After 2020, dinner on the Treasurer sounds like a treat for the hardworking people of NSW. Grasping our $25 vouchers we will flood restaurants, cafes and cinemas, launching the state into a V-shaped recovery and, by March, we'll all be vaccinated, with this terrible virus fading like a bad dream.
But what this most recent outbreak has crystallised for us is that despite our world-class contract tracers at NSW Health, this virus will be with us for a while. So will the economic disruption it brings.
If we again face a larger outbreak, dinner on Dominic Perrottet and his Dine and Discover scheme won't do much to keep anyone in a job.
The fact that the government had to delay the start of the scheme from December to February, after the sector pointed out demand wasn't really an issue during the festive season, tells you just how well thought-out this scheme was. Now as a question mark hangs over what further measures we may have to take to truly stop this latest outbreak, you wonder if we'll ever see this scheme take off.
Once you start to get out of the cities, and into regional NSW, this $500 million economic stimulus begins to look like a dud. The thing is, economic stimulus doesn't need to be delivered through a bite-size voucher system. As the largest employer in the Southern Hemisphere, the Berejiklian government's most powerful economic stimulus is its workforce.
Once you start to get out of the cities, and into regional NSW, this $500 million economic stimulus begins to look like a dud.
That's why my union led the fight to against the government's knee-jerk wage freeze for 400,000 public sector workers. These are the prison officers who have kept our jails COVID-19 free. They are school support staff who kept our kids learning and our teachers sane. The child protection workers who've looked after our most vulnerable.
They are the Service NSW workers who are keeping the state as open as possible with a world-class check-in system. The disease detectives and contact tracers of NSW Health who haven't stopped since January 25, 2020.
The pay rise wasn't just because they deserve it but because it makes fundamental economic sense. The median public sector salary in NSW is $87,926. The 2.5 per cent we sought, as prescribed by the NSW Government's legislation, would have represented about $2200 extra a year, or $42 a week.
Instead, following unprecedented pressure from the government, they will get a negligible 0.3 per cent increase this year, and a cap of 1.5 per cent for at least the next three years. This increase amounts to about $3 a week. It means, as one member told me, that money for a new school uniform won't get spent. It's a nice take away on a Friday night that won't happen, or a holiday that our tourist towns won't see.
This will be felt most of all in the regions, where nearly half of the workforce live and work. One in five jobs in the Far West and Orana are funded by the NSW government. In the Central West and the Mid-North Coast 14 per cent of jobs are NSW public service.
Now some might say, with NSW's unemployment rate sitting at 6.5 per cent, that at least these workers have a job. There is no public sector worker who isn't grateful to have a job. But our current economic climate doesn't represent a structural decline in the budget.
COVID-19 has created a temporary hit to the budget, but our robust fiscal position will allow our economy to stabilise, if the Treasurer lets it happen. The Treasurer claims the wage freeze will save the state $3 billion over four years. But this "saving" represents less than 1 per cent of total projected expenditure over the period.
The real cost of the wage freeze and the absence of more discretionary spending in the economy will be felt by every single worker and business in NSW. That's because the 0.3 per cent and subsequent foreshadowed 1.5 per cent isn't just a cap on public sector wages, it's a signal to every private enterprise to keep wages on hold.
Public sector jobs set the floor for wages and quality jobs that can be found in the private sector. It also weakens the public sector's ability to attract highly qualified, competent people into the public sector. Wage caps erode productivity and human capital across our workforce. It's a fiscal own goal.
The Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has long been calling for public sector wage increases to end years of stagnant wage growth. Given his job is to help guide Australia through its worst recession in 90 years, his view is not an insignificant one.
The Treasurer should listen to him, rather than cooking up voucher schemes of his own.