DOORSTOP INTERVIEW: Frontline healthcare workers industrial action; NSW Governments tollmania

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SONIA HORNERY, MEMBER FOR WALLSEND: I’d like to introduce, The member for Newcastle Tim Crakanthorp,  the candidate for the Hunter Dan Rapacholi and the Leader of the Opposition and future Premier, Mr. Chris Minns, welcome to Wallsend and welcome to our patch.

 

CHRIS MINNS, NSW LABOR LEADER: Thanks, Sonia, thank you for being here. It’s wonderful to be with Dan and Tim and yourself and also health workers who are obviously protesting this morning, taking industrial action about their wages and conditions. I think we should kick off with that, it’s a very important issue. The NSW Government for the last few years has been speaking about our frontline health workers and the enormous sacrifice and hard work they’ve put into this state over the last two years. I think it’s important to cast our minds back to the early days of the pandemic, when we were unclear what the disease would do to the central nervous system and the lungs and we asked hospital workers, nurses, paramedics, cleaners, to step into the breach to go to work regardless, and ensure that the safety and security of the people of New South Wales was looked after, they did that, that in the best traditions of the public service in New South Wales.

 

Now, we’re in a situation where petrol is going up, housings going up, rents are going up, fresh food and vegetable is going up by eight to nine per ent, tolls are going up four per cent a year, taxes are locked in by the NSW Wales Government as going up by three per cent each year for the next four years. It seems that every aspect of the household budget is rapidly increasing except for wages and the NSW Premier is doing everything he can to keep wages down right at the moment when families are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet. So enough of the rhetoric from the NSW Premier, please sit down with your own workforce, look at the conditions that these people are working in, understand how difficult it is to make ends meet in a place like Newcastle or a city like Sydney and start negotiating with your own workforce. We’ve had 10 years of industrial peace in New South Wales you have to say because the previous Premier of NSW actually negotiated with their own workforce in Gladys Berejiklian. There’s new management in town and for some reason, these talks and conversations are not taking place. The HSU and their members have been offered nothing in terms of a wage increase by the NSW Government, at the same moment when inflation is predicted to be in Sydney at least, 4.8 per cent. You cannot pay your mortgage, get your kids through school and do everything else you need to do on that salary. Something needs to give. I’m calling on the NSW Government to do just that.

 

Briefly in relation to floods before I hand over to Dan. Look, there’s really important messages to the population in particular Sydney to listen to official words and comments from emergency services over the next 24 to 48 hours. Please don’t drive through floodwaters, you’re putting your own life at risk, the life of your passengers as well as rescue efforts and those that work in the rescue and emergency services who will have to come in and try and rescue you. We need to make sure that you listen to the Bureau of Meteorology, SES alerts and all kinds of emergency management. It’s going to be a precarious situation potentially for the next 24 hours, we don’t want any lives lost because people can make avoidable decisions that don’t put themselves in harm’s way.

 

Dan, over to you.

 

DAN RAPACHOLI, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR THE HUNTER: Thanks Chris, these frontline health care workers who have been saviours through this pandemic. But not only in this pandemic, they’ve been saviours for many years before that and right now it’s time we need to start looking after them. This government needs to have a good hard look at themselves and lift their game in what they’re doing. These workers deserve more money, better conditions and better pay.

 

Thank you.

 

MINNS: Happy to take questions.

 

JOURNALIST: Obviously over there, they’ve been talking about that 2.5  per cent cap, if you were to become Premier, would you remove that?

 

MINNS: Look, at the end of the day the legislated wage cap is putting downward pressure on wages and something’s got to give. The government can’t have it both ways, they can’t wave through all kinds of cost increases for hundreds of thousands of public sector workers and at the same time work hard to keep down wages of those very same workers.

 

I think that another point that’s important here, it’s not just public sector workers, there are many private sector jobs that have their salary and conditions pegged to the public sector. For example, non government school teachers, security guards, nurses in residential aged care and many other jobs. Now, research has indicated that they’ve earned 34 per cent less than other private sector jobs as a result of the wages cap and when you’ve got the Reserve Bank Governor himself saying that the wages cap is making it very difficult for families to make ends meet I think all roads lead to the NSW Government showing some common sense and my sense is the budget’s due to be handed down in late June, if the Government is going to move from the legislated 2.5 per cent wage cap to say 3.5 per cent, why don’t you announce that now and start meaningful negotiations with the workforce? We may be able to avoid industrial action between now and the budget right when the flu season is about to hit and people obviously would prefer not to have the inconvenience.

