DOORSTOP INTERVIEW: NSW inflation figures and the cost of living crisis in NSW; planned industrial relations action by public school teachers; tollmania in Sydney; NRL Grand Final


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CHRIS MINNS, NSW LABOR LEADER: Chris Minns, NSW Labor Leader, I’m joined by Shadow Treasurer Daniel Mookhey to talk about the state of the economy and inflation in particular. Look, CPI numbers out today indicate that across the country, the National CPI rate year to year is at 5.1 per cent, in Sydney it’s 4.4 per cent. Worryingly, for the quarter its come in at 1.7 per cent which means if you project that forward could be as high as 6.8 per cent year on year. Inflation is the secret tax eating away at the ability of working families to meet their obligations to pay their mortgages to get their kids through school. Now the NSW Government has presided over an economy that has seen major increases in the essential costs on the family budget. Not much has been done by the NSW Premier to lower that cost of living over a prolonged period of time. The ABS reported yesterday that NSW is now the highest taxing state or territory in the entire country. Taxes and charges on local and state taxes went up 10 per cent over the last year clocking in at nearly $5000 for every man, woman and child in this state of NSW. So notwithstanding the fact that there are many other Labor governments in many other states and territories right across this country, the Perrottet Liberal government is responsible for the highest taxing government in the entire country. We’re now ranked seventh out of eight in the state of the states and as you can see, inflation is going through the roof. So the economic management of the state of NSW by the Premier has meant the burden has been passed on to the working families of NSW and not much has been done about it.

So I’d say to everybody in relation to the latest industrial disputes in NSW today, what’s more likely, that there’s a big conspiracy against the NSW Premier, or is it simply the fact that teachers are struggling to pay their mortgages? At the end of the day this is an economy that’s been presided over by Dominic Perrottet and many people are telling me it’s just too expensive to get ahead.

Daniel, over to you.

DANIEL MOOKHEY, SHADOW TREASURER: Thank you. Today’s inflation numbers are bad and let’s just be clear here; it makes it clear that NSW families are feeling the most amount of budget pressure they have in two decades, and it’s set to get worse. If we were to see this level of inflation continue on until the end of the year, the typical family in Sydney would see their pay cut by $6,000 in real terms. That’s a real reason as to why so many people are clamouring for a pay rise in both the private sector and the public sector. Now of course, with inflation numbers this high that of course has implications for interest rates, and whilst we respect the independence of the Reserve Bank, it is clear that NSW families need to brace themselves for interest rates to climb much higher than expected, much sooner than anyone thought as well. Of course, we’ll leave it to our federal leaders to talk about federal policy settings but when it comes to NSW and the NSW budget, today’s numbers has real implications for the economic strategy of the state. As we shift from an economic strategy built on low interest rates and low inflation to an expectation around interest rates going up and inflation soaring, that does mean that the NSW Government needs to get its budget in order. In truth, we can no longer afford many of the mistakes that Mr. Perrottet has brought us, we need discipline to return to the state’s finances. Time’s up on the type of strategies that the government has been pursuing for the last 10 years. Time is up on privatisation which means we no longer get the big fat dividend checks we need to ride out the interest rate cycle. We can’t continue to afford to put blow out after blow out on transport projects on the state’s credit cards when interest rates are likely to be rising and the borrowing costs doubling for the state. Equally budget cons like the Transport Asset Holding Entity which take place at the expense of investment in our schools and in our hospitals and when it comes to issues like toll relief is simply unaffordable. The simple message that we want to send to Mr. Perrottet is that you have to get your budget in order so families have more room to fix this.

MINNS: We’re both happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Regarding pay rises, if there is a pay rise that’s above the 2.5 per cent pay cap for public servants in the budget, if it’s above that level to keep up with inflation doesn’t that just add to inflation pressures?

