NSW budget privatises more public assets, cuts wages

November 18, 2020
Union rally in Sydney before the budget. Photo: Peter Boyle

Nurses, paramedics, teachers, cleaners, contact tracers and other public sector workers rallied on November 16 ahead of the New South Wales budget, demanding the government reverse their pay cut.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet confirmed in his budget speech the next day that public service workers would only receive a 0.3% this financial year and 1.5% in the future.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey slammed the government saying that suppressing the wages for public servants will “slow economic recovery”.

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association general secretary Brett Holmes described the government’s argument as “extreme”.

“Public sector nurses and midwives, who received a modest 2.5% wage increase in previous years, have had their wages frozen at 0.3% pay rise this year and now face the prospect of never seeing their wages rise by more than 1.5%,” Holmes said.

He said the treasurer had not ruled out an indefinite pay freeze for nurses and midwives “no matter how hard they work or how many lives they save”. The impact, particularly in rural and regional areas, will be “enormous”.

Perrottet forecast that the 2020–2021 budget deficit would reach $16 billion, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last financial year, the deficit was $6.9 billion.

He flagged a major change in the housing taxation system which could give home buyers a choice on opting out of paying stamp duty and instead pay an annual property tax. Once a home is subject to property tax, subsequent owners would also have to continue paying it.

Either way, such a change will not tackle the chronic housing crisis in NSW — neither the exorbitant cost of properties, nor the shortage of public housing and affordable rental accommodation.

The government spin is that its $107 billion spend big on infrastructure, including upgrading hospitals, new schools and major roadway projects, will create new jobs.

But the budget papers confirm the government plans to sell its 49% share in the controversial WestConnex tollroad network. Transurban paid $9.26 billion in September 2018 for a 51% share and is the likely buyer.

The government is also considering whether to further privatise the state’s lottery business.

Labor leader Jodi McKay criticised the wage cuts and the privatisation of public assets, asking why the government was “pursuing borrowing but, at the same time, still pursuing the privatisation of WestConnex, lotteries [and] the selling of government-owned land?”

There will be $812 million allocated to build 1300 new “social houses” across NSW, with just over half in the Sydney metro area. The NSW government housing wait list currently has 46,530 applicants, with more than 500 deemed to be “priority”.

But St Vincent de Paul Society said the wait list for social housing is closer to 100,000 people. “If you were serious about providing construction of public housing as a stimulus measure, you would lock in the supply-chain benefits as well,” said Brooke Simmons from the charity.

NSW Council of Social Service CEO Joanna Quilty criticised the NSW government for not delivering “the significant investment in social and affordable housing” that is needed.

The NSW Greens criticised the government for cutting $195 million from the Rural Fire Service (RFS) — about a quarter of its budget. It has also cut $48 million from Fire and Rescue NSW.

By contrast, NSW Police received a $207 million increase, taking the agency’s budget to $4.2 billion with an additional $550 million for capital works. 

Greens MP David Shoebridge said it is extraordinary that in the middle of a health crisis and a climate crisis “the government still thinks the answer is more police”. 

“We now see how the government has pocketed the $52 million in donations from Celeste Barber and used it to cut what they pay to the RFS for the budget.” He said people want an RFS that is “properly resourced and ready to help and instead it faces a budget cut”.

“Year on year, the Coalition increases police powers and budgets, yet it refuses to acknowledge climate change or properly fund firefighting services. Dealing with climate change and keeping us safe in the upcoming fire season must be a higher priority than more police and jails.”

Perrottet’s $100 “out and about voucher” for every adult in NSW to spend on restaurants and cultural attractions is a publicity stunt and will do little to create new jobs or improve people’s living conditions.

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