By Dick Nichols
SYDNEY — In a special one-day sitting last week, the Liberal-National state government of Nick Greiner brought down proposals to lop 12,500 public servants off the payroll, privatise the Government Insurance Office and the State Bank, contract out every possible state service and push the price of cigarettes up to nearly $4 a packet.
The mini-budget was crafted to extract as much as possible from a difficult political situation for Greiner, dependent on a one-seat majority in the lower house.
Above all, the package is based on the near certainty that the right-wing Labor Council machine will not (and, after three years of huff without puff, probably cannot) marshal the forces to withstand the onslaught.
To forestall any possibility of Sussex Street lapsing into militancy, Greiner announced that he will proceed with the controversial industrial relations legislation that triggered the recent NSW poll. The prospect of fighting the government on two fronts should quieten any thought of revolt in the timid grey souls in Labor Council.
So we are in for another "campaign" against the cuts. The buses will stop for 24 hours (Greiner wants to replace 850 full-time drivers with 400 part-timers), and there is talk of a day of protest around July 17. Doubtless this will be as effective as the 1988 Labor Council "Day of Outrage" which brought Sydney to a stop for a good 3
(If there is a fight, workers will be led into the fray by such titans as the Public Service Association leader who explained to an amazed media that Greiner's retrenchments were meant to cut jobs.)
Moreover, the cuts are cunningly selective, and would be difficult for even a committed and principled trade union leadership to fight. Cost savings will fall heaviest on the weakest. Some examples from the Treasury document outlining the cuts:
- "Substantial numbers of the elderly who are accommodated in public hospitals ... only require either community support services or hostel accommodation."
- "Short term grants to community groups [the Area Assistance Scheme] ... will be suspended in 1991-92."
- "The Department of Transport will be
reviewing the [school transport] scheme [which provides cheaper public transport for schoolchildren] and developing options to reform its operation."
The NSW union movement's strategy of "fighting" (ie, squawking) section by section means that the government will continue to pick off sections at will. This is especially true with regard to contracting out. The Treasury document drools at the potential savings:
"Prospective areas for contracting out include cleaning, security, computer services, research, purchasing, storage, records, printing, land management, auditing, training, legal services, personnel services, welfare services [!] and many other services."
The government also hopes to achieve across the entire public service the success it has had in luring workers out of the State Rail Authority with retrenchment packages. The Treasury document put the issue brutally:
"Following on the highly successful "Dob a Job" campaign undertaken by the State Rail Authority, employees in the public sector will be invited, at the discretion of individual Ministers and Chief Executive Officers, to nominate their own jobs or other jobs for consideration for elimination."
After a day of uproar, Greiner withdrew this proposal. Perhaps the thought that angry public servants might clog the system with proposals to eliminate the jobs of his ministers and Senior Executive Service fat cats prompted the rethink.
What will the ALP opposition do? Labor leader Bob Carr, the media-boosted "winner" of the last state election, is in strife. Greiner has adopted some of Labor's own election-time proposals for cuts and is now challenging Carr to produce an alternative plan to balance the NSW budget.