MINNS: At the end of the day families are going to have to deal with the rising cost of living and one of the things that, I’ll get to your question in a minute, but one of the things that Dominic Perrottet has been insistent upon is the 2.5 per cent  wages cap, notwithstanding the fact that it was just 0.3 per cent 12 months ago. But the 2.5 per cent wages cap has been baked in by the NSW Government, at the same time that they’ve been raising the charges, fees, fines and tolls that they are responsible for. So taxes are expected to go up 3.6 per cent over the next four years, tolls are going up at least 4 per cent for the next 20 years and we now know that we’re the highest taxed state or territory in any part of Australia under the Liberal Party’s, Dominic Perrottet’s leadership as Treasurer and Premier of NSW. So he’s deliberately pursued a strategy of declining wages while increasing the charges and we’ve finally pegged him for it. At the end of the day he has to own up and explain what the situation is.

Now, in relation to inflation and wages, obviously, there are other mechanisms that the Commonwealth Government, the Central Bank, and other parts of the economy can pursue, but we can’t leave wage earners behind. At the end of the day they need to meet the rising costs of that basket of good. When petrol is going up at 30 per cent, when property prices are going up at 20 per cent, when rents are going up at 13 per cent, when food is going up at 10 per cent, transport costs at 12 per cent. At the end of the day, there is a limit to what families in NSW can meet with the rising cost of living, equalling a secret tax that’s hitting the families of this state. As Daniel said, for the average income earning family, they can expect a real wage cut of $6,000 as a result of these inflation figures, that’s a huge tax on the families of this state.

JOURNALIST: So in light off the government indicating that the wage cap won’t stay, do you still support the action of the unions?

MINNS: Well, I think the Premier interestingly revealed that there’ll be changes to the wages cap in the NSW budget in a couple of months time and I think many people would be furious if they’re traveling to work if they’re trying to organise their next week, the Premier’s effectively revealed that he’s going to move in relation to the wages cap, but he won’t reveal what that is to frontline public servants. If there’s a chance to avoid industrial action between now and the Budget Day, let’s pursue that opportunity. But I think inexperience and ideology is getting in the way of an outcome here. I urge the NSW Premier to speak with teacher representatives and paramedics and nurses – if there’s going to be movement in relation to the wages cut, reveal that now so that we can have an attempt at avoiding industrial disruption.

JOURNALIST: Chris the Premier has accused Labor and the unions of playing politics with kids and families right at the end of, you know, two years of the pandemic, first day of school and first few weeks going back to threaten strike action and to take it next week. What do you say to that, is that fair?

MINNS: A few things in relation to that. Firstly, we’ve had over a decade of Liberal government in NSW and we’ve had industrial peace for almost 10 years. So it seems as though a consultative, constructive negotiation between the former Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and worker representatives resulted in industrial harmony. We’re not getting that now that we have a change in management in this state. The second point is that the NSW Government is effectively pursuing a 2 per cent increase for the wages of teachers in the state, at the same time it’s been revealed that we’re on track for a 6.8 per cent increase in inflation over the same period of time. Now, I remember last year the Premier imposed a 0.2 per cent increase in wages and the rationale for that was that was the projected increase in inflation for the 2021 financial year. He’s not applying the same rationale when he’s looking at wages and conditions for public servants today. I made this point as well, there are many private sector jobs that have their wages pegged to the equivalent job in the NSW public service, they are being held back at the same time. So the Premier can’t have it both ways; he can’t preside over a tax system that has increases of 3.6 per cent each year for the next four years, tolls going up at 4 per cent each year for the next 20 years and NSW being the highest taxing state of any jurisdiction in the whole country, while at the same time doing everything he can to hold down wages.

JOURNALIST: It’s not just teachers, we know it’s nurses, it’s train drivers, bus drivers, etc. The fact that the Premier today has sort of signalled or given his strongest indication that there is going to be something in the Budget. And he’s sort of said that it would be one announcement suggesting that it’s going to be something to cover all, what would you hope that to look like for all of the public sector?

