Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 16 March 2010) . . Page.. 879 ..
We’ve taken some decisions in relation to the staffing freeze that’s been imposed on the ACT Public Service for non-essential frontline services.
It was further reported on ABC Online that you had announced a hiring freeze for non-essential public servants. Treasurer, what exactly is a non-essential front-line service and how many are there?
MS GALLAGHER: I am happy to provide the member with the details we have provided to agencies around that. It is quite an extensive piece of information to guide agencies around the difference between essential and non-essential staff. Really, the decision we took in this instance was to send the message very clearly to our agencies that the business-as-usual approach will no longer be followed, that we are heading into difficult times, that savings do need to be made and that some of that pain could be ameliorated if additional staff are not put on in the meantime. It was just, I think, a responsible response to the sudden withdrawal of 10 per cent of our GST revenue. You cannot lose 10 per cent of your GST revenue and not, I think, take some of those immediate, necessary and responsible steps.
But agencies have been provided with detailed advice around what is essential and what is not essential. It is very easy to say front line is those in a service delivery role but it is not as clear as that. For example, you could use nurses, you could use teachers, you could use child protection workers, disability staff—all of those staff that need to be replaced and the work cannot go on without them. Indeed, there is a whole range of other staff that support that work—for example, someone in the finance area of the health department that pursues private payments and things like that. It is not black and white but advice has been sent out to agencies.
MR SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Mr Coe?
MR COE: Thank you. Treasurer, further to my earlier request, would you please advise what exactly is a non-essential public servant and how many non-essential public servants we currently have on the books?
MS GALLAGHER: I think the context of those questions was essential front lines—essential in the sense of delivering a service to the community. There are positions. It is always easy to go to the administrative side and say, “They are obviously not actually delivering that service—they are not pressing the X-ray button, injecting the person with medication, instructing a class full of students or supporting a person with a disability in the bath—and therefore they are not essential.” That is not the view the government has taken. We have sent out detailed advice that we believe that, if there are positions that do not need to be backfilled where someone else could pick up some of the work or work is not proceeded with, that is the sensible way to go forward for the short term.
We will have difficulty. I would have thought that the Liberal Party of all parties would have supported this kind of approach. There will be some very difficult decisions for the government as we work through this budget. Sixty per cent of our budget is essentially wages and labour, so unless we tackle that it is hard to find additional savings. This is hard, gruelling work. Nobody is happy to go down this