 

JOURNALIST: Obviously, wages aren’t the only issue, staffing numbers, obviously a higher wage might bring more staff in but how do you see that that issue could be fixed, having more staff available?

 

MINNS: Yeah look, they’re complicated issues, and they vary from workforce to workforce. So in relation to teachers, it’s obviously a big issue to do with teacher shortages and the lack of teachers being able to work and teach in Western Sydney and regional NSW and in places like the Hunter, for paramedics it’s a different issue, for nurses it’s different issue again. We would like to have the flexibility to discuss that with the workforce to talk about wages and conditions and have meaningful dialogue. The problem with the wage cap is it’s legislated, there’s nothing anyone can do about it and you can’t move from that number, so it means the taxpayer in the long run loses out and of course workers feel like their significant contribution to the state is not appreciated, added to the fact it’s very difficult to make ends meet at the moment.

 

JOURNALIST: Hi Chris, we’re just at the WestConnex M4, M5 link tunnel this morning, the roads been paved there. We’re just wondering whether you think that all of this, you know, the billions of dollars have been poured into the WestConnex project and this latest one is worth it. And then certainly when it comes to tolls, is it worth it for motorists?

 

MINNS: This is what I’d say, the East gets brand new infrastructure, the West gets toll roads. Dominic Perrottet has got a blind spot when it comes to Western Sydney. At the end of the day you can’t say to the hundreds of thousands of people that live west of Parramatta, we’re not going to give you the services and infrastructure you need to get around Sydney. Most of the capital infrastructure in Sydney has been spent east of Parramatta, most of the population growth is west of Parramatta. It is not keeping pace with the hundreds of thousands of people that are moving into these communities and I think the communities of Western Sydney are absolutely sick of it. It’s time Dominic Perrottet started to put Western Sydney first and start to think about those families.

 

The second point, as it starts to rain, is look, tolls are going up at four per cent each year every year regardless of the rate of inflation, the only reason they don’t go up four per cent is if inflation is higher than that. That’s what’s happening in Sydney at the moment, the privatisation of the toll road network has put the people of New South Wales second, toll road companies first. It’s a disgrace something needs to be done about it.

 

JOURNALIST: Is there any chance, you know, that if things go your way next year that you could be standing, you know, opening some of those major projects and perhaps reducing tolls?

 

MINNS: Yeah look obviously, we’re going to have to go to the next election with our cost of living package and to talk about toll relief, we know that. We don’t want to hypothecate that before the budget comes down in late June. But what I will say is this, the Government’s obsession with toll roads and privatisation has meant that the family, the typical family, particularly in Western Sydney has been squeezed. We cannot have a situation where hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to spend more than five grand a year in tolls while brand new infrastructure is being spent in eastern Sydney. It’s not fair, everybody pays taxes, they all deserve their fair share. It’s really a case of pork barrelling going out of control.

 

JOURNALIST: And just finally, the government has finally repaid those people who were overcharged in their tolls over the last couple of weeks, there was 120,000 people who were overcharged, how do you think the Government handled that?

 

MINNS: Yeah, isn’t it funny when you use a toll road, it comes out of your account in seconds, but when you need a reimbursement it takes months, and this is typical of the NSW Government. It’s a real tollmania in Sydney. Sydney is the most tolled city on the face of the earth. The fact that it’s been privatised means commuters can’t win, motorists can’t win, toll road companies simply can’t lose.

 

JOURNALIST: Today the Premier actually took a bit of a swipe and said that Labor originally opposed the Westconnex project, what’s your response to them?

 

MINNS: There’s no basis in fact in relation to that statement. What I say is the Premiers here announcing a brand new piece of infrastructure for the East absolutely nothing for Western Sydney. I think he’s got a real blind spot when it comes to the families of Western Sydney. They’re missing out in relation to this, all they are left with is toll roads and when they’re going up at four per cent each year, every year, for 20 years, there’s no wonder families of Western Sydney have had enough.

Thanks everyone.

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