Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher Radio Interview – ABC Canberra

Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Minister for the Public Service

ADAM SHIRLEY, HOST: This text from a public servant says, no one I work with is not pulling their weight. We are short-handed and constantly being asked to do more with less. Federal Minister for the Public Service and Finance Minister is ACT Senator Katy Gallagher. Minister, thanks so much for your time. I wonder if that’s a sentiment from many public servants you’re hearing, that no one is not pulling their weight and they are constantly short-handed?

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR THE PUBLIC SERVICE: Hi Adam, thanks for having me on. I certainly recognise that public servants are hardworking, and they have a lot of responsibilities, and it seems like there’s always more to add on to those. So, I don’t necessarily disagree with your texter in that instance. You know, these are big jobs, big responsibility, and there’s a lot of work across every department that I have contact with.

SHIRLEY: On the other hand, how important is it that Government and in fact that Opposition keeps a close eye on how these public funds are being spent by, in public service work, in public infrastructure, et cetera, to ensure there isn’t money being frittered away?

GALLAGHER: Well, absolutely. I totally agree with that as well. But you know, if we’re talking about the public service, and I think some of the stories that are in the media this morning, you know, it’s always the area where particularly the Liberal Party think that they can slash and burn. And you know, I’ve just spent I guess nearly two years trying to deal with the decimated public service that we inherited and putting it on a much more sustainable footing. And I think the comments that I’ve seen in the media today show the former government, the Coalition, haven’t learned anything about why you need a public service and why you need to make sure it’s adequately resourced. But you have to constantly drive efficiencies as well. And we’re doing both of those things.

SHIRLEY: Does this boil down to an ideological debate? And people have views about which side is correct about whether you should have a larger, expanded public service, or a slimmed-down one with consultants working on some of the expertise areas.

GALLAGHER: Well, I certainly think the Coalition are being ideological. And they’re being lazy in the media comments they’ve made so far about waste and then immediately linking that to the public service. And I’ve seen the Opposition leader specifically single out the jobs in the public service as something that he thinks is wasteful. You know, what you need is a public service that can deliver the services the Australian community expect. And you know, accept that it is an important institution in our democratic system. When you look at the jobs where there has been jobs growth, Adam, it’s in departments like Vet’s Affairs, the NDIA, Centrelink, Home Affairs, Defence. All those front-facing, big areas where there is a level of frontline service delivery. And we inherited quite a mess in all of those areas, and we’ve been trying to rebalance that and move away from expensive consultants and external labour hire. I mean, we converted 3000, or just over 3000, labour hire positions in the last Budget to permanent public servant roles and we saved nearly a billion dollars. It was $810 million that was saved by that simple conversion. So yes, we need to look at efficiencies, but we need to make sure and we need to be realistic about the resourcing and the important role that the APS plays and the value that we place on those jobs. And certainly here in Canberra, you know, it’s important for our local economy.

SHIRLEY: On ABC Radio Canberra, the Federal Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Finance and Senator for the ACT Katy Gallagher, our guest. Some of your texts in a moment. Adam Shirley keeping you company at 21 minutes to 9. So, the Liberal MP James Stevens has this gig as a public service and I guess government waste watcher. He’s quoted by the Canberra Times as saying, if the public service has grown by 10,000 people, a good Opposition will want to understand and know why that happened, what the breakdown is of that increase, and understand the necessity of it. That sounds like a pretty reasonable expectation. Is there anything wrong with that from Mr Stevens?

GALLAGHER: Well, I saw those comments. And all of that information is published in public documents. So, I don’t see there’s any reason why an Opposition that’s doing their work wouldn’t be able to understand that, but as I went through, those departments which I just identified are all areas where we have increased public servants or permanent public servant roles. At the same time, we’ve been reducing external labour. And remember that Audit of Employment that was undertaken, Adam, when we came into Government. It showed that we had a shadow workforce, essentially, a secret workforce that wasn’t reported in departmental reports of over 50,000 contractors or external labour hire. So, we’re trying to rebalance that. So, you know, you can do it in an honest way and publish that and try and put the public service on a much more sustainable footing. Or you can do what the former government did, which was artificially suppress information, in that sense, because it was all hidden through contracts, and run this kind of ideological rule that the public service isn’t allowed to grow despite services to the community growing at the same time.

