Thursday, May 26, 2011

All Quiet on the Labor Front

New South Wales politics has been a little slow recently.

Since the election we have seek Kristina Keneally stand down (as expected) and see John Robertson ascend (as expected).

An orderly changeover.  Picture from The Courier Mail
The changes brought by the Liberal party have, for the most part, been comparatively minor, especially when it is considered that the Coalition is back in power for the first time in 16 years.

The campaign slogan was "Real Change for NSW" - but we have seen precious little change since the election.

That is, at least in part, because the Coalition was fairly circumspect about what they would do once in power.  A politically sensible strategy - why raise expectations beyond what was necessary to secure victory?

Having promised so little, all they need to do to win a second term is avoid pissing off too many people.

That said, they've certainly managed to piss off a fair few people in the first 2 months

I've blogged previously about the proposed change to the solar rebate (dumb politics), as well as the mooted introduction of life sentences for cop killers (dumb policy, but at the end of the day probably smart politics, if a little populist).

Notwithstanding that, the legislation has hardly been ground breaking, and certainly don't herald a era in NSW.

The reaction from Labor to these changes was, for the most part muted.  There is no way Labor could come out against the cop killer law for fear of enraging the police union, nor could they say too much about the solar scheme given that O'Farrell was trying to fix the mess they created.

Yesterday, however, O'Farrell announced that there would be reform of the wages and conditions of public sector workers.

On one level, this is straight from the conservative playbook - restraining wages growth and reducing what the Coalition would call beaurocracy.

The odd thing about the policy is that, as best I can tell from the press reports, wages growth will be limited to 2.5% unless productivity savings can be demonstrated.

This has a marked similarity to the policy that the Labor party had in place in the year before the election.

That said, the Coalition policy does go further in that it also centralises a lot of power with the finance minister and reduces the role of the Industrial Relations Commission

The problem NSW is that the government's wage bill is enormous, and it is growing unsustainably.  Something needs to be done to control it.

This may be the issue that finally gives Robertson something to get angry about. Given his background (union headkicker, on one reading) this is right up his alley.

Up to now, Labor have for the most part been missing in action.

That wasn't a stupid strategy.  Labor has needed to keep their head down for a while - for a time at least, nothing said would get any traction.  They needed to wait until the first letters to the editor appeared saying "If I had known this I would never have voted for the Coalition."

It may be that Labor thinks that this is the policy to attack on.  They will undoubtedly have the support of the union movement - Unions NSW are apparently already launching a campaign against the changes.

Even this issue  is a tricky issue to attack, because, put simply, there does need to be a measure of wages control in the NSW public sector. O'Farrell would do well to remind the public that this is their money, after all, and he has a responsibility to spend it wisely.

That said, this kind of issue is right in Labor's wheelhouse, and it is likely that most people won't remember the Labor policy.  No doubt all will be forgiven at least as far as the union movement is concerned.

The first MP booted from the new Bearpit was booted today after "raising her voice"  over this issue.

Cherie Burton, booted today.  Picture from the Tele
Hopefully a sign of Labor getting the groove back on.  Should be interesting.

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