Punishing public servants for being honest or implementing the previous government’s policies is a petty move, Labor says.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott sacked three department secretaries within minutes of being sworn in on Wednesday: Andrew Metcalfe at Agriculture, Blair Comley at Resources and Energy, and Don Russell at Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Acting opposition leader Chris Bowen says it’s Australia’s loss.

“These public servants will be very hard to replace in terms of their collective wisdom,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Metcalfe had previously headed the immigration department under Labor and the Howard governments as well working in then-minister Philip Ruddock’s office.

But he has said publicly he didn’t believe turning asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia, a key plank of the coalition’s policy, would work.

“If Mr Metcalfe’s being punished for being honest that’s a very poor start for this government,” Mr Bowen said on Thursday.

“He was secretary of the Department of Agriculture; that was hardly somewhere where he was going to have to implement the government’s immigration policies even if they were concerned about that.”

Similarly, the Labor leader believed Mr Comley was punished “simply for having to implement … the previous government’s climate change policy”.

“This is a pretty petty move,” he said.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann defended the changes, saying the government now had the right people in the right positions to deliver its agenda.

“There were some changes but those changes were not dramatic,” he said.

He also defended a move to merge AusAID with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“We think it is important for our foreign aid objectives and our foreign affairs objectives to be more closely aligned,” he said.

“Australia needs to take a very close look at how our aid spending fits in with our national interests and our foreign affairs policy objectives.”

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