Public Sector Attacks Based On False Premises

Editorialsep2011September 2011

In NSW, public sector workers’ pay and conditions have been attacked and the Federal Liberal Opposition has a plan to axe 12,000 federal public sector jobs. The rationale for these attacks is wrong.

In NSW, the rationale is a budgetary black hole and in Canberra it is a bloated bureaucracy. Both these claims are false and there is plenty of evidence to prove it.

Immediately after its election, the O’Farrell Government claimed to have found a $4.5 billion black hole in the NSW budget. This is a familiar modus operandi by incoming governments. Even the language is recycled and unimaginative.

Three independent reports by the NSW Treasury, the independent Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) and the ratings agency Standard and Poors, respectively, have debunked this claim (see p17)

The Treasury report said the Coalition’s figures were $3 billion out and any deterioration was due to falling revenue. The PBO’s report said the claim was ‘unsupported by evidence or conflicts with available information’. Standard and Poors gave the state an AAA rating and said the NSW budget was strong and in a sound operating position.

So, there is no black hole in the budget and NSW’s finances are actually very healthy. To continue to use this fiction of a black hole to justify attacks on the public sector, its conscientious employees and their pay and conditions is unconscionable.

Research by Unions NSW has found that the O’Farrell Government is out of step with the NSW public on this issue.

It found that workers in both the public sector and the private sector are opposed to public sector workers losing their right to bargain with their employer on pay and conditions. This is seen as a right for all Australians.

This is consistent with other research done by the Centre for Policy Development (CPD), which found that people are very favourably disposed to public servants and that they consider public servants to be very committed.

The CPD report found that two thirds of Australians support maintaining or boosting public service funding.

Looking at the federal public sector, the CPD found it was roughly the same size as it was 20 years ago, while Australia’s population had grown by three million. Effectively, there has been a decline in the number of public servants per capita. In 1990, there was one (Commonwealth) public servant for every 106 Australians. In 2009, there was one public servant for every 135 Australians.

‘Australia invests less in its public sector and public services than most comparable countries. People are very happy to fund an improved public service rather than see it axed,’ noted the report’s author James Whelan.

Urgent steps needed in aged care

The Productivity Commission report into aged care has been released and it falls well short of what nurses say needs to be done to fix the sector.

It acknowledges that fair and competitive wages and staffing levels are critical. This is an important finding from an economically rigorous organisation.

It then shirks the logical response and puts forward potential solutions that are postponed well into the future.

It recommends the creation of an Australian Aged Care Commission with responsibility for pricing, complaints and wages. It is not expected to come into existence for another three to five years.

That is far too long without any movement on wages, and aged care can’t wait.

The ball is now in the Federal Government’s court, and the ANF and the NSWNA expect Julia Gillard to honour her promise of fixing aged care in her government’s second term.

A good place to start would be the 2012 Federal Budget.