If the spin doctors are to be believed this was the budget we had to have, and they are sort of right. We can’t keep borrowing, and that’s not about political colour. GST revenues have gone south (actually they went North to NSW and Vic), the Federal government is cost shifting on health, and their policy of declaring war on science and renewable energy is causing Tasmania real problems. There is very little room to move and we have to cut.
…which is why it is hard to understand why the Liberal (supposedly free market) State government feel it necessary to spend big on racing and a footy team while cutting the heart out of basic services…
Apart from that there haven’t been mass sackings or massive borrowing and that is a relief.
So what does it all mean? Mostly I can’t tell you because as a public servant the State Service Act 2000 and the State Service Code of Conduct prevent me talking about what I know. I am also not allowed to protest about anything, or ask for a pay rise. I can apply for a redundancy but there are no jobs to go to afterwards. According to one Mercury columnist I am “bloated, inefficient and debt laden.” What the columnist has no comprehension of is the extent to which basic services are propped up by industry funds, ad hoc Commonwealth grants, vanishing incentive payments, and the administrative equivalent of gaffe tape. There is a real naivety in this budget – which clearly reflects the business view that public service is about front liners – teachers, firies, ambos’, and the rest is a make work program for unemployable shiny bums. Perhaps they should look at their own organisations. Try running BHP Billiton without an HR department, an accounts department, an IT department, contract managers, project managers, oh, and did I mention records? When one of the 100 new coppers hands out a fine it clearly doesn’t occur to people that someone designed and printed the ticket, that the form fields in the ticket go into a database, and that the database links to other important things which mean that the authorities actually know if the fine isn’t paid. Meanwhile someone is maintaining the police vehicle and managing the officer’s workplace health and safety issues. Without this, that police officer can achieve very little.
So my real concern with the budget is that rather than actually making a principled decision to close specific services the government is simply pushing those services to the point of collapse. They may exist in name and on paper but they are not really there. A better approach would be to do what Bob Hawke did federally and bring the parties into the tent. Tell the unions, Department heads and NGOs how much money we don’t have and have an authentic conversation about what to cut. Union members were willing to talk wage restraint in return for fewer job losses. It’s more difficult but history shows that the results are better, and they are accepted better by the community. Instead we have anti-protest laws.
The comedian in me really hoped that someone would protest against the people who were protesting against the anti-protest laws –which come on top of the anti anti-abortion protest laws from the previous government, and the anti-protest gazettal provisions which have been used for arresting green protestors on Crown land since 1983….but the anti-protest laws were drafted by my Department so I can’t talk about them.
However I can probably say that my union representative stated that new provisions will remove the right of the Tasmanian Industrial Commissioner to arbitrate a public service wage dispute in a manner which differs from government policy. In other words, if it is government policy to have a $5.00 minimum wage and I put in a wage claim for $5.50 the Tasmanian Industrial Commission cannot increase my award. The Crown Employees (Salaries) Bill 2014 states:
"The regulations may restrict the performance and exercise of the functions and powers of the Tasmanian Industrial Commission under the Industrial Relations Act 1984 and may override any provisions of that Act in the manner specified in the regulations."
This appears to be a blatantly ideological act which has Eric Abetz’s finger prints all over it. If rolled out beyond the public service it could lead to a collapse in wages which would in turn collapse the economy – it’s that simple. Small business will suffer the most. This is the American model and it is a proven disaster. The last time I looked up any stats the US had twenty percent unemployment, a vast underclass of working poor, real hunger particularly among the elderly, and twenty million people homeless….but the rich are very rich, the police are militarised and the prisons are full. A university degree can mean a lifetime’s debt and lifesaving surgery can cost your life savings. Australia needs this like it needs a punch in the face. The only reason why we have a budget crisis at a national level is because multinationals pay very little tax on the wealth they export from our country.
It is in the nature of investigators to be suspicious and so am I. Those with longer memories will recall the Burnie paper mill union blockade. At the time management urged on by the HR Nichols Society and supported by Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz tried to break the union movement, collapse enterprise bargaining, and effectively abolish trade unions as a form of social organization. They failed but they never gave up.
So Tasmania may be ground zero in an ideological push to roll back enterprise bargaining across the country. If so the Tasmanian State Budget 2014 will be remembered for more than hiring more police.
Note: the HR Nichols Society openly advocates abandoning the minimum wage. See here: http://hrnicholls.com.au/category/youth-wages/