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Zed Seselja 'has no levers' to save public servants

Date

Phillip Thomson

Liberal Senator Zed Seselja.

Liberal Senator Zed Seselja. Photo: Rohan Thomson

ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja is so far "down the pecking order" he can do little if anything to help public servants withstand the firestorm of a federal budget about to land on Tuesday. 

Mr Seselja, the territory's only federal politician from the Coalition, went to the last election defending his party's plan to cut 12,000 public service jobs.

Now after being elected that number has leapt to 16,000 and with reports of the mass abolition and mergers of agencies, Mr Seselja's other great election campaign hope – that cuts would come through natural attrition – is on the line.

Adding a further challenge is that the government has not wavered from its pledge to increase the efficiency dividend on departments from 1.25 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

Now the question is whether the fresh-faced senator will be burnt by the fire created by his colleagues which is about to sweep through Canberra.

"He's just got to take it on the chin," said Emeritus Professor John Warhurst, an expert political observer from the Australian National University. 

"He has no levers. He's got nothing that can elevate him up the pecking order.

"Already I've seen some comments to the effect of 'Where's Zed'?"

Fellow ANU academic James Jupp said the senator might be able to get away with mild criticism of parts of his party's budget.

Fraser MP Andrew Leigh said Mr Seselja had broken his campaign promise on job cuts.

Dr Leigh said the senator was part of a government that wanted action on king-hit punches, but was scrapping the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council, and wanted a healthier society but was looking to strip the Australian National Preventative Health Agency of its independence by merging it with the Health Department.

"Labor increased the public service in line with the population," Dr Leigh said.

As late as last Thursday Mr Seselja said he had lobbied to stop the Coalition exceeding its target of 12,000 job losses. 

He also said Canberra should not receive more than 40 per cent of the cuts, because the territory had 40 per cent of the public service. 

"I don't get special access and nor do other backbenchers," Mr Seselja said. 

"It's not about me feeling personal pressure. It's about wanting the best for my city. I'm anxious to see that we get it right.

"I have been heartened by the fact those ministers (I have spoken to) seem to be taking care it's managed in the most positive way possible."

"I think (Canberra) will continue to have a very strong outlook. There will be some short-term challenges no doubt."

After being newly elected late last year, Mr Seselja immediately started talking with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann about public sector jobs.

"What I got from him was the view from the government that they will continue along the lines of what they promised at the election, which is that the savings will be through natural attrition," Mr Seselja said at the time.

"I think natural attrition is the most responsible way to make savings if you're going to make savings in the staff budget.

"Much of that attrition will be through retirement, I suspect, and so those people will continue to be part of our community, part of our economy, and no doubt plenty of them will find part-time work."

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