Tuesday 25 June 2024

Contact 1800 772 679

Contact 1800 772 679

The magazine of the Public Service Association of NSW and the Community and Public Sector Union (NSW Branch)

Honouring Our Past Building Our Future – Annual Conference 2024

Honouring Our Past Building Our Future – Annual Conference 2024

Annual Conference 2024
Annual Conference celebrates 125 years.

The PSA CPSU NSW looked back to the past and into the future at its 2024 Annual Conference.

PSA CPSU NSW General Secretary Stewart Little spoke on the first day of Country Conference about the importance of Delegates over 125 years: “the only ones between our members and the boss”.

“Forty-eight per cent of our members work in regional NSW,” he said. “It is important we have a strong presence in the regions.”

He touched on the immediate past, saying the year had been a success for all members, with “nearly 8000 jobs in schools made permanent”.

“This is only possible through Delegates going in there and standing up for their members.”

Then to the future and the topic of stricter bail laws, introduced as part of a campaign by the PSA, and supported by other unions. Delegate Glenn Elliott- Rudder from the Sheriff ’s Office said more court facilities and resources were required to implement stronger laws.

Aboriginal Council member Shanice Leadbeatter said more programs were required for domestic and family violence offenders who may be “desensitised” to prison.

Independent MP, and former Public Sector worker, Roy Butler was next, proclaiming he was a “big fan of regional services”, which provide insight into policy for urban policymakers.

He also praised the people who fill Public Sector ranks in the bush.

“Public Servants are leaders in our communities,” he said, adding Public Sector roles fill the space for career progression missing in regional NSW.

With approval from the floor, Mr Butler said the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the subsequent outsourcing of disability care, has failed regional NSW, as there is no safety net. He said Ageing Disability and Home Care needs to be restored as a government function.

He added that privatisation has failed areas such as cleaning, again winning approval from Conference attendees.

Discussing his role as a parliamentarian, Mr Butler said a stronger crossbench offered “a safe pair of hands”.

“I don’t want to see any jobs cut in regional NSW,” he added.

Katie McRobert Australian Farm Institute Executive Director, was next, talking about “what’s keeping Australian farmers awake at night”.

She discussed issues such as climate change, access to labour and working in a way that meets with the approval of consumers and regulatory bodies.

Sustainability measures, she said, were about “future-proofing Australian farming” to preserve the country’s food security.

She added sustainability is simply “good farming practices”.

Dubbo-based Upper House MP Stephen Lawrence came to the podium praising 125 years of Delegates working for union members. “There is no union without its Delegates,” he said.

He thanked PSA for its role in the election of the Labor Government in 2023, noting a campaign that highlighted the cost of living, privatisation and rebuilding of essential services was a hit with voters.

“The people of NSW voted for an end to privatisation,” he said. “They saw the link between privatisation and cost of living and the link between privatisation and the erosion of essential services.”

With his office in Dubbo, Mr Lawrence said he wanted to link regional people with ministers of the State Government.

He said the Child Protection system proved private providers had failed and “this work needs to be done by Public Servants”.

 

 

Next Cally Sheehan and Adam Tran from the NSW Reconstruction Authority and its five predecessor agencies discussed their work, fighting the aftermath of 60 declared disasters since 2019, with 200,000 homes damaged in 2022 alone.

The following day, Annual Conference commenced, with Nathan Moran of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council welcoming attendees to Country and detailed the long relationship between the union and Koori movements.

Mr Moran said 125 years was a long time for any body and the PSA CPSU NSW deserved congratulations for its longevity.

PSA CPSU NSW President Nicole Jess opened Conference and talked of 125 years of wins that provide the foundation for later achievements for the union.

 

Next, Premier Chris Minns took the stage, opening with a thanks to the “people who keep this state running”.

He slammed the previous government for its neglect of the Public Sector.

“Those days are over: those old ideas of wage suppression no longer operate in this state,” he said. “Just over a year ago, privatisation was the central tenet of the government. It spent $1 billion on 10,000 consultants in one term.”

He criticised the secrecy of consultants and added the wage cap diminished value and respect of Public Sector workers and those employed in other parts of the economy.

