With the state budget looming, we should soon see an end to the uncertainty hanging over our public servants. It’s three months since we were first warned as many as 20,000 could lose their jobs. Thousands already have. Not frontline staff, we’ve been assured. But then Glen Elmes, Minister Assisting the Premier, admitted on my radio show that “frontline” had been redefined, making thousands more public servants potentially disposable. To be “frontline” under the LNP, you must spend 75 per cent of your time dealing directly with the public. Under Labor, it was just over 50 per cent.
I’m a public servant (albeit Commonwealth) so I decided to apply the 75 per cent test to what I do. Despite hosting Brisbane’s top-rating breakfast radio show with around 200,000 listeners every week, I’m not sure I would qualify as “frontline” under Campbell Newman. Yes, I’m on air three hours a day, and yes I regularly speak at service clubs, but what about the hours where I’m not in direct contact with listeners? Reading books and news articles, watching news programs, sniffing around for stories, auditioning new music, surveying outside broadcast locations, generally absorbing popular culture in order to inform my radio show, the list goes on. Is all that being a frontline public servant? It wouldn’t be in the Queensland Public Service. But would anyone notice if the federal government decided the ABC didn’t need radio announcers? Just between me and you, I think that they would.
My point is this – I can understand how Queensland public servants are nervous right now. I can also see how nebulous it can be to just pick a number like 75 per cent to define “frontline”.
Premier Campbell Newman repeatedly says that everywhere he goes he is thanked for cutting the public service, that it’s only public servants and the unions who are angry. For example, he told 612 ABC Brisbane’s Steve Austin: “I spent seven hours at the Exhibition (Ekka) and I can tell you that I had one person come up to me and express some negativity. For the rest of the seven hours, I had people coming up, shaking my hand saying ‘we know it’s tough, please keep doing what you’re doing’.”
I don’t dispute the Premier has his supporters. But maybe it would be healthy for him to be exposed to what others are saying. And so I asked my radio listeners to imagine bumping into Campbell Newman. What would they tell him? We received 58 calls, 24 of which were supportive of the Premier’s actions. Just under half. Fifty-eight might seem a small sample but, for radio talkback on one specific question, it’s actually a decent number. Think of it as more qualitative than quantitative, more focus group than phone poll.
You (and the Premier) can listen to all the calls at http://www.tinyurl.com/messages4cn but here’s a selection:
“Well done Campbell. Mate, it’s about time those blokes got out and got a real job. Save that money. Make the state proud again,” says Corey, from Coolum Beach.
“Campbell Newman is doing a good job taking away a lot of the public servants’ jobs. They’ve been superfluous for a long, long time. We’ve had a lot of friends in the public service and they’ve had RDOs and sick days and extended leave on our taxpayers’ money and I don’t think this is very fair,” says Cheryl, from Ipswich.
“Thanks very much Campbell for what you’re doing. Don’t worry mate, there’s a very large silent majority who are also very pleased with the way you are handling this state,” says Trevor, from Birkdale.
“If I saw the Premier in a public place, I’d tell him well done, keep going,” says Kevin, from Macdowall.
“You have no idea how much damage you’re doing. Someone needs to stop you before it’s too late,” says Mary, from Goodna.
“There are a lot of people feeling bruised right now. Compassion please,” says Jenny, from East Brisbane.
“There was never any hint of this in your campaign. It’s not what we voted for,” says Dylan, from Kenmore.
“Belt tightening is all very well but such severe cuts could actually drive Queensland into recession with so many public servants losing their jobs and the rest looking over their shoulders and unwilling to spend,” says Karen, from Wavell Heights.