NSW Premier Nathan Rees is prepared to change the law to stop millions of dollars worth of pay increases to state’s top public servants after his own integrity was questioned.
Rees said he was unhappy about a 3.9 per cent wage increase for 853 senior government officers – at odds with government’s 2.5 per cent cap for public sector workers.
But the premier was also accused by the state opposition of being “loose with the truth” after originally stating he first learnt about the 3.9 per cent increase yesterday.
“I found out last night when the media rumblings had been replayed to my office,” Rees told reporters.
The premier held a second, impromptu press conference to admit he’d been told of the determination by the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal (SOORT) “some weeks ago”.
“I probably wasn’t as clear as I could have been in my mind about the question I was answering,” he told reporters.
“That’s why I’ve called this press conference. I don’t want you to be thinking that I didn’t know about the SOORT determination until last night.”
In fact, Rees had even expressed his concerns about the increase on the bottom of a briefing note after the determination was made sometime in September.
It was further embarrassment for Rees, with the 3.9 per cent wage rise also at odds with plans to cut 171 senior public sector positions to help ease budget concerns.
Rees said he may have to increase the number of senior executives to be axed to take into account the pay increase, but said his preference was to overturn the determination.
He said he would seek a review of the determination, but admitted legislation may have to be changed to overturn the 3.9 per cent decision.
“The legal advice is that we have a set of circumstances here that don’t enable me, or another minister for that matter, to intervene in the determination of the stand-alone tribunal,” Rees said.
“I questioned it when the file came to me to note the determination.
“What has subsequently come to light … that the intent of what I’ve requested cannot be carried out under the existing legislation and that is what I want to fix.”
Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell said the premier had been caught out over when he knew about the pay increase to senior bureaucrats.
He said the public would have trouble believing anything the premier says even though he’s only been in the job two months.
“This is an extraordinary insight into Nathan Rees,” O’Farrell said.
“He clearly has a problem telling the truth.”
O’Farrell said the wage increase was a slap in the face for the likes of firefighters and teachers, who are only offered 2.5 per cent unless they can make savings.