Dollars and sense: Our public sector heroes deserve recognition

This is the first of a regular series of columns by Member for Maitland, Jenny Aitchison

I recently had the opportunity to place on the parliamentary record my immense gratitude to the nurses and other health professionals who have literally risked their lives these past months to look after others in our community.

In my Community Recognition Statement, recorded in the Hansard of the Legislative Assembly on International Nurses’ Day, I noted how fitting it was, during the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, that these professional caregivers the world over were finally being hailed as heroes.

Apparently not in NSW, however. That same day the government introduced legislation to the Parliament of NSW that would effectively cut the wages of 400,000 public sector workers, including more than 750 nurses, midwives and other health workers right here in Maitland, along with around another 1,100 frontline workers.

How is it possible to publicly praise those who have been at the coalface of our battle against COVID-19, then try to offload a pay-cut before the hand sanitiser has even dried?

Consider this: it would cost the government less than $1 billion to give nurses and other public sector workers such as teachers, paramedics, police, train drivers, clearers and emergency service workers the 2.5 per cent pay rise that is part of their agreement. Meanwhile the Government’s many Sydney-centric projects have blown out by more than $13.5 billion. And that was measured even before the pandemic struck.

The cost to relocate the Powerhouse Museum alone is slated to sit at $1.5 billion.

We have fought side by side with public sector workers in Maitland to ensure their precious pay packets stay in our community, because we know that we need that money in the Maitland economy to keep our local small businesses running.

The Premier herself has acknowledged that the NSW budget is ‘a mess’ and there are grave fears that our unemployment rate could hit 10 per cent.

So why isn’t the Government putting dollars in frontline workers’ pockets and stimulating our economy?

We know that more money in the pay packets of those hard-working public servants, who in some cases have been risking their lives every day of this pandemic, would have a flow-on effect into our community and drive an economic multiplier in the order of seven times the initial wage increase.

That’s a shot in the arm that many Maitland small businesses could really use right now.

It’s the same story around the State. Stimulating our economy will come down to generating stronger domestic demand and domestic tourism. We cannot look to international tourism, international trade or international students to fill our coffers.

Wage increases are a key stimulus measure. Even the Federal government has expressed tacit approval for this approach, as seen in its JobKeeper payments, its doubled JobSeeker benefits and its bonuses to pensioners.

So why is the government determined that the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic should be the ones who go without?

Jenny Aitchison MP

Member for Maitland