MINNS: It’s hard for me to pick what that announcement would be in the NSW Budget, it’s the first time effectively that the Premier has admitted that there will be changes to their wages strategy as far as the NSW budget is concerned. But nurses, paramedics, police officers, teachers aren’t, you know, clairvoyants either. They don’t know what’s in this in the system, they don’t know what’s coming up in the NSW Budget. If there’s going to be a change and it will be announced in the Budget in June, bring forward the announcement, perhaps we can avoid some industrial pain for the people of NSW. This requires dialogue and it requires consultation and negotiation. I have to say that’s what we had under the former Premier Gladys Berejiklian, because of inexperience and ideology, it seems to have gone off the table. But at the end of the day, people of NSW, whether they’re parents, whether there’s those that need to use public services are being caught, we need negotiations from the NSW Government.

JOURNALIST: The Premier today said effectively that it’d be an across the board wages policy. So for instance, say the 2.5 per cent goes to 5 per cent. Is that the right strategy, or does the government need to directly negotiate with each particular sector?

MINNS: We would like to see it on an enterprise level. We think that’s a better deal for the NSW taxpayer, we think it’s the most efficient way of driving wages policy and the reason for that is definitely cost of living and wages is a major part of the proposals from public sector unions. But for paramedics, it’s got to do with staffing levels and ramping for those that work in ancillary professions in public hospitals, it has got to do with the treatment in relation to superannuation and capital gains taxes. For teachers it has got to do with more teachers in the profession, for nurses it’s got to do with ratios. It would be better to deal with each individual one of those issues via a negotiation that includes the conditions as well as the categories as well as wages. I think that’s the best deal, and the best way of approaching it. Now, for the last 10 years we haven’t had that in NSW, we’ve had a catch all figure for the NSW public service. If that’s going to change, or if that’s the model their intent on keeping, I think they should reveal that to the public servants at this stage.

JOURNALIST: What kind of pay rise exactly would you want to see across the different sectors?

MINNS: We’d like to negotiate with them individually. We’ll of course, release our wages policy closer to the NSW election. It’s very difficult for us to do that from Opposition, because as I said, it’s not just in relation to wages, it’s also classifications, it’s also conditions. We need to be able to do that with those frontline public servants, that’s a better way to go. That’s the situation in Queensland and Victoria, we believe. Now, the NSW Government has been insistent that they’re not going to go down that road, they’d rather have the wages cap for all public servants, therefore depriving any ability of driving through efficiencies or some kind of negotiated outcome with public sector unions. That’s their policy, they’ve had that for the last 10 years, they’re unlikely to change it. Given that I think they should explain what figure they would like to have as far as their wages policy is concerned when the budget is handed down.

JOURNALIST: Do you support 5-7.5 per cent for teachers?

MINNS: At the end of the day it needs to be done in negotiations, because for teachers, as the Secretary of the Teachers Federation has made clear, it’s not just a case of wages, it’s also about teacher retention, it’s also about making sure that they fill vacancies of 10,000 teacher vacancies in NSW –

JOURNALIST: But specifically in relation to the pay rise – does 5-7.5 per cent, does that sound reasonable to you?

MINNS: Look at the end of the day, it’s impossible for me to nominate that figure. But I can say that, given that the NSW government is pursuing a 2 per cent increase for teachers at the same time as they’re acknowledging that inflation could hit 6.8 per cent, so I can say the number is too low. Now, I’d rather those negotiations take place, that would be the case under a Coalition government or a Labor government. Now, I’ve admitted that from the very beginning, it will be the case that should we win government in March 2023 we’ll have negotiations with public sector unions as well and it will be about wages and it will be about classifications and conditions. But the discussions need to happen, they need to take place.

JOURNALIST: On the NRL Grand final, the Premier today said that there’s no way it will leave NSW. Queensland apparently going to give $10 million to move it to Brisbane. Is there a concern from the Opposition there could be a bidding war between NSW and Queensland and money that could be going elsewhere to hospitals or schools may be going to keeping a game of football in Sydney?

