Asset privatisation not paying off for Charlestown

10 November 2022

Private Member's Statement

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown): This Government's reckless campaign of privatisation and the unprecedented burden of its policies, which have made New South Wales the highest taxing state in the country and Sydney the highest tolled city on the planet, have left our communities particularly vulnerable to cost-of-living pressures. These are issues that people are constantly approaching my office about.

This Government's slash-and-burn approach to the State's assets has seen revenue-generating assets sold off wholesale. The Port of Newcastle was auctioned off on 98-year lease.

Transgrid, the State's electricity infrastructure—the poles and wires—was leased for 99 years. The delivery of public transport in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie was handed off to private provider Keolis Downer. As I mentioned in this place before, that has been an absolute disaster for the people of Charlestown.

Privatisation, particularly of essential public services such as transport, creates what an upper House committee called "a perverse incentive for the provider". In order to make a profit they must undermine the very service they were entrusted to provide. Five years after the privatisation of Newcastle buses, Charlestown residents are still suffering because of the ill-thought-through change wrought on our public transport system.

I acknowledge that the cost-of-living crisis is not entirely the fault of the Government. International events are beyond even the Premier's control. But this Government has put the State's finances and services in such a parlous state that they have struggled to absorb the shock.

The people of this State and the people of my electorate are paying the price. The Liberal-Nationals Government has overseen record low wage growth for our State's essential workers, including the many public health workers in the Charlestown electorate and the tens of thousands all over the State; the train drivers that keep Newcastle and Lake Macquarie connected to Sydney and keep the city moving; the paramedics, whose jobs are already dangerous and stressful enough; the public schoolteachers, whose work is so vital to the future of our State; and the TAFE teachers, who train and retrain workers in the skills we need to keep our economy going.

All these hardworking professionals, who are the core of our State's service delivery system, have been hammered by the Government's refusal to keep their wages at pace with inflation. They have been undermined by the Government's endless record of cuts, cuts and more cuts. Now, with inflation on the up, they are struggling to pay for housing and for rising food and energy costs. They are really having a rough go of it.

The Government has left our State deeply vulnerable due to its ideological obsession with privatisation, its disregard for public workers and its desperate effort to plug holes in a budget it has made structurally brittle.

The Government has used fancy financial footwork so that government-owned corporation Hunter Water took on $100 million in debt from the Treasury to pay the Government a dividend, failed to amalgamate local councils so that even more costs could be offloaded to a different level of government, and imposed ever-increasing taxes and tolls.

That has all been forced on the people of this State and the Charlestown electorate by this Government in return for offshoring manufacturing jobs, leading to ferries, trains and light rail being built overseas and arriving in New South Wales unfit or inadequate for purpose and having to be fixed.

I suppose that creates some manufacturing jobs in the State. Why not create them here in the first place? The Government's corruption and mismanagement has seen icare underpay tens of thousands of injured workers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

We have also seen plum jobs for the boys in New York City, pork-barrel spending to an unprecedented degree and a revolving door of Premiers, with two having to resign because of the ICAC revelations and a third quitting as soon as the job got tough.

People across the State are hurting. They cannot afford child care, rent, food or to get to work.

The forces putting upward pressure on the cost of living may not all be the Government's fault, but its policies, obsessions and failures have allowed those pressures to trigger a crisis.

After 12 years of this Government's blinkered, ideologically driven policymaking that has pushed for cuts and privatisation at any price, enough is enough. It is time to put an end to the privatisation madness. It is time to end the assault on essential workers. It is time to help the State through the current crisis and make sure that it is in a stronger position to weather the next one.