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Question: Tram Drivers Dispute

31 August 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:43): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Public Sector on the topic of the tram strikes.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: This morning, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) announced that tram services will be disrupted tomorrow as tram workers take industrial action against their employer, Torrens Connect. According to Hayden Boyle, the SA and NT branch organiser from the RTBU, workers are seeking a pay rise that keeps pace with the rising cost of living, but Torrens Connect management are digging in their heels.

In its pre-election policy platform, the then Malinauskas opposition made a commitment to, and I quote, 'reverse privatisation of our trains and trams, bringing them back into public hands as soon as possible'. The policy document from the then Labor opposition also goes on to state that a Malinauskas government would, and I quote:

Ensure the return of a trained and competent workforce back into the public sector, including train and tram drivers and maintenance workers.

My question to the minister therefore is:

1. What action is the minister taking to return the trams and their workforce to the public sector?

2. Is the minister concerned that tram workers are getting a dud deal from Torrens Connect?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:44): I thank the honourable member for his question. Although the matter of returning the privatised rail network back into public hands is the responsibility of the Minister for Transport, the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis, member for West Torrens, I am aware that much work has gone into doing just that. There have been a lot of discussions with operators of the rail network about doing just that. There is a commitment, as the honourable member has outlined, that that will happen, and that is exactly what will occur. I know the work is very well developed.

I have to say that one of the consequences of the Liberals' ideological obsession—particularly under former Treasurer the Hon. Rob Lucas—with privatisation is that it has not done well for South Australians. There is nowhere in the world where the privatisation of public transport has led to better outcomes for citizens in that jurisdiction. Regularly, when public transport is privatised, you see fares increasing and you see services declining.

You pay for a private company—often a private company that is not based in Australia and that sends profits to shareholders who aren't here—having to take profit margins, and that comes at the expense of what happens in the system, the service to people and the cost of using the rail system. We have a commitment. We are acting on that commitment and we are deep into the process the transport minister is leading to return it to public hands.

If the rail system had not been privatised under the Hon. David Spiers and the Hon. Steven Marshall's previous government we would have had a role to play in negotiations. We don't always agree at first instance when we go into industrial negotiations with public sector unions, but we have had agreements between unions like the nurses, the firefighters and the ambulance officers, and we are currently, although there is some way to go, in negotiations with the teachers. We have negotiated in good faith and have bargained in a way that is respectful.

I look forward to the rail network being returned to where it should be: in public hands, and the government having a role to play in these negotiations in the future.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:47): Supplementary: I just remind the minister that my question was about the trams. What action is the government taking in relation to tram workers?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:47): Unfortunately, and as I have outlined, in relation to tram workers the government doesn't have a role to play because of the privatisation by the former government. Since 2009, when the industrial system for private sector workers was handed over entirely to the commonwealth—except for some areas like health and safety—we don't have a role, as a state jurisdiction, to play in private negotiations between a company and its private sector employees. We will when it is returned to the public sector, which we are committed to.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:48): Final supplementary: when will the parliament get an update on the work that has been undertaken in relation to returning the trams back to public hands?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:48): I thank the honourable member for his question. I know there have been a number of announcements that the transport minister has provided in the ongoing work to return the trams to the public sector. I am happy to go away and get an update for the honourable member as to where that stands and provide a response to his question.