Customs may cut hundreds of jobs after minister says no to deficit

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Nanjing Night Net

Hundreds of Australian Customs officers are facing the sack after the Abbott government refused to give the department permission to run a $30 million budget deficit.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has told Customs and Border Protection chief Mike Pezzullo to save the money from his staffing budget rather than allow his agency to slip into the red.

The decision could cost the jobs of more than 350 mid-ranking officers around the nation or more than 450 junior customs workers.

Fairfax Media understands that Mr Pezzullo wrote to the minister in January, in accordance with protocols for public service bosses, asking for consent to run the budget deficit this financial year.

In a statement, Senator Cormann said he wanted departments to live within their means.

Customs refused to comment on the minister’s decision.

According to recent modelling by federal workplace authority the Public Service Commission, $30 million a year is the equivalent of about 350 mid-ranking officers or more than 450 junior officers.

Mr Pezzullo said late last year that federal government budget cuts had seen more than half a billion dollars and 740 staff cut from the service over the past five years. He told a conference in Melbourne there was no more fat to cut in his department and that he would soon ”be going through bone” if asked to reduce spending further.

But Senator Cormann was unmoved by Customs’ plea to run a deficit in 2013-14.

In response to questions from Fairfax Media about his decision, the minister said Customs already got more than $1 billion of taxpayers’ money and was expected to manage with that amount.

”All government departments are expected to manage within their budget allocations,” Senator Cormann said.

”Customs has a yearly budget allocation of more than $1 billion. Naturally, our preference is for Customs to manage within their budget allocation as we expect all other agencies to do,” Senator Cormann said.

”Contrary to the situation under the previous government, they now can access funding to pay for the voluntary redundancies caused by decisions made by the previous government.

”If despite their best efforts, as a result of the cuts imposed by Labor they can’t, we will address that in the budget in the normal way and not through a premature decision immediately after the release of the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.”

The minister said the budget difficulties of federal departments and resulting job losses were the fault of the previous Labor government.

A Customs spokesman refused to comment.

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