The 43,000 members of the NSW Public Service Association, who are currently voting to elect a new executive, are being bombarded with information about the candidates from two rival camps — Members First and Progressive PSA.

With voting to close on December 5, the incoming seven-member executive and 45 delegates on the union’s central council face a mammoth challenge to defend jobs and services in the public sector.

The Members First team, which is headed by the incumbent general secretary John Cahill, has been sending promotional material in envelopes which carry this address: PO Box 444, Engadine, NSW 2233.

By an odd coincidence this is the postal address of the Labor MP for Heathcote, Paul McLeay, who was the PSA’s assistant general secretary before entering parliament in March 2003.

McLeay, son of “Leaping” Leo McLeay, the former federal MP for Watson, is a foot soldier for the ALP’s right wing while Cahill, son of the late Premier Joe Cahill, is on the left.

Thousands of electioneering letters have been sent out bearing McLeay’s postal address and, while no one is suggesting that he has done anything wrong or unethical, the Opposition wants to make certain that any cost is being borne by McLeay out of his own pocket and not from his taxpayer-funded parliamentary allowance.

Progressive PSA’s candidate for general secretary, Anne Gardiner, a former nurse who is now an operations manager with Workcover, has pledged to end the union’s culture of secrecy and backdoor diplomacy with the state Labor Government:

“If elected I will immediately establish an open review of the salaries paid to elected officials, including the general secretary,” she says.

Gardiner has criticised the current leadership for taking appointments on state boards:

Cahill sits on the board of Macquarie Generation; assistant general secretary Steve Turner is on Waste Services NSW’s board; and union president Sue Walsh is a director of State Lotteries.

Other State Lotteries directors are Milton Cockburn, former editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and former upper house president Johno Johnson, both government appointees. In the November 11 mini-budget, the Rees Government listed Waste Services and State Lotteries for privatisation next year, which is in direct conflict with the PSA’s official policy.

Cabinet ministers are privately barracking for the return of the Cahill ticket. Although it’s “left”, it is dyed-in-the-wool Labor left and can be trusted to keep any protests within the boundaries of acceptable civilised behaviour, i.e. token protests.

Peter Fray

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