The state election and the public service

Posted on October 14, 2020

We are halfway through Week Two of the Queensland election. At this stage there is a clear difference in the budgetary policies of the two major parties.

 The Commonwealth government, in last week's federal budget, and the Queensland government, in its update on the Queensland fiscal position, have both announced budgetary polices that amount to a rejection of failed notions of austerity. Governments are recognising that an obsession with government debt and deficit is not the appropriate response to the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both governments have recognised that the broader economy needs the government to provide stimulus so that we can create more demand and more employment.

Together has been active in this debate. Recently as a union we participated in the launch of the Centre for Future Work's new release ‘Public Service in Challenging Times: The Economic and Social Value of Public Sector Work in Queensland’ , which you can read here.

This report has highlighted the importance of quality public sector jobs in Queensland and the broader economic value of public sector employment.

Together has been continuing its campaign to increase the community's support and understanding for all public sector workers through our television ad campaign, 'Public Servants: Here When You Need Us'.

As part of their election campaign, the ALP have committed to continuing to increase the number of 'frontline' public sector workers and not decreasing 'non-frontline' workers, except at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level.  The ALP have ruled out using 'natural attrition' to reduce the size of the public service.

As part of their election campaign the LNP have also committed to continuing to increase the number of' 'frontline' public sector workers and has ruled out reducing the public service by either 'natural attrition' or by redundancies.

The ALP have said that their budgetary policies will continue to include deficits as part of their strategy to stimulate the economy.  The ALP have changed their budgetary principles as a result of the COVID-19 economic crisis and they will not seek to achieve operational surpluses.

The LNP has said that their budgetary policies will have a surplus within the forward estimates. The LNP policy is to define the surplus as a "fiscal balance," which includes expenditure on infrastructure as operational expenses. This is a different definition to the "operating surpluses" that have been the policy objective of previous governments.

To achieve their budget policies, and a "fiscal balance" surplus, the LNP would be required to reduce expenditure by over $3.6 billion. This figure is based on the pre-COVID budget, only taking into account the different treatment of investment in infrastructure in defining a surplus. Together campaigned against this flawed policy in 2017 and again last year when it was confirmed by the LNP in the budget reply.  To achieve a "fiscal balance" surplus all the positions that have been created by the Palaszczuk government since it was first elected in 2015 would need to be cut, even before factoring in the impact of COVID-19.

Following the collapse of government revenue and the additional investment in infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy in the COVID-19 economic crisis, the scale of the cuts required would have to be significantly higher.  The international experience after the Global Financial Crisis has clearly demonstrated the extreme damage that will be done to the economy and to government services by an austerity-based approach to government spending during an economic crisis.

During the current state election, Together is seeking to raise the importance of government jobs and services in rebuilding our community services and also in rebuilding our economy. 

This campaign will also continue to focus on the impact of the cuts to the public sector through an austerity-based approach, currently being advocated by the LNP.

Our initial focus is on the impact on the Queensland Health budget, as it is the most recognisable public sector service following the pandemic and is also our largest employer. 

Your industrial rights in Caretaker Mode

During the state election the so-called 'caretaker principles' apply, which means major government announcements and decisions are limited. However as a union Together is ensuring the full implementation of members' recent success in securing changes to the Public Service Act.

This means improved conversion rights for long-term temporary employees and new conversion rights for members working in long-term higher duties arrangements are in place.  If you need assistance or advice in these process please contact the union office.

Together sought the assistance of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission over attempts by Queensland Health to avoid their legal requirements to fill vacant positions as part of the implementation of the 'Savings and Debt Plan' announced by the state government prior to the commencement of the state election campaign. This has meant a significant revision of the "Responsible Workforce Management" policy. Vacant positions must be filled in accordance with our industrial agreements. We are seeking to enforce this in every part of Queensland Health.

 Together has also meet with the Public Service Commissioner and the Deputy Premier and Minister for Health about our concerns.  Following these meetings, the government has changed the process for the implementation of this plan. Unfortunately, it is clear that the decisions that are currently being made by a range of public sector employers remain in breach of the legal requirements of their collective agreements and are inconsistent with government policy on public sector staffing levels as were announced before the start of the election campaign and re-iterated last week. 

Together is continuing to meet with public sector employers in an attempt have vacancies filled in line with government policy.

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