14 February 2023

Barr feuds with CPSU: I'll look after low paid public service, tax cuts will take care of high rollers

| Chris Johnson
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Andrew Barr in the legislative assembly

Chief Minister Andrew Barr suggested federal tax cuts would help high-income earners deal with cost-of-living pressures. Photo: Region.

Andrew Barr and the union representing public servants are at loggerheads over pay and conditions, with the Chief Minister under fire over comments he made regarding his ACT public sector workforce and their wages.

In a letter to the Community and Public Sector Union last week, Mr Barr suggested many public servants were high-income earners and that federal income tax cuts – rather than salary increases from his government – would help them with the cost of living.

He said it was ACT employees on the lowest wages who would be getting the love from his government and should expect pay rises.

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“The government is carefully balancing generous remuneration to our workforce with a responsible and disciplined fiscal strategy to return to a balanced position in the medium term,” Mr Barr wrote to the union.

“Unfortunately, the CPSU wage claim does not represent an affordable or fiscally responsible approach for the government to adopt.”

The union had previously rejected an offer the ACT Government made in November of a $1250 cost-of-living supplement and a flat increase of $1750 to be made this month.

Using both percentage rises and flat increases over the life of the agreement, a four-year deal put up by the government would see a worker on a salary of $53,868 receive a 21.4 per cent pay rise over the period while a worker on $157,201 a year would get a 12.4 per cent boost.

The CPSU is after a better deal for all, but Mr Barr has ruled out higher increases.

He told the union that the federal government’s stage three tax cuts in 2024-25 would help offset cost-of-living pressures for his public servants on ‘higher incomes’.

According to the ACT Government’s figures, an employee receiving $120,000 per annum would pay $1875 less tax in 2024-25 compared to this current financial year while a public servant earning $200,000 a year would pay $9075 less tax in 2024-05 thanks to the stage three tax cuts.

The CPSU has accused the Chief Minister of insulting his workforce, making it hard for a resolution to be reached.

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The Territory’s politicians and senior public servants were granted a 3.25 per cent pay rise in September, bringing Mr Barr’s annual salary to $371,910.

Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry is paid $318,780 a year, and Leader of the Opposition Elizabeth Lee earns $301,070.

Other ACT Government ministers earn $301,070, while the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Hanson was boosted to an annual salary of $212,520.

Assembly backbenchers got an increase of $6000 a year, taking their pay to $177,100.

Head of the ACT Public Service, Kathy Leigh, now takes home $434,014.

ACT Auditor-General Michael Harris earns $360,529 and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Tom Duncan receives $283,230.

CEO of the City Renewal Authority Malcolm Snow and CEO of the Suburban Land Agency John Dietz are each paid $388,099.

Other senior public servants to get pay rises include the President of the Human Rights Commission; the Discrimination, Health Services & Disability and Community Services Commissioner; the Public Advocate; the Children and Young People Commissioner; Victims of Crime Commissioner; and the Work Health and Safety Commissioner.

Rank-and-file ACT public servants are still waiting for their pay rises.

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But isn’t Barr labor? Aren’t they all for unions? I’m confused

The more Barr opens his mouth, the more Queanbeyan becomes an attractive place to live.

Looks like Barr and his overpaid sheep will benefit from the federal tax cuts. How are the plebs doing? Thought so.

devils_advocate12:37 pm 16 Feb 23

1) the stage 3 tax cuts are not guaranteed and the Albanese government will abandon them the second they think it is expedient to do so
2) if tax indexation had kept the tax brackets consistent with real incomes, the highest tax bracket would kick in well above $260k. So “high” income earners have been living with punitive tax rates for a long time and this stage 3 cuts would only partly claw back some of these penalties.

Margaret Freemantle9:29 pm 15 Feb 23

I totally support Andrew Barr looking after the lower paid workers. They need the funds to pay their mortgages – the higher paid public servants can afford to repay or some dont even have such debts.

devils_advocate3:48 pm 15 Feb 23

Only in Canberra would people think it acceptable that an employer could bargain a wage with an employee, on the basis that the federal government may or may not steal less of their income through taxes, at some point in the future.

The stage three tax cuts were a policy decision intended to make the tax system fairer and provide better incentives for the working class to be productive. Who does this ACT “minister” think he is to try to subvert the purpose of this by withholding nominal pay increases?

By that logic if the Federal Government indexes tax rates, caps energy prices or increases the child care subsidy, Comrade Barr should take credit for this and dip his hand further into the pockets of the workers to offset any benefits.

The only people worse than Comrade Barr are the electors who let him get away with it.

Fully agree with this.

And it’s particularly relevant when the majority of the stage 3 tax cuts is simply returning additional taxation by the stealth tax of bracket creep.

Giving back more of the additional revenue the government has taken is hardly generosity.

Wow 21.4% over 3 years seems a bit excessive. All this will do is help lift inflation. Also stage 3 tax cuts should be reduced and money saved going to pay fown debt and public hospital funding.

You’ve fallen for the spin they’ve used in crafting this offer.

There’s very few employees in the ACT Public Service who are on that low a wage to receive 21% over 4 years, so it costs them very little but makes a good headline about how they are looking after the lowest paid workers.

HiddenDragon6:57 pm 14 Feb 23

Andrew Barr’s position on this issue may not be particularly palatable to ACT public sector employees on middle and upper incomes, and even less so to public sector union officials who seem to think that governments have a bottomless pit of funds at their disposal, but it is entirely consistent with the approach which the Hawke – Keating government and the union movement adopted to get inflation and government finances under control in the 1980s when Australia’s easy options had run out (much like now).

The NSW Labor leader has said broadly consistent things today, and it may only be a matter of time before the federal government more explicitly adopts a similar approach.

So what you’re saying is all their bluster over the last few years about workers deserving higher pay was completely disingenuous, being used as a political wedge to their advantage?

Sounds about right.

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