Standing up for Canberra

Defence pay deal

SUBJECTS: Defence pay deal, public service jobs

LYNDAL CURTIS: Gai Brodtmann, welcome to Capital Hill. How much should ADF members get as a pay rise?

GAI BRODTMANN, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR DEFENCE: Well their wages should keep pace with cost of living expenses, and what’s being offered is below cost of living expenses and what I’m concerned about is not just the pay cuts that they’re actually receiving but also the fact that they’re losing conditions. They’re losing Christmas leave, they’re losing recreational leave, and they’re losing travel allowances and meal allowances.

CURTIS: But hasn’t it been a part of the workplace negotiations since the Hawke-Keating years that wage rises should be linked to productivity?

BRODTMANN: And cost of living, they should keep pace with cost of living as well. That’s all we’re asking the Government to do with ADF wages and also the Public Service wages. But this is an absolute outrage; it’s completely insulting to ADF members and their families, particularly at a time when they’re being deployed overseas.

CURTIS: But do you accept that some conditions should be traded off for the pay rise?

BRODTMANN: Well, we all need to look at productivity gains, of course, and that is part of the negotiations, but essentially wages should keep up with cost of living expenses - that’s the bottom line.

CURTIS: How do you fund it?

BRODTMANN: Well it’s a matter of priorities Lyndal. I mean, what do you prioritise? ADF wages, decent wages that keep up with cost of living, or expensive paid parental schemes, or payments to big polluters, or assistance to millionaires who have multimillion dollar superannuation? What do you actually focus on and prioritise?

CURTIS: But would any of those things fund the sorts of numbers that you’re talking about to get the wage rises that you want? The $2.5 million for Direct Action is spread over a number of years, the paid parental leave scheme – if it comes in, it’s not even in yet – also has a tax hike for big businesses in it?

BRODTMANN: It is a matter of priorities. This Government, as well as the Opposition, does regard the ADF as our most important military asset. So they need to put their money where their mouth is.

CURTIS: Do you believe that this wage rise that the Defence personnel have been given is the high water mark for the rest of the public service?

BRODTDANN: That's our concern. That really is our concern because there is talk at the moment of the public servants getting less than 1 per cent. There is negotiations - well, negotiations have actually stalled since June or in recent times, since the agreements expired in June but, yes, that is our concern, that this is the high water mark and public servants are going to be asked to take an even greater hit.

CURTIS: But the public servants are in a different position from Defence Force personnel?

BRODTMANN: Absolutely.

CURTIS: They can bargain, they can if they want to, take industrial action and they can trade off more for productivity. It is much harder in the Defence Force to make productivity gains.

BRODTMANN: Absolutely. In terms of the public service, they get the right to vote on their agreements, get the right to take industrial actions. Members of the ADF do not get that opportunity. They can't vote on their agreements or what's being proposed and can't take industrial action. Essentially, they rely on the Government to negotiate in good faith, in the faith their wages are going to keep up with the cost of living. The wages for their families are going to keep up with the cost of living and their conditions aren’t going to be eroded as well.

CURTIS: When it comes to the broader public service, should their wage rises also be keeping up with inflation and the question, if the answer is yes, is how do you fund that?

BRODTAMNN: Again, it is a matter of priorities. These are servants of democracy, Lyndal. These are people who actually serve the government of the day, so they should be treated with respect. This Government has got form on the public service; we saw what happened to this town in 1996. We saw what they did to the public service in terms of massive erosion of numbers and also conditions. 15,000 people lost their jobs in Canberra. 30,000 nationally. It is a question, again, of priorities. Do they prioritise the ADF and decent wages and conditions? Do they prioritise the servants of democracy, people who are actually serving government with decent wages and conditions?

CURTIS: If inflation falls, should wages fall as well?

BRODTMANN: Well, these negotiations are locked in; these agreements are locked in over a three-year period. At the end of that agreement, you renegotiate and do look at the environment.

CURTIS: What do you think will be the outcome of the pay deals that are currently either in negotiation or about to be negotiated with the public service?

BRODTMANN: Well, we are incredibly concerned, given that the offer is in some agencies less than 1 per cent, is below inflation. We are very, very concerned about what it all means. Does the offer that's been given or the deal struck with the ADF, is that the high water mark? What does it mean for conditions? I have spoken to a number of women particularly who are very, very worried about their conditions being eroded, particularly the have flexibility arrangements that have been part of the public service working environment for a very, very long time.

CURTIS: It is the truth, though, that public servants don't necessarily get the broad support of the Australian community. Do you think the Abbott Government would mind if public servants went on strike? Would mind the optics of that?

BRODTMANN: They have got complete contempt. They showed it in 1996. We are seeing it again. They are focused on cost-cutting, job-cutting, without acknowledging the fact these people are servants of democracy and that they serve the government of the day and the people of Australia in frontline services throughout the country. This Government has got form in terms of the public service. We are seeing it again play out at the moment. It doesn't surprise me. It does deeply concern me, though, the fact they are asking public servants and ADF members to accept wages that will not keep pace with inflation.

CURTIS: Gai Brodtmann, thank you for your time.