Phillip Thomson

David Johnston has been asked to apologise for "offensive" remarks about public servants.

David Johnston has been asked to apologise for "offensive" remarks about public servants. Photo: Andrew Meares

Defence Minister David Johnston is still saying 1200 public servants will be made redundant from the Defence Department even though his government's own portfolio budget statements say it will be almost double this number. 

It comes after a union director called on Mr Johnston to apologise to civilian public servants he is about to sack after labelling them "fat and happy" in a radio interview – a statement a spokeswoman for the minister said referred to the numbers and not any individual.

He made the comment on ABC Radio Riverina a week after the delivery of the budget and while Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey try with great difficulty to sell the brutal financial plan to the nation.  

The budget will reduce defence staff numbers by almost 2300 over five years, according to the portfolio budget statements.This is much higher than the "1200 fewer" by 2017-18 described in the budget measures under "savings and efficiencies".

The non-partisan Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the opposition agree almost 2300 bureaucrats will leave Defence in coming years.

But late on Wednesday Mr Johnston still stuck to the 1200 figure, saying it represented what the Coalition had directed to the department to cut and took into account the tail-end of Labor reductions.

He also said the government's defence cutbacks were backed by evidence, as news spread about controversial comments he made about the civilian workforce.

On Monday morning Senator Johnston told ABC presenter Chris Coleman there was a "huge increased responsibility" on Defence to get better value for money.

"We've currently got 20,500 public servants running about 56,000 uniforms. Now I still think that's a little bit fat and happy," Mr Johnston said. 

"We'll look at trying to reform those numbers of public servants – bring them down as carefully through natural attrition as we possibly can.

"This is the responsibility on our shoulders to go forward."

The ACT director of the Professionals Australia union, David Smith, said the minister's comments were ''utterly offensive''.

''We call on the minister to apologise to the thousands of defence civilians who play a critical role in ensuring our forces are operational," Mr Smith said.

He said, according to the budget, the Defence Department's 20,600 civilian employees would be cut to 18,100 over the forward estimates, which meant there would be 2500 jobs lost – a figure that included another 150 staff who will be cut from the

''Tell a pilot that they don’t need an engineer," Mr Smith said.

''We are talking about intelligence analysts, engineers, scientists and defence specialists – these people play an essential role in defence

''It is time that the minister realised the civilian workforce is much more than just support – they provide Defence with direct capability.

''The minister's comments reveal that there needs to be a complete shift in thinking.

''The civilian workforce in Defence delivers essential role – services to our troops and our nation."

Canberra MP and the opposition's parliamentary secretary for defence, Gai Brodtmann, also called for an apology and said the comments showed the minister's complete contempt for the public service.

''The fact is that following last week's budget, public servants in the Department of Defence are anything but happy," Ms Brodtmann said.

"They are currently in a state of uncertainty, not knowing if they have any job security after the Abbott government promised to slash more than 2200 civilian jobs and increase the efficiency dividend.

''Senator Johnston fails to understand that it is not just numbers he is speaking about – it is people with families, mortgages and responsibilities.

"They, like all Australians, are bracing themselves for the impact of the Abbott government's budget, and Senator Johnston's flippant and offensive remarks implying that their jobs are disposable only makes their lives harder." 

Budget statements show uniformed personnel numbers will increase by 735 within four years, even though the government's own figures show superannuation, allowances and other extras paid to uniformed defence workers makes them 15.2 per cent to 40.9 per cent more pricey than an equivalent ranked person in the Australian Public Service.

Do you know more? Send your confidential tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au

68 comments so far

  • I see the lnp are sticking to script. A different idiot to come out and say something stupid to take the heat off the previous idiot. At least they didn't lie about being a no surprises government, I'm not at all surprised they are the worst government in Australia's history.

    Commenter
    Same old same old
    Date and time
    May 21, 2014, 2:34PM
    • Demoralising times. Demoralising government. Brave Old World. Inspirational vision for the country.

      Commenter
      Railroad Bill
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 4:05PM
    • Yet again Fairfax misrepresents the truth - article opening statement reads "Defence Minister David Johnston to apologise to the ranks of civilian public servants he is about to sack after labelling them "fat and happy"".

      He did NOT label the public servants as "fat and happy" individuals. He said the number of non-uniform defence public servants was bloated.

      Here are his exact words: "We've currently got 20,500 public servants running about 56,000 uniforms, now I still think that's a little bit fat and happy"

      Fairfax needs to stop distorting the facts to sell papers or push an agenda. This goes to trust.

      Commenter
      Gatsby
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 4:14PM
    • @Gatsby. In the current mood what do you expect?

      Commenter
      Pluto
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 4:23PM
    • Thanks @Ranger Reg, but these zealots won't let facts get in the way of a good idealogical story. Btw - has someone asked big Tones about how many extra staff PM&C are going to get over the forward estimates whilst others get smashed and can no longer provide services direct to Australians?

      Commenter
      Demoralized
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 7:43PM
    • The OECD's statement is not necessarily a bad thing.

      Commenter
      Mick
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 9:04PM
    • As a public servant himself, Defence Minister Johnston knows all about being "fat and happy', the public purse is open at its widest when it comes to the excesses of Parliamentarians. Cigar Minister?

      Commenter
      Neil (not on radio) Mitchell
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 5:23PM
    • +1 Gatsby
      Pluto - I expect better for my subscription $'s I pay Fairfax

      Commenter
      Jason
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 6:50PM
    • Pluto, I'm with Gatsby on this one. I expect fair and accurate reporting, regardless of which "side" of politics is under the microscope.

      Commenter
      Grate
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 9:05PM
    • Gatsby is right. It is misrepresentation. A business is often called "fat" when they have too many layers of management, or too many managers. I would withdraw, or you'll have both Hockey and Johnston after you!

      Commenter
      Anthony
      Location
      Auckland
      Date and time
      May 21, 2014, 10:37PM

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