MINNS: We know that game of football in Sydney. NSW taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on new stadiums to accommodate major events like the NSW rugby league, sorry I should say the Australian Rugby League Grand Final. It’s an important Sydney institution. The majority of clubs in the competition are based in Sydney. I’d expect their fan bases and the executive leadership of those clubs to stand up and say this is a Sydney institution, we want the game played in this state. So I’m heartened by the NSW Premier’s approach and I’m sure the leadership of the ARL would acknowledge that the NSW taxpayer has put a lot of money into building up the infrastructure to host games like this and we want to make sure that those games are played in NSW.

JOURNALIST: What if NSW has to put more money into suburban stadiums in order to keep you know, Peter V’landys on side?

MINNS: I think they’re different issues, because these are more marquee games associated with –

JOURNALIST: But the NRL is linking it to that.

MINNS:  Well look, it’s got to be obviously a discussion for the NSW Premier to have, I’ll wait and see what the fruit of those negotiations are, but obviously this game needs to be played in NSW and we’ve put a lot of money into rugby league, as we should have, it’s a great game and it needs that infrastructure, it needed that support. But it does require those big games to be played in Sydney. And as I said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable given the fact that the vast majority of teams are located in NSW.

JOURNALIST: Parramatta light rail stage 2, Geoff Lee’s again made comments about the federal government should be putting money in and the Coalition risks losing seats in that region. Do you believe the Feds need to step up?

MINNS: Well, this was a promise from the NSW Government under the former Transport Minister Andrew Constance. At the end of the day, he promised Parramatta light rail sage one and stage two and then we had a series of changes in relation to the project. So the simple truth is Clinton, I don’t know where the projects are up to. We’ve gone from it definitely going ahead to being trackless trams to being some kind of bendy buses. Then the current Transport Minister said it’s all going ahead and the good news is we’re building it all in NSW. Now it seems to be off altogether, and they’re requiring the Commonwealth government to step up. I would urge the NSW Government to be straight with the voters of Parramatta about where the project is up to today so they can make an informed decision about who’s best to represent them when they vote in a couple of weeks time.

JOURNALIST: If Albanese wins the election, and then you win the election, is that going to make it a lot easier for you to run the state with a Labor government at the federal level, will that make a difference?

MINNS: I’m not so sure. I mean, I was asked this question a bit during the by elections. I think that there are some natural tensions between the NSW Government and the Commonwealth Government as a function of our Federation. That was the case during the Carr, Keating governments and the Rudd, Keneally governments. I think that was similar to O’Farrell and Abbott Governments, I think they overlapped. All I can say is we will – if we were to win the election in March 2023, we will vigorously fight for the interests of NSW. Our obligation is for this state, regardless of who is in power federally, we’ll be fighting for our fair share, make sure we get our share of infrastructure money, our GST revenue, and we don’t want to see the taxpayers of this state fleeced.

JOURNALIST: Would it actually make it harder if Labor does win the federal election, does that then make it harder for you because there is a line of thought that many voters like a different party at each level, and it’s not like that in this state at the moment, but they like to have opposing parties on two levels.

MINNS: I genuinely believe we’ll sink or swim based on our performance during the state election in March 2023.

JOURNALIST: Just coming back to teachers wages, the government has accused Labor of playing politics with kids and parents, are you?

MINNS: I think that that is obviously not based on fact. If you look at the last 10 years under a Coalition government in NSW, and a Liberal National Government at the Commonwealth level, we’ve had wall to wall conservative governments and effective industrial peace going back for the last 10 years. Now we’ve got a new Premier inflation’s going up, he seems unable to deal with the negotiations that are required with his own public servants and as a result, you’ve got strikes. So no, I would ask people to ask themselves what’s more likely a conspiracy against the Premier of NSW, or is it simply the case that teachers can’t afford to pay their mortgages anymore?

JOURNALIST: And with this inquiry into tolls announced yesterday, what kind of cuts exactly would you want to see to the toll roads at the moment and the current prices?

