By-election will test govt status

REGARDLESS of the electorate's status as a National Party stronghold, Saturday's Clarence by-election will be used as a barometer on the O'Farrell/Stoner Government's first eight months in power.

And if the public sector workers at yesterday's rally in Grafton have their way, the message to the Coalition will be clear - cease the attack on public service wages, conditions and benefits.

About 100 people gathered at Market Square for the rally, which was largely in support of the Police Association's campaign against the planned slashing of the Death and Disability Scheme (DADS) - which goes before parliament next Wednesday.

There were firefighters, TAFE teachers, prison officers, Essential Energy workers and nurses at the rally - all expressing fear about the loss of conditions and the limit of their pay rises to below the CPI.

Also in attendance were Clarence candidates Janet Cavanaugh (Greens), Wade Walker (independent), Stuart Scott-Irving (independent) and Peter Ellem (Labor) as well as opposition spokesman for Primary Industries Steve Whan, Greens MLC David Shoebridge and local and state union leaders.

Mr Shoebridge said the plan to slash the DADS would see officers with partial but permanent disabilities receive a fraction of their previous entitlements. In one model, he said, an officer who would have previously been entitled to $570,000 would be entitled to $70,000 under the proposed scheme.

The DADS was a "top-up" scheme which paid officers over and above standard workers compensation entitlements, he said.

Standard workers compensation usually paid a worker about 80% of their wages for the first 12 months and about $400 per week after that for five years.

Grafton-based Police Chaplain Rex Hackett, who said he has dealt with many local police who had been physically and psychologically injured, appealed to the government, "don't throw out the baby with the bathwater"

"Sure they've got to trim the generous benefits because financially, the state can't afford it but to cut it as drastically as they have ... police and families will suffer."

Assistant secretary of the Public Services Association Shane O'Brien said Saturday's by-election offered the workers of Clarence a unique opportunity to tell Barry O'Farrell that they would not be treated with contempt.

Referring to news that TAFE teachers had been placed under a Federal Award, effectively blocking their access to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, Mr O'Brien described the Government as "sneaky and mean and dishonhest".

He called on the crowd to help deliver the biggest swing against the Coalition by voting only for the candidates present who had signed the Better Services for a Better State petition.

Earlier, Police Association spokesman Tony King said Nationals candidate Chris Gulaptis had not signed the petition.

Mr Ellem said he had called on the Government to quarantine the Clarence from further public sector job losses after the closure of the South Grafton Abattoir, but it had refused."And in the ultimate insult, the Nationals have blindsided our hardworking police to announce they are slashing entitlements for police who are injured or disabled in the line of duty," he said."We can't expect our police to put their lives on the line for our community if they aren't going to be properly protected if something goes wrong."The Nationals have already cut 13 jobs from Grafton jail and ripped $1.3 million out of our local economy in a single hit."

Independant candidate Mr Scott-Irving said public servants could be paid better if state governments were abolished altogether.

"We don't need three tiers of Government ... we need better local and federal government and we need to get rid of state borders," he said.




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