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Issue #1552      20 June 2012

NSW hit with horror budget

Thousands of public servants and other workers took part in the protest organised by Unions NSW last Wednesday against the state government’s plans to cut their workers’ compensation entitlements. (See last week’s Guardian, 13-06-2012) They also protested against the massive cuts to public sector jobs and services in the state government’s horror budget, handed down the day before.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and his Treasurer Mike Baird.

Forget all the pre-election promises of no public sector job losses, better services, lower taxes and lower costs. Behaving like neo-liberals on steroids, Premier Barry O’Farrell and his treasurer Mike Baird did exactly the opposite, announcing an austerity program of service cuts, sackings and privatisations. The centrepiece of the budget is the housing hoax for first homeowners.

The generous sounding grant for first home buyers of $15,000 is limited to newly-constructed housing under $650,000. At the same time those who buy pre-existing accommodation lose the present grant of $7,000. Around 85 percent of purchases by first home buyers are for existing homes and most of the homes that qualify are out in the far west or northwest of Sydney and lack basic infrastructure and public transport.

The government refused to give details of the 10,000 public sector jobs that are on the line over the next four years; the one thing that is clear is that not all of the 15,000 job losses will be voluntary. Public sector unions have indicated they will instruct their members not to accept increases in workloads as a result of cuts.

Baird also refused to say which 120 programs will be axed to save $1.2 billion.

Port Kembla Coal Terminal will be privatised and the government plans to sell off the future revenue stream from NSW Lotteries. There will be a new tax on property owners “to fund fire and emergency services” – that sounds better than saying the aim is to make a budget surplus in two years time.

The one positive element in the budget is that a start will be made on the North West and South West Rail links.

Last Tuesday’s horror budget follows on from a trail of other announcements including the privatisation of Sydney Ferries, buses, electricity generators and a reduction in the number of public servants by 5,000 in last year’s budget (a process which is already under way).

The government’s proposed changes to workers’ compensation include the loss of protection on the way to and from work, the capping of medical expenses and cutting out compensation after two and a half years for most injured workers, regardless of progress made towards recovery or needs.

Sydney’s ferries are already in the process of being privatised. Buses are next in line. As with the previous government, details regarding privatisations are shrouded in secrecy. The one certainty is that these services will be contracted out with guarantees of profit levels (with subsidies from government) for their new managers or owners and the public sector left to foot the bill when things go wrong.

Public education is set for a hammering. On May 31 the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) began the gutting of support for schools as part of the controversial Local Schools Local Decisions policy. The NSW Teachers’ Federation estimates that over 200 positions that currently deliver support for schools in curriculum, student equity and professional development have been axed.

The Local Schools Local Decisions policy result in the destruction of public education with an end to centralised employment, career paths and permanent employment for teachers. State schools will have similar autonomy to hire and fire and manipulate budgets to the private (including church) schools. Salary scales will mean nothing. Quality education will be undermined. Casualisation of teaching and other staff will increase.

Last year public sector unions went on strike and marched against a government attack on public sector wages, jobs and services. The government was legislating to limit the increase in wages and salaries to 2.5 percent per annum for at least four years – in effect a reduction in real wages.

Any increase over and above that has to be funded out of job losses, higher workloads and cuts in resources and to services. The legislation also has the effect of denying public servants the right that other workers have to have their wages and working conditions heard before the Industrial Relations Commission.

Transport Workers Union members were amongst those taking part in last Wednesday’s protest. They are also fighting government plans to put bus services across NSW out to tender. The tender process is to commence from July 1, 2012. “The tender process raises concerns about a possible race to the bottom and the undercutting of your pay and conditions to seek to win contracts,” the TWU said.

“It is clearly completely unacceptable for the pay and conditions of bus drivers to be undercut to attempt to win contracts…

“The current wage for a bus driver is too low, with a 38-hour week bringing in a gross of less than $33,000. It is simply not good enough. It needs to be increased. A commitment to improve pay and conditions for bus drivers needs to form part of the minimum legal requirements for all bus tenders,” the TWU said.

Last Thursday, the people of NSW were hit again with news that as from next month their electricity bills will rise by another 18 percent! Families can expect to be forking out another $400 or more in electricity bills.

Park rangers have been taking industrial action over the government’s plans to expand amateur hunting in National Parks. The O’Farrell government has relaxed the gun laws to buy job votes of the Shooters Party.  

Next article – Embassy backers call for tolerance

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