Doorstop Interview: Flood relief funding; tolls; planned healthcare industrial action in NSW


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CHRIS MINNS, NSW LABOR LEADER: Look first of all, money that’s being announced by the NSW Premier today for the Northern Rivers is of course welcomed but while new money is welcomed, they still haven’t gotten the old money out the door. 548 people have actually been paid as part of the government’s grants process but 9,000 have applied and haven’t got dollar from the NSW Government yet. We’re six weeks after the disaster is taking place, we need to make sure the NSW Government start funding to rebuild these communities and give them a shot at making sure that community can come back. I’ve spoken to businesses and households and community leaders on the Northern Rivers, it’s beyond doubt that they are hurting. They’ve been promised support by the NSW Government, we need to make sure that money starts to flow and hits the bank accounts of the people of that community. At the moment there’s just no money to stimulate small business, to get the economy going and to ensure that people have the much needed and necessary funds to rebuild their house, their businesses and their lives. At the moment that needs to be the priority for the NSW Premier. As I said 9,000 people have applied for help from the NSW Government, only 548 have actually been paid. We need to ensure that that money is distributed to these communities, that’s what was promised, that’s what needs to be delivered.

Secondly, there’s reports out of Byron Bay that 60 families are going to be evicted as we head into the Easter holiday period. I just think this is scandalous. These communities and these people have been promised a refuge because they’ve been flooded out through no fault of their own, and they need help from the NSW Government. To be evicted on the eve of the Easter holidays right when you want family and community to be closer together I think is outrageous. I suspect that community leaders in Byron Bay and locals in Byron Bay would be shocked to hear that this is the case. We have to understand this is not a reality series in Byron Bay, this is real people’s lives. We need to make sure that they’re helped and supported, that was the promise from the NSW Government.

Third issue, and obviously this is a major one for the week ahead is industrial action, and the dispute between frontline workers and the NSW Government. I just reiterate my point to the NSW Premier, it’s time to sit down and have meaningful discussion and negotiations with your own workforce. We’ve got a situation where petrol’s going up at 30 per cent a year, house prices have gone up 20 per cent a year, rents have gone up 12 per cent a year, meats gone up 12 per cent a year, transport costs up around 10 per cent a year, inflation is predicted to be at 4.8 per cent in Sydney for the next 12 months and yet, the salary cap, the wages cap is pegged at 2.5 per cent. So we’re now in a situation where for hundreds of thousands of public servants, they’re being told to expect a real wage cut for the work they do on behalf of the state. It’s also important to note that there are many private sector employees that have their salary and conditions pegged to the public system. I’m talking about non government school teachers, security guards, those that work in aged care and they’ve had a real wage decline as well. So this impacts not just the public sector, the private sector wages at the same time. I think many people are saying everything’s going up in New South Wales except for wages, and many people can’t get by simply because they’re not earning enough money to keep pace with the rising cost of living in Sydney and in New South Wales.

Lastly, before I take questions, the very scandalous situation whereby people being charged double for using the toll roads. Look, I mean, as if toll roads weren’t expensive enough, now you’re getting tolled for not even using them. We’re now in this situation where toll road companies are inadvertently and mistakenly taking money out of their users bank accounts. It’s not good enough. When you use a toll road it comes out of your account in seconds, when they inadvertently take it it takes months to get back into your account. This is theft and it’s coming out of the motorists of New South Wales, as if they weren’t paying enough to these toll road companies now they have to pay when they’re not even using the road. This has to be reversed immediately, we shouldn’t be paying for toll roads that we’re not even using and to think that the expense of using a toll roads already extremely expensive and Sydney’s the most tolled city on the face of the earth. Something needs to be done about it, all we’re hearing is hot air from the Roads Minister, she needs to be doing better than we’ve seen over the last 24 hours.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Funding for the flood relief, first off, that will from what we understand will only be for people who don’t have insurance and haven’t accessed the disaster relief grant. Is there a large pool of people that will be able to access it from what you understand, is it going to cover off on enough of our flood victims that are without a home or have had significant damage?

MINNS: Yeah, it’s unclear at this point, we’re waiting for the government’s formal announcement as to the $20,000. I’m unclear whether it’s an extra $20,000, the government had announced previously that for doubles, they can expect $20,000 to remediate a house, to fix the house up after damage. They need to clarify whether this will be in addition to that original payment. We’ve made the point two weeks ago in Lismore that the Queensland Government is giving $50,000 grants to communities that have been hit hard by floodwaters, we think that should be the number that the NSW Government adopts. Premier Perrottet may be going down a different road but he needs to articulate how that will affect the community and how people can access those funds. I mean, the end of the day, you can’t have a situation where 9000 people have applied for assistance, and yet only 548 have actually got any money in their bank account. We’re six weeks into this and the community is saying we were promised help, we need it now, two or three weeks’ time it might be too late.

JOURNALIST: And the Premier has only just returned from his babies leave I guess, he’s got a few things on his plate to get stuck into when we’ve got so many people displaced from their homes and people fighting for fairer pay.

MINNS: Yeah, look there’s a lot on the agenda in NSW at the moment but the taxpayers of this state would expect the government to be working around the clock on their behalf, whether it’s the flood affected communities of the Northern Rivers, or frontline workers that we’ve been relying on during the COVID19 pandemic. Yes, it’s a complicated and difficult situation but that’s why politicians get paid money, that’s why the government gets paid money. They’re expected to do this job, and we need to see it sorted.

We’ve made the point in relation to paying conditions particularly for nurses and paramedics that if the government is intent on moving the wages cap up, in line with the fact that inflation is predicted to be at 4.8 per cent for Sydney over the next 12 months, then make that announcement now, any day lost in industrial action between now and when the budgets handed down, may be averted if they start having meaningful dialogue with their own employees. That’s certainly the model that was adopted by the former Premier Gladys Berejiklian, we’d like to see that repeated right now so that we can avoid some strike action and the people of New South Wales will be I guess, caught between that that consultation and that negotiation.

JOURNALIST: And just on those tolls lastly, Transport for NSW said that they would look into what led to the glitch or you know, computer error in double charging, for it to happen again, little over a week later, I mean, is there a bit of a failure there in their system which really should be fixed faster?

MINNS: Look, as if toll roads weren’t expensive enough now you have to pay twice for using it once. This is not good enough. When you go through a toll road it comes out of your account in seconds, when it needs to be reimbursed, it takes months. Now this is robbery for many motorists, particularly in Western Sydney who can’t afford to use the toll roads in the best of times, let alone paying twice for the experience of using these very expensive toll roads and Sydney is the most tolled city on the face of the earth. Tolls are going up at four per cent each year, every year, double the long term rate of inflation and yet when inflation rises above four per cent, guess what, tolls rise even higher than that. We need to get some balance in relation to this because at the end of the day, the privatised toll road monopoly in Sydney is hitting motorists hard and it’s just not fair on working families in the state.

JOURNALIST: Just to confirm there were some that were triple ups, as well and people charged three times and even some charged up to $70,000?

MINNS: Yeah look, we’re hearing reports that some motorists are being charged $70,000 incorrectly for using toll roads. As if they weren’t expensive enough, now they’re hitting people for using it, double charging or triple charging for using toll roads in Sydney. This is just not good enough. We’ve heard some hot air from the Roads Minister who’s been promising to fix this problem for weeks now. As I said, when you use a toll road, it comes out of your account in seconds, when it needs to be reimbursed, seemingly it takes months.

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