From pandemic preparedness to disaster relief, each new crisis we've faced recently has shown more starkly what happens when successive governments erode the public service.
Thanks to crippling staffing caps and "efficiency dividends", rampant outsourcing, job insecurity, and hollowed-out expertise, government is less able than ever to meet the challenges we face.
And it's not only during crises. We see it with health and housing services, social security and schools, and of course with Canberra's prized cultural institutions.
Since 2012, federal governments have slashed 17,000 public service jobs while spending billions on consultants and outsourced labour hire. In a remarkable coincidence, over the same period, private consultants and labour-hire companies have donated over $5.4 million to the major parties.
It's a cosy arrangement that serves business interests, but it doesn't serve the public good.
If we want government that's ready and able to help us manage increasingly complex challenges, we have to go beyond Labor's promise to stop erosion of the public service, and actually reverse it. The Greens' policy to revitalise the APS does just that.
It's a detailed, fully costed proposal, but at its core is a simple principle: good government requires a well-resourced, independent Australian Public Service, in public hands.
If we find ourselves in shared power with Labor, we will push to return APS staffing levels to where they were before the past decade's cuts, and to index staffing growth to keep up with increasing needs.
That means not only abolishing arbitrary Average Staffing Level caps and removing "efficiency dividends", which have long gone past trimming fat and have started amputating whole limbs, but also bringing staff on outsourced contracts into permanent positions in the APS.
Outsourcing makes service delivery more expensive, less effective, and less transparent and accountable. It suppresses wages and conditions in both the public and private sectors. And it destroys job security, with terrible consequences both for the people doing the work of government and for the practice of good government itself.
I hear from a lot of young Canberrans who've found that outsourcing means they can't get basic job security, have no clear career path, and can't afford to rock the boat. They can't break into the housing market without a permanent position, and they feel they can't express their informed opinions either at work or in their private lives without putting their job at risk. And many older, experienced people are deeply troubled that the crucial institutions they've dedicated their lives to are being eroded and privatised. The outsourcing, combined with rolling contracts at SES levels dependent on the pleasure of ministers, dashes our expectation that government should get frank and fearless advice from experts.
The Greens want to end this by capping spending on outsourcing and labour hire to a maximum of 7.5 per cent of any agency's appropriation, and requiring details of government consultancy contracts and reports to be published.
We're also committing to real wages growth for the APS, with a 4 per cent per annum increase over four years, and finally getting worker representatives onto the Remuneration Tribunal. The Reserve Bank has acknowledged that suppression of APS wages contributes to wage stagnation across the economy. The APS is a model employer - it should be a positive model.
Finally, we need proper systems in place to guarantee the independence of the APS. Public servants should be encouraged to give frank and fearless advice in their work, and allowed to express their opinions in their private lives. The Greens want to establish an advisory panel for the appointment of departmental secretaries and agency heads, and to legislate to clarify that staff can engage in public debate without fear of losing their jobs.
We desperately need a well-staffed and highly skilled public service, ready and able to provide expert, impartial policy advice, to take on the challenges of our time. With enough members of parliament to drive policy change, the Greens will work to make that happen.
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