At the Economic and Political Overview conference hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) on Friday (22 February), Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Opposition Leader Michael Daley gave their respective verdicts on the performance of the current government and outlined their key policy and spending targets for the next four years should they win office.
Here is what each is offering voters in the lead-up to the poll on Saturday, 23 March 2019:
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal)
The daughter of Armenian immigrants, Ms Berejiklian said that her government had taken the NSW economy from the last to first during its time in office.
She said that the Liberal government, which came to power in 2011 under Barry O’Farrell before Mike Baird and then Ms Berejiklian subsequently took the helm, inherited a budget in which expenses growth (at 7 per cent per annum) was growing faster than revenue growth.
The premier said this “inefficiency” meant that citizens were paying too much for publicly owned services, money which she said had been returned to citizens by embracing technology to deliver lower CTP premiums, as well as among the lowest energy and water prices for households of any Australian state.
Ms Berejiklian, who at one point during her presentation was interrupted by a lone climate change protester, outlined her government’s priorities for another term as:
Fully funding super entitlements
The state will be fully funding its superannuation liabilities by 2030, which the premier described as “a massive achievement”.
Maintaining ‘record low’ unemployment
She said that NSW has the lowest unemployment rate of anywhere in Australia at present, at “a record low” of 3.9 per cent, with most full-time jobs taken up by women, while youth unemployment is the lowest it has been in 40 years.
Ms Berejiklian took a dig at the state’s southern neighbour, stating: “We’re spending about twice on infrastructure what Victoria is, but we’re not borrowing to fund it — we’re using surplus”.
Increased spending on schools
The government has plans for a major boost in schools capital expenditure, which the premier said is separate from spending on skills and training.
Major transport infrastructure projects
Ms Berejiklian said that the government is currently working on, or nearing completion on, five metro rail projects, three light rail lines, seven new motorways and a new airport city at Badgerys Creek, following the start of works for Sydney’s second international airport in 2018, with a commitment to deliver 36,000 extra weekly public transport services over the next four years.
She also made a push for fast rail services to be scoped in NSW and interstate, stating that fast rail needs to start now if it’s going to happen in the next 20 years. The government has assigned a UK expert to provide initial scope and feasibility for the project.
More front-line public servants
The government is promising an increase to a number of key public sector personnel: 5,000 additional nurses, 4,000 extra teachers and 1,500 extra police officers.
Roll-out of Service NSW centres
More Service NSW centres are planned across the state, which the premier said have consolidated more than 800 different government transactions to one centre and its online portal. She also announced the launch of mobile Service NSW centres to better reach rural and regional areas of the state.
Cutting cost of living
Ms Berejiklian said that the government has achieved cuts worth hundreds of dollars to household bills, directly such as through lower CTP bills for road users through the digital system, as well as through government-backed price saving services including Energy Switch and Fuel Check apps.
‘Aerotropolis’ and three cities plan
This refers to the development of a new CBD region around the new airport at Badgery’s Creek, which will complement the existing major “cities” plan covering Parramatta and the Sydney CBD.
Ms Berejiklian said that the government has already secured 10 foundational business partners, has plans for a new metro line due for completion to coincide with the airport’s 2026 opening, and the launch of a new multi-university learning campus.
Introduction of a tree canopy measure
A policy designed to increase the amount of tree cover in the state’s cities and towns, both from a beautification perspective but aimed at reducing energy consumption by lowering community temperatures by several degrees with natural tree coverage.
Overhauling state/federal relations
According to Ms Berejiklian, NSW currently has 43 separate agreements in place with the federal government, which should be streamlined to deliver better outcomes and efficiency. She said that the Federation Act was devised at a time when each of the former colonies had a similar population, but that is no longer the case, with NSW not by far the most populous state in Australia.
She said that while appreciating the larger states will always need to subsidise the smaller ones, subsidising inefficiencies is unfair for NSW citizens, and so a new approach that encourages all state governments to deliver efficiencies would reduce the cost burden on NSW.
Promoting regional growth
The premier said that jobs growth is occurring in regional areas, even despite the crippling drought. She identified significant opportunities are in connectivity and water security, citing the soon-to-be-switched-on water pipeline to Broken Hill as one such example.
