Tim Nicholls June 29, 2012
Cutting public service jobs for the good of the state's coffers 'is not a task we relish', Tim Nicholls, pictured with Campbell Newman, says. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Temporary contract workers in the public service were "cruelly strung along" by the former government, argues Treasurer Tim Nicholls.
The Newman government's position on the size of the public sector is quite clear – our overriding principle is to preserve as many jobs as possible.
This government has both a responsibility and a mandate to pay down Labor's debt.
It is a responsibility we all share.
And it is with that thought in mind that I ask members of the public sector to carefully consider demands for higher wages.
It's a question of high wage growth versus job cuts.
By turning down wage offers that are more than fair, union members will be jeopardising not only their colleagues' jobs but also the state's future prosperity.
The Queensland government coffers are empty. State debt is heading for $100 billion. Unions can thank their Labor 'mates' for that.
So when unions demand more money for their members it stands to reason expenses must be reduced elsewhere.
Rationalising the public service is not a task we relish. Nor do we embark on it lightly or frivolously.
There are many hardworking and dedicated public servants who have been let down by a Labor government that made short-term decisions for their own political benefit.
The Commission of Audit Interim Report found that in the past decade the size of the Queensland public service was allowed to grow by an unsustainable 41 per cent. It has become too top-heavy.
Had the public service grown at the same rate as population, we'd have 18,500 fewer public servants, and expenses would be $1.5 billion lower.
Almost half the state's revenue this financial year will be spent paying public servants' wages and superannuation.
Weekly earnings of Queensland public sector workers have increased by 16.7 per cent in the past decade, compared to 12.7 nationally.
While wage increases for public servants have been markedly higher than inflation in recent years, many small business owners and private sector employees have struggled to make ends meet. They have been forced to pay rising taxes, fees and charges, without receiving any increase in their take home pay.
Many private companies during the global financial crisis made the tough decision to freeze employee wages and recruitment. The employees at these companies may not have liked having their wages frozen, but accepted it was better than the alternative of losing their jobs. Even before the economic slowdown, real pay rises (above inflation) were only offered in exchange for productivity gains or increased responsibility.
During recent enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations we offered fair and reasonable pay increases to public servants who are among the best paid in Australia.
In the early stages of EBA negotiations, some union members took to the streets threatening strike action.
Union grandstanding and opposition scaremongering have fuelled hysteria about widespread job cuts and the possible impacts on frontline services.
The Newman government has made no decision about potential changes to the size of the public service and has guaranteed frontline services will not be affected – facts which have largely been omitted from media reports.
The previous Labor government's plan to return the budget to surplus included paying 5000 public servants $250 million in voluntary separation payments.
The scheme failed to reduce the overall size of the public service, and in some cases departmental headcounts actually went up.
Not long after coming to government we announced we would not be renewing the temporary contracts of some non-frontline public servants. Many of these public servants were cruelly strung along by Labor on temporary contracts for years.
The Commission's very sobering interim report now confirms further measures are needed to bring the spiralling costs of the public service under control.
Labor forced the state down this path with its reckless spending spree. The Newman government will not let the debt burden grow any further.
We will not force the next generation of Queenslanders to pay for the mistakes of the former Labor government.
We stand by our commitment to protect as many full time jobs as possible. But if unions prevent us from curtailing employee expenses, we will be forced to take action.
We will examine the size and structure of the public service closely in coming months as we frame the September state budget.
Returning the state's budget to a sound position will require tough, and possibly unpopular, decisions.
I ask public servants to extend the union principle of “solidarity” to their fellow Queensland workers because sharing this financial burden will reduce its toll on the individual.
Foregoing excessive wage rises will go a long way to protect a greater number of jobs.
There is no doubt unions play an important role in protecting the rights of their members.
But as advocates for “the greater good”, public service unions also have an obligation to the rest of Queensland to make wage claims that are fair and reasonable.
Queensland's economic future and our ability to fund essential health, education, transport and community infrastructure for all Queenslanders depends on it.