Put politicians on a nurses wage!

Rachel Evans at nurses rally at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Photo by Darrien Perry.

If federal Labor Special Minister of State* Gary Gray thinks we should feel sorry for him because he took a pay cut from $675,000 a year to $130,000 when he left his senior executive position at Woodside Petroleum to become a politician, he must be stupid.

Most of us can see that corporate CEOs are grossly overpaid and, worse, they get paid more if they are better at hurting and ripping off millions of people.

Gray wants to close the gap between corporate CEO and politicians pay (already much higher than that of the great majority of workers) — and not by cutting obscene CEO pay! This would widen the gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent.

How about capping politicians pay at the lel of that of a skilled worker, such as a nurse? That way the pollies would have a better idea what life is like for most people and this might have a positive impact on the decisions made by governments.

Wasting public money to make the well-off even more well off has become the norm, whether we have a Labor or a Liberal-National Coalition government. Last week it was revealed that the NSW Labor government was prepared to secretly subsidise the price of coal power by $1-2 billion in order to sweeten the deal for the companies bidding for the NSW electricity privatisation. That’s on top of at least another billion in subsidies to the coal industry which Green peace had unearthed.

We’ve also found out that NSW would have been at least $4.6 billion better off if it had publicly borrowed to build and operate the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, the M4, the M5, the M2, the Eastern Distributor, the Cross City Tunnel, the M7 and Lane Cove Tunnel, instead of handing it over to the private sector.

That’s just a small part of the corporate profit subsidies from the public purse. Billions more go to fattening the profits of private schools, private health insurance companies, big car companies and even the profit-gouging big four banks.

The big companies get away with lower and lowers taxes while poor are slugged ever more as governments rely more on direct taxes. According to a November 15 Sydney Morning Herald report, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that the Gillard government’s compromise minerals resource rent tax was so weak that ”taxation of profits of mining companies is likely to remain much lower than before the mining boom”.

Most of us would rather see public money spent on public services. On health, education, public transport and on seriously making a transition to renewable energy. But while our politicians-who-would-like -to-be-paid-like-corporate-CEOs don’t think twice of tossing a few billion the way of the same corporate rich, you have to fight them tooth and nail to get them to spend a cent on our common good.

On November 24, NSW nurses will be going on strike to get the government to agree to a mandated minimum staffing ratio of one nurse to four patients in hospitals. Victorian nurses won this minimum standard 10 years ago (after a fight) but in NSW the Keneally Labor government is refusing to budge.

I joined nurses last week at their rally outside the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and spoke out as an appreciative patient.  My appreciation for the public hospitals and their dedicated (but overworked) staff increased since I was rushed in with a heart attack in 2007. Most people only get to appreciate the public health system after such an emergency.

In my moral universe, one nurse is worth way more than boardrooms of overpaid corporate CEOs. But this a society being run on upside-down values.

Many people agree with this but don’t think we can change the system. But everytime someone steps up to take some action to fight for change – no matter how modest – our collective confidence in the possibility of bigger change grows. This is why Green Left Weekly offers a voices for all those fighting for change — whether it is a nurse seeking better staffing ratios in the interest of patient and staff safety or a community activists standing up to mining companies determined to extract coal seam gas from under our water catchment areas, farms or even our cities.

As the year draws to an end, we appeal to all our readers to make a generous donation towards the Green Left Weekly $300,000 annual fighting fund.

If you can help us get there please donate online today at www.greenleft.org.au/donate/details , or direct deposits can be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, account no. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation on the toll-free line on 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

* What does a SMOS (special minister of state) do apart from talking up pollies pay and collecting a minister’s salary in the process? See: http://www.smos.gov.au/

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