Speech on the Government Finance Bill 2018
Legislative Council Hansard – 06 June 2018
The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM (12:42): I make a number of remarks on the Government Sector Finance Bill 2018 and, in doing so, I support the position that was put by the shadow Treasurer and the Hon. Peter Primrose in this place leading for the Opposition. Labor has been clear: we do not oppose the bill. I specifically press one point about the Sydney Motorway Corporation that was made in the second reading debate by my colleague. I watched closely to see what the Treasurer had to say when this issue was raised elsewhere. In the second reading debate he said this about the Sydney Motorway Corporation:
That is an agency now. It will be an agency following the passage of this bill.
As to what this bill means for the Sydney Motorway Corporation, I am no clearer having discovered that information than I was when I went looking for it. I look forward to the Parliamentary Secretary in reply being a lot clearer than the Treasurer was in the lower House about what this bill means for the Sydney Motorway Corporation. I sat in on the estimates process that quizzed the Sydney Motorway Corporation about the salary of its chief executive officer [CEO]. I was pleased to see that the Sydney Motorway Corporation volunteered that information and indicated it would volunteer that information in years to come. That is the point. It volunteered the information. It was not compelled to produce it, and it should be. This is public money—an agency, in the words of the Treasurer. It should be compelled to provide that public information.
What does this bill mean if the salary of the Sydney Motorway Corporation CEO is published? What does the bill mean for the status of the Sydney Motorway Corporation under the Government Information (Public Access) Act? What does that information about how that organisation works mean for the public or this Parliament? I look forward to the Parliamentary Secretary clarifying those issues that have been raised in the debate and that they are more clear than the Treasurer has been able to articulate in this debate so far. I congratulate Mr Justin Field on raising the follow-the-dollar laws in this debate. Labor and the shadow Treasurer are on the record as supporting this broad approach. I also add my support to the broad comments that he made on those issues.
I will now come to the concerns that we have about the direction of the Government on these issues. I will refer to the Treasurer's claims at the end of my speech. A lot has been said in this debate about the Government's financial management. I will now raise our concerns about some of its priorities and issues on transparency. We have concerns about the privatisation of more than $50 billion of State assets and its impact on jobs. We also have concerns that power prices are up by 58 per cent in Sydney under this Government. That is despite a promise that was mailed out to the voters of New South Wales by the former Premier, which stated:
This is my pledge. Please keep it. Power prices will not rise as a result of this plan.
That was his pledge, and prices are up. The concern is the job-killing impact it is having in the private sector. One of my concerns about transparency is the secret deal this Government did on the privatisation of the port in Newcastle. There is a lot of talk about transparency today, but there was no transparency about the hidden penalties that were buried in that contract. Hopefully, under the scrutiny of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, we will get to the bottom of what was promised, what penalties existed, and what that means. That has massive implications for the economy, not only for Newcastle or the Hunter Valley but also for an entire slice of the north-west of the State. We will not know what those implications are for the economy for decades to come because that deal stayed hidden until it was dragged out.
We also have concerns about this Government's priorities and where it has chosen to apply the money it has raised through those asset sales. We say that some of those transport priorities are wrong such as investing money in the Northern Beaches rather than where the people are and where the traffic congestion is, which is the busiest corridor between Sydney and Parramatta. Spending on infrastructure in Sydney and not in the bush is a wrong priority. What is the impact of that over five years? The Census showed that the number of jobs created in Sydney will be 342,000 over five years. In the bush, 17,000 jobs will be lost over that same period. That Census information shows what happens when money is tipped into the city and not spent in the bush. That is our concern about these priorities. It will be no surprise that people believe that the Government should be spending money on schools and hospitals as a priority, not on stadiums.
I will briefly address some other concerns such as the sale of Land and Property Information [LPI], which was well canvassed here, and its impact on housing market stability, and the fact that Google is wandering around looking to headquarter its business. One report suggested there were 19,000 jobs at stake. I do not object to the Government's decision to pursue an open tender for the Eveleigh site, as the Government should get the best deal for a particular site. But the fact that one of the most important corporations in the world is wandering the streets of Sydney for a year looking to find somewhere to lodge its 19,000 jobs, with Melbourne hanging out the shingle saying:, "Move down here", should be of concern to the citizens of New South Wales.
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: But you still have to live in Melbourne.
The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: While the Hon. Dr Peter Phelps works out what he is going to interject, other concerns include the long-term decline in income as a result of these asset sales and the Government's tendency to defend the current infrastructure discount rate. The Labor Party believes the discount rate is too high and is twisting the investment decisions made by the Government. I conclude by talking about the Treasurer's claims in these bills. In introducing these bills the Treasurer said:
These bills are the culmination of the Government's 2013 commitment to bring government financial management of New South Wales into the twenty-first century.
The Treasurer went on to say:
This legislation will deliver significant benefits for New South Wales.
The Labor Party believes the Treasurer's claims deserve scrutiny. My colleagues have already raised the Fire and Emergency Services Levy. This House and the public were told that was a generational reform, but it only lasted a matter of weeks. The Treasurer concluded his first budget by declaring his own work "the envy of the Western world". That was how he chose to describe his budget. Watching the Treasurer deliver his speech, members were left with the unmistakable feeling that he had practised the line at home in front of the mirror, possibly clad in a simple Roman toga. But for all the self-congratulations, the truth is more mixed. In contrast, Michael Egan, as a longstanding Treasurer of this State, delivered quite a few budgets. He concluded each of them with a variation on this simple line, "It is a Labor budget every inch of the way".
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: Because it was in deficit every time.
The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: If the honourable member examines the record, he will find that was not the case. It was a modest claim, but it was absolutely true. I encourage this Treasurer to learn a lesson from that simple claim made repeatedly by Michael Egan as Treasurer. I look forward to hearing what this Treasurer claims about his next budget and whether he will be able to exceed the hyperbole he applied to the last budget. I commend the bills to the House.