By Paul Oboohov
CANBERRA — In the ACT budget announced on May 4, Kate Carnell's Liberal government proposed to cut 450 ACT government jobs to save $86 million a year and supposedly eliminate the ACT budget deficit by the end of the 2000-01 financial year. The cuts are being made despite an injection of $85 million by the federal government.
Of the jobs to go, 180 will be from the Department of Urban Services (DUS) through "market testing" (privatisation) of many municipal services, including city rangers and parking officers. A further 150 will be from Canberra Hospital.
The 54% of teachers over 45 years old are to be induced into retirement. The Canberra Institute of Technology will also suffer cutbacks.
However, the government's real priorities lie in "law and order". The Australian Federal Police, who provide the ACT's police force, get an extra $1.7 million, and $3.7 million is allocated to build and refurbish jails.
The ACT has the highest youth unemployment rate, yet the budget ignores the problem. Only eight new apprenticeships will be created. No new funds are set aside for job creation.
Tim Gooden, Community and Public Sector Union section secretary for ACT government public servants, said: "The announcement comes right in the middle of bargaining for an agreement, and as such is a deliberate provocation. The DUS has set up a new 'redeployment unit', which staff are calling 'the departure lounge'.
"The government is going to have problems carrying out any forced redundancies, as the current agreement forbids them. And a 400-strong CPSU members' meeting two weeks ago reaffirmed their determination to back that stance with industrial action if necessary."
The ACT branch secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, Colleen Duff, said her members would not tolerate the gutting of the hospital work force. She said it is illogical to reduce the number of nurses when the government wants to reduce hospital waiting lists.
The Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary, Clive Haggar, said that many older teachers are likely to take the retirement package, but the budget has "guaranteed industrial action" by its failure to include any CPI increases in education workers' wages. He pointed out that the Carnell government had promised not to cut colleges' (year 11 and 12) funding.
The ACT Trades and Labor Council voted on May 7 to oppose the cuts and convene a cross-union committee to organise an industrial campaign against the redundancies. TLC secretary Jeremy Pyner said the budget will have a flow-on effect of eradicating another 1200 jobs in the private sector.
ACT Council of Social Service director Lyn Morgain has slammed the proposed pharmaceutical co-payment scheme, under which patients being discharged would pay for drugs from July 1.