“The wage cap was created to drive down incomes in all workplaces, public and private,” he said, citing statements from conservative politicians to business groups.

With his Minister for Family Services, Kate Washington, in attendance, Mr Minns added they had taken note of the PSA CPSU NSW Child Protection in Crisis campaign.

PSA CPSU NSW General Secretary Stewart Little followed Mr Minns, slamming consultancy culture.

Kristy McKellar is a campaigner for those affected by domestic and family violence, and talked to the audience about her own near-fatal experience at the hands of an abusive partner. She talked about the importance of workplaces to

respond and take action if they see the effects of domestic and family violence on employees and colleagues.

“At times, my workplace was my only refuge,” she said. “I would come into work very early and stay very late in the evening. But no colleagues saw this as a sign.”

Ms McKellar then discussed her work with Australian Football League club Carlton, which had a wide-ranging response to domestic and family violence called Carlton Respects. She said players started to have conversations with her and question their own behaviour.

She said programs to combat domestic and family violence need to be designed with the people who need the support.

“‘Designing for’ never works,” she said. “Together, we can all play a greater role.”

PSA CPSU NSW Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright later facilitated a forum on domestic and family violence.

Forum member Sheldon Sowter from Community Services said resourcing for help lines had gone backwards.

Bernadette McMahon talked about Housing NSW’s response to domestic and family violence saying once crisis accommodation is no longer available, people often return to abusive partners.

She said more public housing is needed. “Every homeless person in NSW deserves a home,” she said. “And we’re the ones who can give them one.”

Prison Officer Jason Charlton talked about how the remand system works when people get bail. He said people often breach violence orders.

He said there was a lack of preventative programs for people on remand for domestic and family violence offences and that cases take too long to go to trial.

Carmen Wells from Community Corrections said “we have triple the amount of offenders in the supervision system than we do in custody”.

“It’s great to have reforms, but if we don’t have staff, we can’t do the work,” she said. “About 40 per cent of our offenders on community orders have been convicted for a domestic violence offence.”

Juliette Sizer from Schools said schools were a safe place for children escaping violent homes. Staff, she said, were trained to look for signs “a child is coming from a violent household”.

As the PSA celebrated 125 years, former Commissioner Peter Kite talked about the history of the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), “the oldest tribunal of its type in the world”.

He praised the Minns Government’s reversal of outsourcing, saying “I’m very much a supporter of public employment: it’s cheaper and better so long as it is properly resourced.”

He talked about the historic pay equity case of 2019 for schools staff, saying running such a case “wasn’t easy”.

He then turned to the future, welcoming the fact the IRC would return to its previous role, saying the need to conciliate “is fundamental in a civilised society”.

Kate Lee of Union Aid Abroad and Katherine Boyle of the Welfare Rights Centre talked about the work they did on behalf of overseas unionists and Australian welfare recipients.

Nicole Jess chaired a forum on the councils and committees that helped the PSA CPSU NSW adjust to the workforce of the future. Represented were the Women’s, Pride, Aboriginal Councils and the Youth Committee.

The following day, former National Rugby League player and Teacher Jeff Hardy praised the union for its long history and lifted spirits in the room with a talk on the “importance of stories”.

He said seeing award-winning Delegates proved “people don’t win without a great team behind them”.

Mr Hardy talked about his background in Brewarrina and his family’s movement to a mission which “was not a good place for our people”.

He discussed family at length; the parents who gave him a good start that led to professional sports and teaching careers, and what he has learned raising his own son diagnosed with autism.

“There’s always a lesson,” he said, elaborating on his experiences teaching rugby league at Endeavour High School.

He said he worked to have a positive influence on Koori boys and young men and “being a big brother, uncle and father figure” through his Clontarf Foundation, which works with Aboriginal youths. It has grown from 17 boys in one school to 11,000 boys in 148 schools, improving attendance,

retention and post-school employment rates. Next to the stage was Senator for NSW,

Deborah O’Neill, who talked about her own history, starting with her parents coming to Australia from Ireland.

“Public Servants are the ones who made this a great country, not consultants,” she said, adding Public Sector jobs played an important role in working class communities.

