My sister is an economist for the Ontario government in Canada. She’s a public servant. Until last year the pay of Ontario public servants had been frozen – wait for it – for seven years. They got a small, one-time adjustment last year. And they’re frozen again. That’s in Canada’s largest province.
I start with that little sidenote because my wife and I woke this morning to the news Queensland’s 224,000 public servants (a number massively increased since Labor came back into office in the state in 2015) were set to receive a three per cent increase. Now. In the midst of virtually everyone in the private sector workforce in Australia facing the bleakest of times – layoffs, dismissals, bankruptcies, devastation. But if you’re on the Queensland government teat you get a raise well above inflation. And this on top of the fact that my State of Queensland’s wage costs are already expected to have increased 5.4 per cent over last year. It’s shameless and disgusting.
One union official (and let’s be honest — this Queensland Labor government is wholly in the back pocket of the public service unions) tried to justify this by explaining that some of the union’s members were doing it tough, married as they were to people working in the private sector. Anyone reading such lacking self-awareness, self-serving claptrap must surely have wondered if he’d inadvertently woken up in an Alice in Wonderland story.
Now you don’t have to be the most cynical being in creation to think this has something to do with my state’s election later this year. At any normal time trying to buy 224,000 votes with taxpayers’ money – so money from many voters who oppose this government – is pretty nifty, in a shameless, disgusting sort of way. Trying to do it in the midst of economic carnage for those in the private sector is orders of magnitude worse. But there is no other way to see this Queensland Labor government’s planned public service pay rise. And did I mention that Queensland is already this country’s most indebted state? I hope more than a few people who got on their high horse (don’t like his tone, his handling of the judges, his getting rid of public servants, what have you) and voted against Campbell Newman back in 2015 are now regretting their choice. It’s funny how many people say they are tired of career politicians but that when presented with the choice between a careerist and someone who has not been, they opt for the same-old, same-old former.
One tiny note of good news is that, so far, the LNP opposition has come out against the three per cent pay rise. The problem is that this opposition is about the weakest, most invertebrate right-of-centre political party going. And that is saying a lot in today’s Australia. Were they to win later this year would they reverse the pay rise? Frankly, I doubt it. They sure as heck have yet to commit to doing so. (In the same way, they were opposed to Labor bringing in a bill of rights for Queensland and yet we all know they won’t have the cojones to do anything about that either were they to win.) At the state level, the right side of politics is nothing short of woeful in this country. Full stop.
And that takes me to the federal level of politics. What the hell are Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg doing? Adding a third to our already too high net debt in one fell swoop? Based on talking to a handful of businessmen in declining service sectors? Where was Mathias Cormann in all of this? Did he think outdoing even Gough Whitlam’s proclivity to spend taxpayers’ money was a good idea? Because I think this is a terrible idea. So why didn’t Mathias threaten to resign from Cabinet, the way Boris Johnson did over Brexit? Are there any principles any Coalition Ministers would resign to uphold? (To ask is to answer, alas.) Well, we are going to have to pay this all back sometime. Scratch that. Our kids will have to pay for it. That means higher taxes, full stop.
We already have the world’s highest minimum wage. We already have the democratic world’s highest energy costs. Our labour relations are ranked as the world’s 95th most flexible – in other words, they’re God-awful in terms of flexibility, which is hardly surprising as we are pretty much the last country on earth that decides wage rates via bureaucratic diktat, and imposes rules so complicated that even Coles, Woolworths and ‘their’ ABC can’t figure out how much to pay their employees. We have so much red and green tape that although Team Morrison can spend hundreds of billions of dollars in a day, Adani has to spend eight years (and counting) to build a mine.
This ScoMo government hasn’t had the cojones to take on any of that but we’re now supposed to believe it will be able to unwind this uber, super, mega, duper, enormous, mucho spending spree once the coronavirus outbreak – the one that so far has killed, wait for it, 19 people – has been put back in its box. (Digression: Once the restrictions are eased, won’t the virus re-emerge? Will we shut down the economy again? Or is the shutdown till we get a vaccine, which could be a year or more away? Just asking.)
As for Josh Frydenberg, the view from where I’m watching is that the man has been totally captured by his senior public servants, all those Treasury types who are through and through Keynesians. It’s hard to discern any independence of thought from the man or any ability to push back against ‘biggest government’ plan piled on ‘bigger government’ project erected over ‘big government’ expedient. Let me ask again, where was Mathias Cormann during these inner, inner, inner sort of Cabinet discussions? You’re supposed to be the small-government man Herr Cormann. Remember?
It’s all massively depressing. Yes, I know some of the usual suspects are right now in paroxysms of joy at this Whitlamesque spending spree. But beware! I can’t recall the last time PVO got any prediction right about anything. When he thinks you’re doing a splendid job that should scare the bejesus out of you.
For me, I think this government is nearing the edge of a big precipice. It may already have gone over.
ScoMo, it’s time to start consulting with some of the small government, economic conservatives in your cabinet.Now!
You still look good compared to Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government. But in the highly ironic words of John Cleese, ‘that’s high praise indeed’.
Editor’s note, April 2. The Australian reports:
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced that a 2.5 per cent pay increase for state public servants has been put “on hold” amid widespread anger over the planned pay rise at a time when so many are out of work.
“Well, let me make it very clear. All of that is on hold,” she told Sunrise on Thursday morning.
“It’s on hold. We’ve got people out there who have lost their jobs. They’re hurting. And you know, we’ve got front line services out there, our nurses, our doctors, our firefighters, our police. They’re doing a great job for Queenslanders. But in this climate at the moment, everything must be put on hold…’
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