Frontline workers deserve more from the Coalition

In Estimates, Abigail confronted the Treasurer about the tens of thousands of public sector workers demanding more from the Coalition - why won't they listen? 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: I want to ask you firstly about your comments in relation to the unions and the striking. At what point does the Coalition Government take responsibility for the tens of thousands of public sector workers across the State being worse off because of the wages cap?

Mr MATT KEAN: Ms Boyd, the Coalition Government has just handed down one of the most generous public sector pay increases anywhere in the country—a 3 per cent pay increase for public servants across the board, including a $3,000 one-off bonus for our nurses and our health frontline workers who were heroes during the pandemic. I'm very proud that we've done that, Ms Boyd. I hope you're levelling —

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Let me just stop you there. So after 11 years of receiving so much less than what they are worth and so much less than what they otherwise would because of the wages cap, you've given them— finally, we have an increase. Are you saying that that makes up for all of the thousands of dollars that they've lost over that time?

Mr MATT KEAN: How have you quantified that, Ms Boyd? Because the reality is that public sector wages growth has outstripped private sector wages growth for the last 10 years that the wage cap has been in place. So, in fact, public servants are better off in terms of the growth of their wages than their private sector counterparts. So I reject the premise of your question, Ms Boyd.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Okay, I will rephrase it. There's no doubt that across the board wages have been flatlining, whether it's private sector or public sector, and we've had this discussion before about the leadership that can be shown by the wage setting in the public sector. But when we come down to it, we have record rates of inflation. We still have well over 13 per cent of people in this State living in poverty. We have quite alarming rates now of energy poverty and people doing it into credibly tough. You just have to go out of this building and take a straw poll of 10 people on the street to know that the actual standard of living in this State has gone markedly down. And I do appreciate that there have been a number of reasons for that, but the bottom line is that people are doing it tough. At what point does your Government look at the workers who are striking and understand that they have no choice in the matter because they're trying to get your attention to get a proper set of wages and conditions? 

Mr MATT KEAN: The first thing I'd say, Ms Boyd, is that people are doing it tough at the moment. What we're seeing is the hangover effect of COVID, with labour supply shortages and capacity constraints driving up inflation. You've got a confluence of events. You've got the war in Ukraine. A number of things are making it harder for people to deal with cost-of-living pressures. I recognise that. That's one of the reasons we've got over $7 billion of measures in the State budget to help families and those that need it most with cost-of-living pressures. Take, for example, our Energy Bill Buster program—nearly $130 million put on the table to support families with their energy bills. That program, as you know, Ms Boyd, will not only see people being able to trade in their rebates for energy efficient appliances or solar panels—

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: Can I stop you there? Because I'm going to come back to energy perhaps in my next round of questioning and we can talk about the other issues in that part of your portfolio responsibilities. There was a lot of fanfare about this budget that you've handed down being the so-called "women's budget". I think you're aware of how scathing I was when I actually read the budget. But the thing that stood out most was the seeming lack of awareness that when you have such huge percentages of women in health, education and other public sector jobs and when you have denied them a proper wage rise you are significantly disadvantaging the women of this State. Why haven't you looked at providing a proper wage increase for women across the State in our public sector?

Mr MATT KEAN: What do you deem is a proper wage increase, Ms Boyd? But can I just make the point that the Victorian Labor Government has given a 1.5 per cent public sector pay rise and I don't see the same unions that are threatening the year of the strike here in New South Wales doing likewise in Victoria. The Western Australian Labor Government has actually had a pay freeze and the same comrades are not out there shutting down the rail network in Western Australia. But we've given one of the most generous public sector pay increases anywhere in the nation at the moment. I'm asking you: What are you saying is appropriate, given that inflationary impacts, we think, are temporary as a result of the hangover of COVID? Obviously we've changed our wages policy for the next two years to deal with that. We'll review that again in light of the economic circumstances that we're faced with.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: You basically need to play catch-up though. If you've got 53,760 women teachers who have been worse off over the last 11 years because of the wages cap, to now give them a wage rise that doesn't account for the tens of thousands of dollars they've lost over that time—can you see that that's not enough? Can you see why they might be taking to the streets to complain about it?

Mr MATT KEAN: But you're talking about playing catch-up. The reality is that real wages have grown for public servants over the last 10 years under our wages policy. They've outstripped their private sector
counterparts by some margin. Right now, we've adjusted our wages policy to reflect the changing economic conditions. It's a wages policy that is more generous than the Victorian Labor Government's wages policy or the Western Australia Labor Government's wages policy. So I'm asking you to tell me what you think an appropriate wages percentage is.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: At least 5 per cent.

Mr MATT KEAN: But on what basis is 5 per cent? Is that The Greens' policy?

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: On the basis that people need to be able to afford to live.


You can read the full transcript here.

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