Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
Industrial: Just Doing It
Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Bad Boss: In the Pooh
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Technology: Dean for President
International: Rangoon Rumble
Education: Blackboard Jungle
Review: From Weakness to Strength
The Locker Room
A Recipe for Conflict
After the Accident
Cuba - the Debate Continues
Greetings from Japan
As They Say In The Bible ...
Interview with Peter Lewis
Maurie, I wanted to start off by asking you in the nearly 30 years you've had in the NSW public sector how you think the notion of public service has changed in that time?
Well, there's no way under the sun that NSW would have the triple A rating today without having good public services. And the difficulty is every man and his dog wants a good public service, but nobody wants to pay for it.
When you ask people what issues are important to them, particularly in state politics, they always nominate the people who work in the public sector - nurses, teachers, police. What's gone wrong in our thinking that we can't connect those people with the public sector?
You're very right, Nurses and teachers, health and education have a very emotional impact upon on the whole community. Everybody loves a nurse, everybody who's been in hospital, or who's had a run in hospital, will tell you no matter how bad the health system is, Sister so and so was so good and so decent. You saw that when the Nurses' Association decided to go outside the Memorandum of Understanding which three unions signed, including the Nurses' Association, limiting pay claims. There was no public outcry about an extra six per cent salary for nurses because they are loved by the community. Teachers are probably loved a little bit less, because everybody remember some unwarranted kick in the ass at some stage. As for the Public Service, very few people see it unless you really go to a public service office, most people are unaware of fantastic work being done across the whole range of government departments.
There's a sense in which through the eighties that public servants became the whipping boys in the rush to privatise and contract out government services. The economic rationalists turned the public servant into cardigan-wearing bludgers who were wasting public money. How damaging was that?
Very, very damaging to Nick Greiner and it cost him his fooking job! To our members, it motivated our members that they were being maligned. The majority of public servants over the years accepted salaries that were less than private sector salaries and office conditions that were far inferior to private sector office conditions. They did it for two reasons, (a) there was a good superannuation system in place and when you retire you get a good super pay out under the old super system and (b) you had a job for life. Greiner saw to that, the job for life went out the window and it never came back in. That's history now and the superannation system that's across the public sector now is really no better than a general insurance policy
Since Greiner, how do you rate the Carr Government in rebuilding the public sector?
The public service has really been the opposition party in NSW over the last eight years. The PSA has been a part of the opposition. To have a good Government, everybody agrees you've got to have a good opposition. We haven't had a good opposition so the PSA has filled that breach. We have kept the government honest.
How do you rate the Government over that time?
Very good. One has to admit, as much as I disagree with Michael Egan, and it's going to be very hard to say it in public, I think he's been a very good Treasurer - although he's been as tight as a fish's ass and public servants have not been the beneficiaries of any largesse from the government. But their dedication, their commitment and their stellar performance over the years which was denied by Greiner and sometimes not admitted by Michael has kept this State and the government in a position where they do have a high standing with the public.
One lament you hear out of the public service is that the increased number of casuals being brought in has really created two tiers of public sector workers: one with permanency, the other with no real rights at all. Is that something that the Carr Government should take responsibility for?
We've written to Bob about this. A career in the public service now is falling apart. There was a time when they got in people from school and give them cadetships, a young person with HSC could come to the public sector and saw a future, a career structure down the track. That doesn't happen anymore, there are very few people coming in at a young age and more people from outside. It breaks my heart to see this, you get these wiz kids who are selected by head hunters come in with IQ's like very high temperatures, wiz kids big reputations who want to change the whole fooking world and in two years or so piss off and leave a heap of devastation behind us. We've seen it time after, time, after time. It just amazes me how these people can enter senior positions, six figure salaries and, Jesus Christ, the shit they leave behind them to be cleaned up by the public service in later years down the track. It just amazes me. Some of them should be shot!
Does the politicisisation of the SES bother you as well?
It does a bit. It amazes me sometimes the appointments that are made in there. Now, whether we like to admit it or not, every government is going to try and put in people in there who they think will do the right thing by that Government. I suppose if I was in Government myself I'd be rather selective about who I put into SES positions. But sometimes, whether its loyalty to a supporter, or whether its blindness, some people are appointed to the SES who are absolute disasters. Its worse than a crime.
This really ties in with the idea of a public servant for life and the idea that the people who run the public service are those who have worked in there for a long time. That seems to not happen anymore
A career in the public service is becoming a thing of the past. It use to annoy me when I sat on the Appeals Tribunal there'd be people who'd be 15-20 years with the Department and come up to a senior Grade 10 or 11 and a job would come up and some smart arse from outside with a heap of meaningless degree's walks in to this job and the people's whose sweat and whose enthusiasm and whose commitment has kept the Department going for donkey's years are swept away.
Well, if you were to become the person that could actually run the public sector, what would you do to address these issues? What's your medicine for the public sector?
I'd have a big clean out at the SES level and I would kick out those people who are kept in Governor Macquarie Tower who are generally either lunatics or criminals. Had it not been for the PSA you would not have had a replacement Director-General in Community Services last year. My tin had run dry from knocking on the Minister's door telling her her department was being run by a clairvoyant. I told the Minister, I told her and told her. In the end it could go no further. As I said on the media, the Director-General no longer had the charity of my fooking silence.
In terms of looking back on career with the union movement, I'd just like to get a few of your fondest memories. What's your most memorable industrial dispute you've been involved in?
About six or seven years ago the Government ratted on a wages agreement for public servants. We called a major meeting at the Town Hall in Sydney. I walked down with John Cahill at about a quarter to nine there was a few people standing around having fags and I thought - this is going to be lovely. There were TV cameras and radio all over the place but where were the members. We walked around the block preparing for the worst. By the time we got down to the Town Hall we couldn't get in! Not because the Town Hall was shut but because the Town Hall was overflowing there were a couple of thousand people in the square outside. Within a week the new Labor Government and the minister, Jeff Shaw, had reconsidered their position. They also realized they had a real opposition - and not the jokes that Peter Collins, Kerry Chikarovski and now John Brogden lead.
Finally, what are your parting words of advice for those who are still working to rebuild the union movement into the next?
When I leave here I won't be looking over the shoulders of the people who follow me. Its wrong for a senior trade union official to keep their finger in the pie and give gratuitous advice to those who them. But to answer your question: Have a clear message for your members. Campaign on the issues that matter to them. And always have a fooking go.
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