This speech was delivered on 21 August 2013 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the full debate online here.
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT 1996: DISALLOWANCE OF THE INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS (PUBLIC SECTOR CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT) AMENDMENT REGULATION 2013
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [12.01 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I indicate that The Greens will be gladly supporting this disallowance motion to strike down yet another underhanded attack by the O’Farrell Government on working people in New South Wales. There are several reasons that the Government’s attempt to take yet another 0.25 per cent from the wages of public sector workers is deeply unprincipled. The first is the Government’s own rationale for its cap on public sector wages. In questioning in estimates, the Treasurer accepted that the Government has imposed a cap of 2.5 per cent on public sector wages because that is what it expects the long-term inflation average to be. For the past 16 years that has been the long-term outcome, and it is the Reserve Bank’s target going forward.
Therefore, the Government has said—I do not accept this rationale as it is an appallingly narrow economic rationalist approach to wages, but it is the Government’s argument for putting the cap at 2.5 per cent—that that is what it expects inflation to be over time. The second reason it is linked to inflation is that it retains the purchasing power of public sector wage packets. People have enough money to pay the power bill, buy groceries, register the car and cover ordinary living expenses. But people cannot register their car or buy groceries with their superannuation. When I put that proposition to the Treasurer in the budget estimates hearing he ducked and weaved, and said, “Well, when they retire they can use their superannuation.”
The PRESIDENT: Order! Mr David Shoebridge has the call.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: The Treasurer said, “When they retire they can use their superannuation to pay their power bills and pay for their groceries.” That is a disgraceful answer to the hundreds of thousands of public sector workers who expect some decency in their wage outcomes from this Government. So the proposition is deeply unprincipled, even on the Government’s narrow terms. The Government said that the 2.5 per cent cap will meet cost-of-living increases, yet it wants to nibble back 0.25 per cent to put in superannuation when it knows that workers cannot pay their bills with their superannuation. The Treasurer’s attempt to defend the proposition under questioning in the estimates hearing was barren and stank of desperation.
The second reason is that it is a lack of good faith. The Public Service Association, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, sat down with the Government. The negotiations were difficult. Would the Public Service Association accept or challenge the 2.5 per cent? Would it look for other ways to exceed the 2.5 per cent through changes in work practices and the like? The Public Service Association consulted its membership. Earlier this year the Public Service Association spoke with the Government and struck a deal for a wages increase of 2.5 per cent. Correspondence shows that the O’Farrell Government agreed to a wage increase of 2.5 per cent.
When the Public Service Association made that agreement it did so in light of the regulation that had been issued by the former finance Minister, the Hon. Greg Pearce. As we now know in unambiguous terms from the Industrial Relations Commission, the agreement did not include superannuation. So the Government negotiated with the Public Service Association, one assumes in good faith, and struck a good faith agreement with the Public Service Association on 2.5 per cent. However, when the award was to be registered, suddenly out of the Government’s back pocket came this cunning argument that it does not have to pay for superannuation; the Government can take 0.25 per cent out of the wage increase for superannuation.
The Hon. Robert Brown: You’re not saying that skunked them, are you?
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Indeed I am. These were appallingly bad faith negotiations with public sector workers in New South Wales. The Government said one thing in negotiations but at the last minute it pulled out this trump card and tried to take another 0.25 per cent off public sector workers. And when the independent umpire, the Industrial Relations Commission, which heard the arguments of the Public Service Association and the Government, told the Government that it could not do so the Government tried to change the ground rules retrospectively. It wanted a retrospective change to the deal it struck with the Public Service Association.
The Hon. Robert Brown: That’s untrustworthy.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Members of this House should—and I am pleased to see that they will—not allow the Government to get away with that kind of double-dealing. It should not allow the Government to say one thing when it is negotiating with the Public Service Association but then change the ground rules on the Public Service Association by making retrospective changes to the regulation. This House, the House of review, needs to keep an eye on the Government. If there is proof positive that we need a House of review to keep an eye on the Executive and the Government when it tries to cut underhanded deals, underhanded approaches to public sector wages and to dealing with hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, the proof positive that we need an independent House of review in New South Wales is exactly the kind of behaviour we have seen from the O’Farrell Government. The Greens will be lending their support to this disallowance motion, and we say good riddance to this regulation.