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Censure of Minister for Health

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 21 March 2019

Tags: Wages

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, as a matter of principle the Greens support the suspension of the Standing Orders in order to have the substantive debate. I believe that is the first time I have heard the Minister for Health beg in this place. We had the minister there, who unarguably has made some intemperate remarks, beg Opposition members not to egg on the unions.

Standing behind the Health Minister is the Treasurer, and if there is one person in this place who should be held responsible for the enormous and unproductive tension between public sector workers and government in Tasmania, it is the Treasurer, who for nine months dug in on the 2 per cent, told public sector workers it was 2 per cent or nothing - 'my way or the highway' Gutwein.

We have come to the point where the Minister for Health has apparently done his lolly on radio out of frustration, but it goes back many months to an attitude of arrogance towards public sector workers and their union representatives that has brought us to a place where we have fantastic nurses at the Mersey taking industrial action, bus drivers prepared to take industrial action, and teachers and other educators prepared to take industrial action because they are being treated unfairly. They are being underpaid and they are being dismissed. We have got to a point after nine months where the conflict between government and public sector workers has become so intense that we now have rolling industrial action across the state that was avoidable.

We had to cop in last year's state budget speech from this Treasurer, 'my way or the highway' Gutwein, that we are in a golden age. We had to listen to the Premier say in his incredibly poorly written and constructed state of the state speech, that this is Tasmania's time to shine. You cannot on the one hand say that we have entered the glory days, and on the other, say to your thousands of hardworking, loyal public sector workers, 'When we said that we didn't mean you.' This is from a government that brought legislation into this place in the last term to give every one of us a pay rise substantially over 2 per cent, prepared to peg this parliament's salary at the wages price index, but says to public sector workers, 'No, you can stick on 2 per cent and we're not budging'. Then when finally there is some sign that they will be budging, we hear the public sector workers might be asked to give up their Easter Tuesday.

It is all very well to censure the latest government minister who has been caught in this situation, but the malaise and the conflict goes back further than nine months. It goes back into the last term of the parliament where a culture was set by the Liberals when they came to government, and it is in the DNA of conservative parties to be antagonistic towards unions. So the culture was set. We saw hundreds of public sector workers lose their jobs across health, human services, education and biosecurity. It is unarguable that one of the first things that happened under this Liberal majority Government was an attack on the public service, so it set the dynamic which has remained toxic to this day.

The one thing I will agree with the Health minister about is that we need clear heads here because Tasmanians cannot afford to be caught in rolling industrial conflict. It impacts on public services and on the ability of our public servants to do their job. You cannot on the one side of your face say we are entering a golden age and on the other say to our public sector workers that you will not pay them properly and they will actually be further behind as a result of this wages policy over time, and then finally be dragged to the table kicking and screaming and offer the most miserly compromise. That is not the way good-faith negotiations work, Madam Speaker.