Interview: No Ifs, No Butts
Unions: National Focus
Industrial: Fools Gold
Bad Boss: Bones of Contention
History: The Gong Show
Politics: The Hawke Legacy
International: Sick Nation
Economics: Closed Minds
Review: Mixing Pop and Politics
Poetry: One Size Fits All
The Locker Room
The Monk Off Our Back
The Westie Wing
The Government has encountered a few challenges 'Getting on with the job' of governing NSW six months into its third four-year term.
The poker machine tax issue, the restructure of TAFE, problems with public transport and the teachers' pay claim have seen vocal protests in Macquarie Street recently.
These difficulties have challenged the very basis of what a Labor government is about. There is always some tension between the industrial and political wings of the party. The issue is how inclusive a Labor government is in dealing with the challenges.
Premier Bob Carr referred to a "creative partnership" when he made his speech to Labor Council's AGM this year. He said:
"Our frank, open realistic, ungrudging acknowledgement of the role of the unions, as genuine partners in building the strength, security and fairness of our society in NSW and Australia will continue to be the hallmark of the Carr Labor Government in our third term."
It is this partnership that defines a Labor government.
Maintaining the "creative partnership" between unions and the Labor Government is vital, because it means a healthy industrial relations system based on collective bargaining. This in turn will create a healthier economy, providing growth and real jobs.
It is a challenge for Labor in government to balance revenue with expenditure while implementing social justice objectives. Prioritising programs in the budget is always going to be difficult when so many are in need of funds.
Budget deficits are not the end of the world, as long as they're used to provide proper infrastructure and services. Budget surpluses need not be the sole objective.
The focus that Labor has to have is on getting a better deal for working men and women in NSW. Achieving social justice objectives in providing health, education and vital services is a natural progression.
This would go a long way towards achieving the fair and just society that is the Labor Party's light on the hill.
Unfortunately, the partnership is not working effectively at the moment.
However, there are opportunities to work towards inclusive solutions. The ALP State Conference has historically seen unions confront the political wing of the party on matters of concern. This year is no different.
Many current issues are being debated again, because agreement on solutions has not been reached. The best and most lasting outcomes occur when the government helps stakeholders take ownership of drafting and implementing the solution.
One contentious issue is industrial manslaughter legislation to hold employers accountable for negligent death of employees. Company executives go to jail for breaching corporate law but not for industrial manslaughter. The debate is set to continue.
Another issue of interest to Conference delegates is the government purchasing policy, especially in relation to the allocation of government contracts.
The Government Cleaning Contract is up for renewal before next year's Budget.
The LHMU has been working hard to achieve the cleaners' demands:
The least we as a Labor government can do is to take on board the representations of the LHMU and agree to the cleaners' modest requests.
During the rest of the year after the heated debates of ALP Conference, the Labor Council will continue to do an excellent job of lobbying the Government on important industrial issues. However, it is time this is taken to a higher level towards the "creative partnership" goal.
One step towards this goal was the Labor Council holding an information session on the Secure Employment Test Case during the last month, which I co-hosted with Tony Burke MLC.
Twenty-four State Labor MPs attended the Labor Council presentation. Many commented that they were much better informed about the issue as a result.
I have sought to bring together Labor Council affilitates and State Labor MPs to exchange ideas since being elected. John Robertson as Secretary of the Labor Council and my colleague Tony Burke MLC have worked towards this goal as well. Many more of these events are planned for the future.
It is not weakness to admit that the Government has difficult problems to address. It is an opportunity to find a better solution through partnerships and consultation.
History tells us that unless stakeholders feel involved and take ownership of a problem, then any solution is usually short-lived.
Labor MPs, Party activists and unions must make the creative partnership work. If state Labor MPs don't take up this challenge, we will not succeed in "building the strength, security and fairness of our society" that the Premier set as our goal.
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