Public Sector Wage Freeze

Today Abigail spoke in strong opposition to the proposed wage freeze on public sector workers made by the NSW Government and supported the motion to disallow that decision.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (17:12:50): I add my comments to those of my colleague Mr David Shoebridge in support of this motion. There has been a lot to grieve for over the past few months. We have all been through a really hard time. But, above everything, the actions of our frontline workers has provided us with great comfort. Across the State we have been looking at our nurses, teachers, paramedics and a whole host of other public sector workers with admiration and appreciation. Throughout the bushfires, throughout the bushfire season and during this pandemic even the most hardened neoliberal conservatives have paused to consider whether our essential workers are in fact undervalued and underpaid. In times of crisis our society is made stronger and more resilient with a strong and well-resourced public sector, with health, education and other essential services run by the public and for the public.

This crisis has confirmed that we cannot rely on the private sector in an emergency and that now is the time to further expand and strengthen the public sector. Anyone who was paying attention during the global financial crisis and who observed the successes and failures of various countries across the globe in stimulating or attempting to stimulate economic recovery would know that austerity measures are a cruel and ineffective policy measure. What is required at these times to stimulate the economy in a robust and long-lasting way, as well as being the fair and equitable thing to do, is to put more money in the pockets of low- and middle-income earners. Moreover, those countries that did introduce austerity measures are still in a recession. They never recovered from the global financial crisis. They still have very high rates of youth unemployment in particular, even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

This move to freeze the wages of essential public sector workers shows how completely out of touch this Government is with community values. It shows its narrow and short-sighted focus when it comes to our economy. To see the Premier and the Leader of the Government in this House try to position themselves as one of the workers, as if freezing their pay or my pay is at all similar to freezing the pay of those earning less than half of what I earn. I will happily have my pay frozen, but my situation is obviously very different to that of a nurse or other frontline worker. It is as if those who are at the mercy of being on the Government's chopping block are at all the same as those who are doing the chopping. Clearly we are not all in this together. I keep hearing that from the Government and it makes me really angry.

We are all weathering the same storm, but we sit in very different boats. Some of those boats will better withstand this storm than others. I have listened to the arguments from the Government. What really bothers me is this divisive debate between workers. It as though we can pit private sector and public sector workers against each other, as though taking $3 billion from the public sector will somehow automatically benefit those in the private sector when we know that is simply not the case. You could raise $3 billion by not punching down. You could actually raise $3 billion by not blowing out on transport projects. It was reported in January that Transport for NSW recruited over 10 public relations and communications staff at an annual cost of $1.8 million. This kind of thing happens all the time.

It is divisive and dishonest to suggest that the only way we can pay for $3 billion in infrastructure is to somehow rob our essential workers of their pay. I could help you raise money from the big sector, from the big end of town, if you like. I could suggest $1.5 billion being raised over three years with a really modest supplementary bank levy on the New South Wales assets of Australia's big four banks. I could give you half a billion dollars by putting a levy on the amount of fossil fuels being extracted practically rent free in New South Wales. I can give you a number of other ideas that involve taxing the wealthy and the big corporations; ideas that do not involve punching down on essential workers. You lack imagination and creativity. This Government should be ashamed of itself. We support the disallowance motion.

Read the full transcript on Hansard here.

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