Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 2004 ..
MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I thank Mr Hargreaves for the question. The question does proceed on the premise that there are cuts to the Emergency Services Bureau. That is not an assumption that he is entitled to make. The Government is in negotiation with the United Firefighters Union over the enterprise bargaining agreement and that involves a process of considering how wage rises and other benefits can be conferred on ACT government employees - in this case, firefighters - in terms of the Government's industrial relations policy and the current policy for this round of EBAs.
Now, it is the Government's policy to attempt to deliver wage increases to workers in the government service within the terms of the existing budgets and in particular to try to define productivity offsets to be able to fund those wage increases. But if those offsets result in expenditure in some areas being reduced, in order to be directed towards increased salaries for firefighters or some other benefits, Mr Speaker, that is a possibility which I cannot at this stage preclude - but I will say it will be a process, if that is what we end up with, which will have been arrived at through negotiation with the relevant union.
I am not going to foreshadow what the outcome of that process will be. Negotiations are still at an early stage. I want to see the product of the negotiations before a decision is made, or before I announce to the Assembly what the outcome will be in terms of the operation of the fire service or the result for the pay packets of individual firefighters.
MR HARGREAVES: I thank the Minister for his response. I wish to ask a supplementary question. The Minister undoubtedly knows that the United Firefighters Union has moved a no-confidence motion on the director of the Emergency Services Bureau. Will the Minister accept any responsibility for this lack of confidence expressed by the union?
MR HUMPHRIES: Negotiations of this kind are inevitably fairly charged events. At least they have potential to pass through such phases and - - -
Ms Carnell: I can remember when the nurses took all the blame.
MR HUMPHRIES: That is right. We have all experienced what I might call the theatrics of EBA negotiations. People can go through all sorts of extraordinary gestures in order, as they see it, to improve their case in such negotiations. It is very wrong to read into any gesture or view by a party at this early stage any particular long-term outcome. I have discussed the concerns that the union has directly with the leadership of the union, and I will continue to stay in touch with them about those issues. I pride myself on being able to talk to those unions frankly and freely and at short notice about the problems. I am confident that that process, that good working relationship, will see us through this particular round of EBA negotiations, as it has seen us through previous rounds of negotiations.