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Up to 250 public service jobs to go from Canberra to Geelong in Australian Bureau of Statistics move

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh: He says the public service is not a pork barrel.
Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh: He says the public service is not a pork barrel. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
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Up to 250 jobs are set to be shifted from Canberra in a move that could bolster the struggling government of Victoria's Liberal premier Denis Napthine and has been labelled as pork barrelling.

The jobs will be shifted from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which has most of its workforce based in the ACT and according to one union already had 350 staff made redundant.

The new "ABS centre of excellence" for survey functions in Geelong to be opened by 2016 was another example of public service jobs being shifted out of Canberra into Coalition seats, but this time came within a month of a state election.

Already 300 Australian Tax Office jobs and another 300 positions from so far unnamed parts of the Commonwealth bureaucracy will be sent to the NSW Central Coast.

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Coalition politicians in Tasmania and northern Australia are calling for public service jobs to be sent their way. At the same time, 6500 public service jobs are to be cut from the national capital's economy by 2017.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has previously told Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other state and territory leaders that people needed to care about Canberra's economy as much as they cared about Geelong's, which would lose 2000 jobs between 2014 and the end of 2015 from Alcoa, Ford, Boral Cement, Qantas and Target. 

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Fraser Labor MP Andrew Leigh said "apparently there's jobs and funding to spare when one of their state Liberal mates needs a quick election goodie".

"The Abbott government needs to realise the public service is not a pork barrel that it can dip into whenever the state Liberals are behind in the polls," Dr Leigh said.

"We need smart, long-term investment in the public service which prioritises the national good."

Many ABS jobs in Canberra would be located in his electorate, which takes in most of the northern parts of the ACT.  

"The Abbott government's approach to the public service is completely shambolic," he said.

"They've ripped $61 million out of the bureau's budget and are laying off hundreds of staff, all while leaving the agency languishing without a chief statistician for almost a year during this hard transition."

An ABS spokesman confirmed the bulk of staff moved from other locations to Geelong would come from Canberra and said forced redundancies were not anticipated "at this stage".

"Staff for the Geelong office will be sourced from across ABS offices and recruited locally," a spokesman said.

Half the ABS workforce was based in Canberra, according to the agency's latest annual report.

Community and Public Sector Union deputy president Alistair Waters said the government would be burning through more money to start up a new centre and a lack of information was making employees anxious.

"There is no explanation of how any of that is going to be paid for," Mr Waters said.

He said the ABS had had its budget cut by $80 million over two years and 350 staff had been made redundant.

"This looks to be nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said.

"We are seeking an undertaking from management that ABS employees will not be forced to uproot their lives and move to Geelong or be made redundant.

"We are also seeking assurances that these jobs will not come at the expense of other jobs from the service.

"We expect the agency's management to consult with us prior to embarking on the next steps of what is a significant development for the ABS and we are writing to the acting chief statistician to request more detail."

Premier Napthine made the announcement a week ago, a day before caretaker mode came into force.

On October 30 Fairfax reported the Napthine government was heading towards a historic election loss as voters mark it down over health, education and jobs.


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