MINNS: We are going to have to release our toll plan, cost of living plans as we get closer to the NSW election, but I did want to make the point that many of the problems associated with cost of living and toll increases that Sydney motorists are paying effectively a secret tax that they have to pay alongside inflation, alongside interest rate increases, alongside state taxes and fees and charges. Tolls that they were told about before the contracts were signed. So I’m talking about signing contracts with 4 per cent annual increases, talking about privatising the entire toll road network, given we’re the most tolled city on the face of the earth, talking about putting new tolls on old existing free roads. The NSW Government and the Premier specifically was warned repeatedly that this would lead to a crushing burden on families particularly in Western Sydney. They went ahead with it anyway. So it’s obviously in many senses an admission that the economic policies that have been pursued over the last 10 years have failed, given the fact that an inquiry has to take place and remediation measures, cost of living measures are required. Tolls eating the pay packets of the people of Sydney, the NSW Government was warned about it, and they went ahead anyway.

JOURNALIST: I’m not sure I’ve actually asked you this before, when you’re formulating the toll policy that we’re all anxiously waiting for, will you seek out a meeting with Transurban or are there issues of commercial inconfidence that means you can’t?

MINNS: We’re in a position where we’ll talk to academics, those involved in that commercial sector, anyone we can get our hands on from the NSW Government, we’ll pursue it through the parliamentary process.

JOURNALIST: But Transurban specifically, they own 16 of the 18.

MINNS: Obviously we’ll have discussions with – in many ways, that’s an interesting question Clinton. Those discussions have taken place at inquiry hearings already. So in many cases, Daniel and John have fronted up to committee meetings to directly ask about patronage levels, induced demand, how much money can Transurban expect to be compensated as a result of increased patronage. I’m not going to detail all of the conversations that we have, but we want to make sure that we’ve got a full picture when we release our policies in the run to the next election.

JOURNALIST: But it’s very different in the inquiry sense compared to actually sitting down even having a negotiation with them when you’re forming a policy to take to the voters.

MOOKHEY:  When it comes to having dialogue with Transurban, we will talk to anyone who can help us deliver more tolling relief for families of Sydney and NSW.

JOURNALIST: For most people its Transurban you need to meet with.

MOOKHEY: We have no issues meeting with Transurban.

JOURNALIST: But do you want to? They’re not going to seek you out, will you seek them out?

MOOKHEY: We will seek out the opportunity to talk to anybody who can add to our knowledge base when it comes to tolling in Sydney but I just made this point. We will have to seek out Transurban because the government is not forthcoming about the information they have. If the government was prepared to release precisely how much money they expected to collect from tolls between now and 2060, then no one would have to talk to Transurban about those figures. The truth is Transurban is providing the NSW Government these figures on a monthly basis. They publish a lot of their figures on their own website, as they are required to in accordance with an arrangement they’ve reached with the ACCC. Our message to the NSW government here is clear, the more transparent you are about what you signed up NSW families to when it comes to these contracts that go to 2060, the better our parliament will be and the better the public debate will be.

JOURNALIST: I just want to go back to the teachers strike. So when the Premier and the Education Minister arrived at Meadowbank Education Precinct this morning the teachers staged a walkout. So I wondered if you could tell me what you think of the decision to walk off school grounds when there’s students there? I’d like to also ask what you think of the union decision to ban Government MPs from going onto school property?

MINNS: Well, they’re probably one in the same question. I’d prefer it didn’t happen. I think teachers have got an important story to tell the NSW Premier, I wish that they’d explain in chapter and verse about how expensive it is to raise your family, to meet your obligations, to pay your mortgage in Sydney, given the NSW government’s pursuing just a 2 per cent increase in salaries when they know or they’re projecting a 6.8 per cent increase in the cost of living. In many cases, government MPs and politicians turn out to public schools with the media in tow and teachers feel like they’re being a prop. Why not use it as an opportunity to explain to the Premier how his policies in relation to taxes, fees, fines, charges and tolls have added to the burden for the average family and that the government’s offer is simply not enough to meet your obligations. So I understand they’re frustrated at being props for the NSW Premier, designed to make him look warm and cuddly, but it’s a good opportunity to sit down tell the Premier or the Minister for Education, dead on, this is what we’re going through, this is what we need and this is the challenge of being a nurse, a paramedic, a teacher in NSW today.

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