“You handle new challenges every single day,” she said. In comparison, Senator O’Neill thought consultants who often replaced Public Sector workers were characterised by “gross misconduct, total self-aggrandising, and conflict of interest”.

An example; the PwC scandal where consultants used inside information from a government contract to encourage tax avoidance for overseas clients, was likened to treason. She said a Treasury Amendment Law will increase fines 10- fold for similar behaviour in the future.

“The key is never losing sight of who we are serving, and why,” she said, slamming a culture where well-paid consultants would drive to work on publicly funded roads then get to work advising clients on tax avoidance.

“We must prize and treasure democracy,” she said. “These businesses only succeed in stable democratic countries.

“We can’t have someone cut from public service and replaced by someone from the private sector with twice the pay and half the knowledge.”

Senator O’Neill said Labor governments in NSW and Canberra were rebuilding the Public Sector.

“Our wealth is in our people,” she said. “You provide the most essential things determined by the government of the day. Things the market cannot provide.”

State Politician Liesl Tesch was the next speaker. A mountain bike accident in her teenage years left Ms Tesch an incomplete paraplegic, which means she can walk very small distances but mainly uses a wheelchair.

After being introduced to wheelchair basketball, Ms Tesch began to rise through Paralympic ranks, competing at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics in the sport. She also played wheelchair basketball professionally in Spain, Italy and France.

She later transferred her skills to Paralympic sailing, winning gold in London and Rio.

As an MP, she expressed frustration about State Parliament’s lack of accessibility.

Ms Tesch agreed with Housing Delegate Bernadette McMahon that “we need more public housing for families with disabilities.”

The Member for the seat of Gosford said “the challenge with housing is going to take some time”, and encouraged people to let MPs know of properties that could be repurposed for housing. She said one constituent had alerted her to such a site that was now being converted.

Industrial Managers Nathan Bradshaw and Siobhan Callinan later co-chaired a forum highlighting the diverse coverage of the PSA CPSU NSW.

Taronga Zoo Delegate Claudia Bianchi talked about the pride she felt seeing platypus back into the wild.

“Sometimes little things can lead to big things,” she said, citing a case where one member reported a payslip issue, which led to millions of dollars being backpaid to casual members.

Glenn Elliott-Rudder of the Sheriff’s Office talked about his role “to make sure people behave themselves in court”.

“It can be a stressful job,” he said. “We have to be as neutral as possible in that environment.”

Matthew Cartwright from Fisheries said he and his colleagues need an Award review, as “our pay hasn’t kept up with many in the public service”.

The section’s high density of union membership, he said, was “due to dangerous work and management issues”.

Michael Petersen from Police Radio talked about the drama of his job, talking about the hectic four minutes and 44 seconds from the first call about the stabbing incident in Bondi Junction to the death of the offender.

However, short-staffing meant 72 calls from that incident went unanswered.

There was a similar lack of response, he said, during the Lismore floods.

Amanda-Lee James spoke of the “culture of fear” in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Simon Gilbert from Special Constables said while his members were looking for better pay and conditions, “we have had a couple of big wins in the past few years, such as recognition of service”.

Paralympian Ellie Cole was next, saying the members’ fight for success resonated with her as a sportsperson.

Her leg amputated as a young child, Ms Cole went on to became Australia’s most successful Paralympian as a swimmer

and was a driving force in getting equal bonuses for medal-winning Paralympians. So successful was her campaign, she said, that younger Paralympians now accepted pay parity as a given. Ms Cole talked about the importance of proper funding for facilities for sportspeople with disabilities.

On the flip side, she said there was enormous pressure on Olympic athletes, with some subjected to death threats after performing below expectations.

“We all hide parts of ourselves,” she said. “But the Paralympic Games put me in a place where I can’t hide my disability.”

Ms Cole said her proudest moments “were not when I was standing on a podium”, but when she challenged herself.

“It’s the small things that do count,” she said.

PSA CPSU NSW General Secretary Stewart Little said the 2024 Annual Conference gave attendees from a diverse group of workplaces a chance to hear a diverse group of voices.

“This year we look back at 125 years of union strength,” he said. “It is events such as these that help us plan and remain a vital part of our members’ working lives for decades to come.”

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