Liberals smashed in NSW but little on offer from Labor

Labor has won government in NSW, with a thumping swing of almost 6 per cent ending 12 years of Liberal government.

At the time of writing it looked like Labor would fall just short of a majority and need support from independents.

Labor’s campaign focused on opposing privatisation and scrapping the public sector pay cap.

In their time in power the Liberals sold off the electricity poles and wires, WestConnex, Port Kembla and Port Botany, among other assets. During the campaign they were forced to rule out privatising Sydney Water.

Nurses’ and teachers’ unions can take a big share of the credit for NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s defeat. At the beginning of the pandemic they were hailed as heroes for keeping schools and hospitals running, even as the NSW Liberals tried to impose a pay freeze.

Nurses walked out on strike four times last year against appalling levels of understaffing and effective pay cuts. Teachers also staged two strike days before winding down action. Train drivers, paramedics and workers in the public service have all taken industrial action in the past year.

But Labor’s Chris Minns has only promised higher pay rises if unions trade away “productivity increases”. Any pay rise higher than the 3 per cent pay cap would come at the cost of working longer hours or giving up conditions.

Minns even told the Parliamentary Budget Office before the election that scrapping the pay cap wouldn’t cost anything, since he would offset the entire cost with savings within the public sector.

The Liberals were damaged by repeated exposures of corruption and other scandals. The most damaging was the parachuting of former deputy premier John Barilaro into a $500,000 US trade appointment. Trade minister Damien Tudehope resigned in February after it was discovered he was a shareholder in Transurban, a company that profited from the toll roads constructed under the Liberals.

One consolation for the Liberals was that most of the teal independents failed to repeat their success in the federal election of toppling inner city Liberal MPs. Independent Judy Hannan in Wollondilly was the only Climate 200 endorsed candidate to win a seat. Independent Michael Regan also won Wakehurst in the northern beaches.

In contrast to the federal election last May, the Liberals in NSW adopted a more moderate face, hoping to hold back a teal wave through promising gambling reform and backing the Voice to parliament. While this had some success, the scale of the party’s losses across the state means the right faction is already blaming it for the Liberal losses in Western Sydney.

The Greens’ vote was stagnant at around 9.5 per cent in the lower house. They held their three lower house seats but are unlikely to get more than two MPs elected in the upper house.

There were some disturbing results for One Nation in western Sydney, including 13.9 per cent in Camden, 12.3 per cent in Wollondilly and 11.4 in Campbelltown, but the party’s vote was down across the state in the upper house.

Fight for pay

Minns began his victory speech by saying “The people of NSW voted for the removal of the unfair wages cap in NSW.” They “voted for our nurses, our teachers”.

But Labor has not agreed to legislate the nurse to patient ratios striking nurses demanded. Their current plan is for “safe staffing levels on a shift-by-shift basis”. This will involve 1:3 in emergency next year, followed later by a roll-out in ICUs, maternity wards and multipurpose services. But there are no commitments for mental health, neo-natal intensive care units or paediatric departments.

Under Labor’s current agreement there would be ratios of 1:4 during day shifts in city hospitals, but this has not been guaranteed at secondary hospitals including Blacktown, Campbelltown and Sutherland or for regional hospitals.

Nurses and teachers union officials wound down strikes in the lead up to the election, focusing instead on electoral campaigning to support Labor. This was a mistake and means there is now less pressure on Minns to offer improvements on pay and conditions.

Nurses and teachers deserve pay that keeps up with inflation and an end to under-staffing. But they will have to be willing to fight under Labor to get it.

Dan Andrews’ Victorian Labor government has lowered its pay cap to 1.5 per cent after forcing 2 per cent increases on teachers last year.

Nurses in WA were forced to stage a bitter campaign including unlawful strikes after WA Labor offered a 3 per cent pay rise.

Nurses and midwives stopped work at St Vincent’s Private Hospital and the Mater private hospital in North Sydney over safe staffing and pay the same day Chris Minns was sworn in. This is the kind of action needed.

By Adam Adelpour


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