SHIRLEY: I’ve quite a few texts coming in. Katy gets it done, says this listener. Go Katy, says the same listener by the looks of it. On 0467 922 666, Mike says maybe Katy should go down to Athllon Drive in Greenway and watch the number of public servants wandering to and from the coffee shop across the road at all hours during the day. That from Mike I guess goes to perception, Minister Gallagher. Your response?

GALLAGHER: I’m not sure what that specific circumstance. But, you know, I believe from what I see in my role, and I spend a lot of my time going around the public service, working with the public service across a whole range of departments, they are hardworking. They are asked to do a lot of work. They work out of hours. They’re on call a lot. I know because I deal with them and we have very tight timeframes, often. And you know, my sense and my view is we are lucky to have a workforce and we value them and they work hard.

SHIRLEY: This texter says the minister should be looking at the decisions on spending that SES and Secretaries are making within their departments. Is that a fair question and piece of scrutiny on trying to spend public money more efficiently?

GALLAGHER: Yes, I a hundred per cent agree. With my Minister for Finance hat on, that is exactly what we’re doing. We are watching, certainly, what happens at the senior levels of the public service, and we’re constantly looking at ways to drive efficiencies. And Secretaries I think are given a very strong message from the Prime Minister about how he and the Government expects them to manage their budgets. So, there is a lot of work that is put into this, certainly centrally from the Finance Department. There’s more we can always do and we don’t apologise for that, either. We have some pretty tough conversations around the ERC table, as people would expect us to have.

SHIRLEY: It is 17 minutes to 9. A couple of weeks ago on this program, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, said to us that – when I asked him – he wouldn’t want to upset you by announcing any further funding if it was being planned for things like Light Rail Stage 2, for a new stadium in Canberra, which most people believe we desperately need. Do you have anything forthcoming for a couple of key infrastructure projects that the ACT needs, Minister?

GALLAGHER: Well, Adam, not to announce on your program today, but we absolutely are working with the ACT Government, as I’ve been on this show and explained before, through that partnership agreement we have around infrastructure priorities. And you know, I meet regularly and talk regularly with the Chief Minister about those priorities. So, you know, I think you’ve seen, from the approach we’ve taken in coming to Government, that we don’t seek conflict with the ACT Government.

SHIRLEY: No, sure.

GALLAGHER: We see the opportunity to work together, whether it be through the national institutions, whether it be through some investments in light rail and other priorities that the Government has. We will continue to do that. And we are very aware of those big projects around the stadium and others that are being put forward by the private sector as well.

SHIRLEY: I guess for some listeners, it boils down to this, Minister – in at least in the House of Reps, not so much in the Senate, but we are a safe, Labor seat and a safe, Labor land. Does that mean that this region loses out when say, Hobart or Tassie comes calling? When other parts, marginal electorates, come calling?

GALLAGHER: Well, no, I would not accept that at all. And again, I think if you sit down and look at the investments we’ve made including in the national security precinct, per capita, on those big infrastructure – I mean, that will be billions of dollars when you look at that with the national institutions, with the investments in the public service, you’ll see that you know, having a Labor government here has been very good for the ACT economy. And in terms of the partnerships that we can deliver with the ACT government, I spent a long time as Chief Minister in the ACT arguing the federal government about a better deal for the ACT. And now I’m in this position, I’m able to work with the Chief Minister to deliver that.

SHIRLEY: Just lastly, I’m not sure whether there’s an answer to this, but a couple of texters are really concerned about another Canberra-based, long-running Canberra-based construction company going down and into administration. Can the Federal Government, and can you as Finance Minister, look at doing anything here in the ACT or wider context on this industry which seems to be losing credible businesses day in, day out?

GALLAGHER: I mean, I’ve been aware of Project Coordination and others that have, you know, been finding these economic circumstances really challenging. I mean I think the thing the Federal Government can do is to make sure we’re investing in the local economy so that there are jobs around and companies are supported. Certainly in our own procurement, looking at how we can make sure there’s security of payments, and we’re working on that. But yeah, these are really tough decisions for companies and tough for those involved and down the supply chains, I accept that.

SHIRLEY: It’s a difficult time, no doubt, and no clear answers perhaps at this point. But some sort of solution would be welcomed, I’m sure, by those workers. Minister, we do appreciate your time. Thank you very much for it today.

GALLAGHER: Thanks a lot, Adam.

/Public Release. View in full here.