09 February 2021

Public Interest Debate

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (17:28): — I welcome this public interest debate and I thank the Minister for bringing it to the Chamber during what has been and continues to be a very difficult time for all of us socially, personally and economically.

Nevertheless, there are more challenges to come with vaccination and public messaging.

Of course we do not need any conspiracists or QAnon supporters in this Chamber talking about not taking the vaccination or spruiking some drugs that do not work.

I certainly support the intent, but we should also point out some facts.

Our community has been very grateful for decisions that have been taken by all levels of government from all political parties in taking the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and our expert health staff.

In other places around the world we have seen examples of expert advice not being adhered to with deadly and drastic consequences: millions infected, many hundreds of thousands of people dead, hospitals overwhelmed, economies stalling, hospitals being overrun, and nurses and frontline workers being run off their feet.

Fortunately we have not had to experience that in our local communities.

Firstly I thank the people of our local communities, wherever they are, for going above and beyond during this pandemic.

I know that my local community of south-west Sydney made great sacrifices during that south‑west Sydney cluster period.

They adhered to public health advice, looked out for one another and showed incredible resilience.

During one of the most difficult and challenging times in our recent history our thanks should go fairly and squarely to people in our communities.

Despite being stuck in long queues, as frustrating as they were, being stuck in traffic jams and stuck in their cars with their kids crying in the back, they still did the right thing and were tested.

Secondly, the point of this public interest debate also is our frontline workers who protected jobs and protected lives.

Our frontline workers made huge sacrifices and deserve our thanks but I would also say that our words should be matched by wages because words and actions matter. They should also match.

If we are serious about protecting lives and protecting jobs, then this should continue through to granting a fair and modest 2.5 per cent for public sector workers, who include the very frontline workers we are praising today in this public interest debate.

But instead—unfortunately, I think—at the height of the pandemic and in the middle of the worst economic recession and culture shock that we have experienced in our lifetimes, the Government decided that frontline workers do not deserve a wage increase.

The Government was happy to use their photographs in political publications, to acknowledge their efforts in press releases, to stand beside them at press conferences, but it was not so happy to recognise and reward them for their efforts in keeping us safe and supporting our economy.

Instead frontline workers were offered a big fat zero in their legislated and negotiated wage increase. At three strokes to midnight they were met with a deliberate action to pass a regulation to cut their pay.

I heard from a dozen local public health workers, particularly nurses, about the wage cuts to the tune of $3 billion as stated in the Premier's press release on 27 May 2020. That $3 billion was deliberately taken away when it could have further stimulated our economy, kept more people in jobs and increased the pace of the State's economic recovery.

Docking the pay of frontline workers when they have made huge sacrifices does not seem very fair to me, and that is a sentiment shared by many in my local community as I speak.

If we are serious about protecting jobs and protecting lives, we must also recognise the efforts of those who have been on the front line to make our lives better and our country a better place in which to live.

In the context of protecting jobs, just last week I became concerned about a report that dozens of jobs would be slashed from the Department of Premier and Cabinet whose public sector workers support the arts, heritage, Indigenous communities and cultural projects.

Their heads are actually on the chopping block. They take care of the industries and communities that have suffered the worst during the pandemic and those communities are likely to take the longest time to fully recover.

I would have thought that good governments should be leading the charge to revitalise and support those industries as well as create jobs, not actually show people the exit door.

There is always time to correct bad decisions. Certainly, words that are thanking and recognising the efforts of our frontline workers should be matched by their wages.