“If you express confidence in a community by building a new piece of infrastructure, the business community will follow,” she said.
Boosting international engagement
MS Berejiklian said that the government plans to leverage Sydney’s second airport to increase connectivity throughout Asia, with more direct flights to major and even new destinations opening up new export opportunities for businesses.
NSW Opposition Leader Michael Daley (Labor)
The former customs officer and councillor turned politician, who has held many portfolios in opposition and ministries in the previous Labor government, commenced his pitch to the state’s business community with a bold pledge.
“What you want from government, as businesspeople, is fairness and certainty,” he said.
Citing the controversial light rail project in Sydney’s CBD, which has been hit by major delays, cost blow-outs and criticism from local businesses impacted by the construction works, Mr Daley said that government funds should be treated like having control of a trust fund for an orphaned child, with careful scrutiny and minimal wastage to provide certainty and security, in both the short and long term.
“[But] it started as a $1.6 billion project, now it’s — who knows — $3 [billion]?” he said of the current situation facing the project, and suggested that the risk of the project had been shifted to the private sector rather than being adequately addressed up front.
Mr Daley listed his party’s major policy points as the following:
Independent planning reviews
Major project and developments will be subject to independent review, in order to give businesses, other stakeholders and the wider community opportunity to provide input on design and planning.
He hit out against spot rezoning under the state planning laws that can overrule local council Local Environmental Plans (LEPs).
Western Sydney metro
According to Mr Daley, the western Sydney metro is ranked as the top infrastructure priority by Infrastructure Australia to reduce transport and traffic congestion in the region.
He renewed Labor’s previous commitment of $8 billion in funding towards the $16 billion project, including a promise by federal Labor to contribute $3 billion in funds.
Citing unairconditioned trains and a shutdown of Sydney’s rail network during heavy rain, as happened on New Year’s Eve this year, “ageing” infrastructure and signalling across the state’s rail network would receive an unspecified amount of additional funding.
Local road improvements
Shift focus away from “big, flashy toll roads” and instead devote more attention to improving and upgrading local roads.
Education and training spending boost
According to Mr Daley, the NSW TAFE system has 5,700 fewer teachers and support staff than eight years ago, and the number of student enrolments has also fallen.
He pledged at least 600,000 fully funded TAFE courses over the next decade, concentrated in areas battling chronic skills shortages including trades and child care.
For public schools, he committed $800 million in spending to provide airconditioning to all public classrooms statewide, which he said would be largely funded by abandoning the government’s planned stadium upgrades.
Mandated provision of nurses
In what he said was the first time in NSW history that such a measure would be implemented, Mr Daley said that he would mandate minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in all public hospitals.
Labor recently unveiled plans to incentivise 500,000 households to install renewable energy in a bid to also stimulate private sector investment in renewables. The opposition also plans to create a new state-owned corporation to lead the way on energy storage.
No public sector lay-offs
According to Mr Daley, the previous Labor government has a budget surplus for 15 of its 16 years in office, and did so without sacking public sector workers. But he suggested the current government has sacked 30,000 “mum and dad” employees across all facets of public service.
No privatisation of assets
“We will not privatise any further assets,” Mr Daley said emphatically.
“There will be no more privatisations under Labor.”
He said that $70 billion worth of income-generating assets have already been sold by the incumbent government, and that to continue, Sydney Water and local buses would have to become the focus.
Taxing the gig economy
Stating that the gig economy arrived whether we liked it or not, he suggested the law is lagging here and that many companies, particularly food delivery companies, should pay more tax here in Australia.
Mr Daley said that he would like these “San Francisco-based” companies to expatriate less profit to provide more protections for local workers.
Engage federal government over population growth
According to Mr Daley, the bulk of Australia’s migrant intake move to Sydney or Melbourne, placing a disproportionate burden on the services of both cities and states, but the major beneficiary is the federal government through tax collection.
As such, he wants to push for larger infrastructure investments into Sydney (and by extension Melbourne) to cater for these growing populations.