Page 1287 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 29 March 2017
those are based here in Canberra. That represents approximately one-quarter of Canberra’s working population. If you do not work in the Australian public service yourself, chances are you have friends or family who do.
A strong APS workforce in Canberra is a linchpin in our economy. The federal government is our largest employer and also our biggest customer. Whether it is contracted services or a cup of coffee, there are myriad businesses around Canberra that service the federal government and its employees.
The federal government’s lack of support for Canberra as the home of the Australian public service hurts the economy. Decisions to continually cut staff and relocate public service departments deal huge blows to our local businesses and our local communities.
We have already seen it happening. The hospitality and retail industries suffered immensely due to several rounds of public service freezes and cuts from 2013 through to 2016. A prime example is the Canberra institution Smith’s Alternative bookshop. This iconic cafe and live music venue was on the brink of closure in 2015 when the venue’s owner could not hold on any longer. The owner cited constant public service cuts as the reason for his dwindling patronage. Smith’s was saved by a whisker by a new owner, but it shows just how significant the financial blows for local businesses and our local communities, including our arts and music communities, have been.
Our town centres are especially vulnerable to the economic downturn caused by Australian public service cuts. Cutting staff from town centre offices or relocating an office out of a town centre can be catastrophic for the local economy. When it was announced in 2015 that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection would move out of the Belconnen town centre, I and many others worked tirelessly to ensure that the bulk of its 4,000-strong workforce remained in Belconnen. As the major employer in Belconnen, the relocation of the entire department would have decimated the town centre. However, so long as the federal government continues to cut the public service budget and pretends that public servants are chess pieces to either move at whim or determine to be superfluous, the threat continues.
It was announced in February this year that the ABS, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, will axe another 100 employees from its Belconnen office. This is on top of the 120 cut late last year. With every job taken from town centres, with every job taken from Canberra, there is a flow-on effect: local businesses have fewer customers; foot traffic disappears; and, slowly but surely, the unique local character evaporates.
It is not only the economy, though; there is a real human cost to the federal government’s decisions that undermine the role of Canberra as the national capital. The Australian public service continues to attract people to Canberra, and for those who have studied at one of our tertiary institutions, the APS provides a reason for them to stay and make their home here. It is a symbiotic relationship. The APS gives people a reason to move to Canberra, or to stay here after study; then our city takes over and does the rest. It woos people with its cafes, nightlife, bushland and ease of movement. For those who live here, being ranked by the OECD as the most livable