Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says the loss of 12,000 public service jobs in Canberra would be just a "starting point" in the first two years of a Liberal government.
Mr Hockey told an Adelaide radio station on Wednesday morning that the first thing an incoming Coalition government would do to "get rid of waste" would be to axe 12,000 public servants in the capital.
Those job cuts would slash Canberra's public service workforce by about 18 per cent and strip about 6 per cent from the total number of jobs in the capital.
He made no mention of natural attrition as he has in the past, and repeated his claim that the public service "here in Canberra" had
increased by 20,000 since 2007 when his party was last in power.
But figures from the Public Service Commission said the APS had 56,709 Canberra-based workers in June 2007 and 66,326 in December 2012, an increase of 9617.
Mr Hockey was asked on breakfast radio how he and his leader would "cut to the bone" without reducing essential services.
"The starting point is you have to get rid of the waste and one of the things we've said for example the public service here in Canberra has increased by 20,000 under Labor," he replied.
"Twenty thousand and they have introduced over 20,000 new regulations since they've been in government.
"And we've said the public service here in Canberra has to be reduced by 12,000 over the first two years as a starting point."
Mr Hockey's radio comments immediately drew fire from his Labor opponents in an echo of the 2010 election in Canberra when parties traded barbs over their records and plans for public sector employment in the city.
Labor MP for Fraser Andrew Leigh raised the spectre of the job cuts inflicted by the Howard government when first elected in 1996.
"Before John Howard was elected, he promised to get rid of 2500 public servants and ended up sacking over 10 times that amount," Dr Leigh said.
"Canberrans are rightly worried that Mr Hockey is promising tens of thousands of public service job cuts as a starting point now."
Dr Leigh also seized on Mr Hockey's pledge to scrap the Schoolkids bonus payment. "As if sacking hard-working public servants wasn't bad enough, there are the promised cuts to the Schoolkids bonus, household assistance payments and the reduction in the tax-free threshold," the Labor MP said.