Industrial Relations (Question Time)
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:14): Supplementary: will the minister undertake to bring back the public expenditure made to silence the voices of paramedics and firefighters under the previous regime?
The Hon. K.J. Maher: Sorry, what was the first part?
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Will you undertake to bring back the public expense—the money spent—both removing the chalk and the signs on ambulances and outside fire stations?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:15): I thank the honourable member for her question. As I understand it: will I seek to see if I can find what the dollar figure is that the former government spent trying to silence people? I am happy to do that. I am very happy to do that, and if I can find it I certainly will bring it back to this chamber.
The, I suspect, hundreds of thousands of dollars that the former government under the—the Hon. Rob Lucas Liberal government of the last four years spent trying to silence public sector workers rather than putting that money into frontline services. I think that would be a very worthwhile exercise to try to find out, and I know the honourable Leader of the Opposition, part of the former Liberal government who chose and tried so much to silence workers in this state.
The PRESIDENT: Order!
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:10): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Industrial Relations on the topic of industrial action.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Under the former government, workers in dispute over issues of public safety, public health and the greater public good were engaged in forms of industrially motivated activities, beyond that of taking strike action, when they were in dispute with that government.
These activities undertaken by those workers continuing to perform their duties in the public good, public safety and public health grounds included librarians and archivists wearing PSA T-shirts while working that highlighted the cuts to the State Library, firefighters erecting UFU signs outside their stations that challenged the level of resourcing of the MFS, and of course the highly visible and highly DIY ambulance workers who chalked their assigned ambulances with brightly coloured statements about ramping and resourcing.
The curious response under the previous government was not one of negotiation and acceptance of a public debate. Rather, it was a response that sought to silence dissent. External contractors were hired to remove the signs placed outside fire stations—
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Hear, hear!
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: ‘Hear, hear!’ says the Hon. Michelle Lensink, still supporting that approach. Contracted cleaners were brought in, I believe, daily to erase the chalked slogans from the ambulance workers, although to my knowledge silencing in the State Library did not involve the banning of those aforementioned T-shirts, simply the quiet enjoyment of the archives and the books. My question to the Minister for Industrial Relations is: will the Malinauskas government respect the rights of workers to campaign for better workplaces, public health, public safety, public good and public services without censorship?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:12): I thank the honourable member for her very important question and her longstanding interest and advocacy for workers in South Australia and those who represent workers in South Australia. We take a very different approach and outlook than I think the former government took. We saw under the former government the former industrial relations minister, who used to stand in this chamber, the Hon. Rob Lucas, regularly deride those who represent workers as ‘union bosses’. He used the term pejoratively, as if there was something wrong with dedicating your life to seeing that workers in South Australia had better pay and better conditions.
We don’t take that view. There are many involved in not just the Labor Party but also the Greens movement who have spent time as part of their lives, and still do, advocating for workers in South Australia. As a general principle, we will not take the same view or actions in relation to censorship as the Hon. Rob Lucas took. We remember in this chamber questions being asked about—I think it was in the Adelaide Hills—an ambo who was, I think, secretly filmed writing chalk on the ambulance and somehow that footage was released to the media with great personal anguish to the individual concerned.
These are not the actions of someone who respects workers or a government that respects workers. We take a very different approach. When there are issues, we would prefer to sit down and talk to unions, to sit down and talk to the workers, about what those concerns are. It is not always going to be the case that as a government we are going to agree with every single aspect the union puts forward, but we certainly have taken the approach, and we will continue to do so, of talking in a genuine and bona fide way without throwing around terms of insult to unions, unionists and workers that they represent.
To give one example, a number of months ago I think there was a staff member at the Royal Adelaide Hospital who was wearing a T-shirt—I can’t remember exactly what the issue was—making a statement about something they thought was important. I think at a departmental level they were told not to wear the T-shirt—obviously carrying on the sort of instructions from the former government—but I know the health minister quickly made it clear that that’s not the sort of government that we are, that likes to at all costs and at all times silence all dissent.