What road to better public services in NSW?

November 22, 2010

Unions NSW presented the "Better Services for a Better State" campaign in the Sutherland Shire at the Sutherland District Trade Union Club ("Tradies") on November 19. There was only a small crowd but there was fruitful discussion on the issues confronting the campaign.

In his opening presentation, Maritime Union of Australia Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer explained how the battle to keep Sydney Ferries public had been won. McAleer said the MUA, and other unions representing workers on the ferries, had focused on building the broadest possible alliance against the sell-off.

This included ferry users in some of Sydney's poshest suburbs, local councils, and local MPs. The opposition mobilised was so great that one of Kristina Keneally's first decisions as premier was to stop the sell-off of Sydney Ferries in December 2009.

McAleer talked about public sector management and said some Sydney Ferries executives more interested in making their own lives comfortable than in improving services. This showed why workers and their unions needed to be active in guaranteeing quality public services.

Adam Kerslake, deputy assistant secretary of Unions NSW, spoke about the "Better State Five Point Plan". The plan would ask candidates in the upcoming march NSW elections to endorse five pledges.

The pledges are: Guarantee that service funding and workforce size will increase as population grows; ensure that no public asset will be privatised without an act of parliament; develop and implement a long-term plan to establish world-class services and infrastructure for our communities; guarantee the rights of workers who provide services to the public; and commit to govern for the common good and be held accountable to community impact statements and state community audits.

Kerslake said countries like Sweden and France had decent public services because of community and worker commitment and struggle. The taxation levels needed to fund them were broadly supported, unlike in Australia where the neoliberal view of taxation as a "burden" requiring "relief" prevails.

Kerslake said big business in NSW saw the March election as a chance to launch a Jeff Kennett-style privatisation program. This would be through the "10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW" plan.

The Better State Five Point plan was, in part, a counter to this.

Kerslake praised NSW nurses — who are fighting to mandate at least one nurse for every four patients — as an example of how to fight for better services.

He was asked if he expected treasurer Eric Roozendaal, presently involved in selling off NSW wholesale and retail electricity, to sign up to the five pledges. He said the point of the plan was to get politicians on the record and that National Party candidates had already come out both in favour and against the pledges.

Two candidates who were present at the meeting had different responses. The Greens candidate for Miranda spoke out strongly in favour, but the ALP candidate for Menai said nothing.

The Better Services campaign will hold town hall meetings, where politicians will be asked where they stand. They will be held around NSW early next year, culminating in a big, central meeting in Sydney.

Kerslake was non-committal when asked if Unions NSW should hold a public protest before the March election.

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