We are better than this

With inequality at a 70 year high and living standards stagnating, millions of Australians cannot afford another Coalition Government and nor can our planet. We urgently need a new direction.

We need to change the rules because they are are broken and rigged against working Australians.

We need an economic system that delivers for all Australians and reduces inequality, not one that just concentrates more wealth in the hands of the lucky few.

We need to reinvest in the essential public services that Australians rely on and halt the privatisation of our social security system that so many rely on.

We need to deliver a just transition to tackle the climate crisis while ensuring workers are not thrown on the scrap heap.

We need a Government that does not use the State to go after its opponents and take from those without power while showering as much public largesse as they can to their mates with little scrutiny.

What we have now at both a state and federal level are Governments run for the interests of the super rich, big banks and corporate Australia. They are Governments by organised capital, for organised capital.

The Coalition Government in New South Wales, shorn of some of the socially conservative extremism of its federal counterpart, shows what the Turnbull Government fundamentally is at its heart.

It is a Government that is addicted to privatising everything it can. A Government happy for the rivers of gold from a once in a generation real estate bubble to be wasted on vanity projects rather than schools and hospitals. A Government that has destroyed TAFE and disability services.

But Labor cannot take any election whether state or federal for granted.

It would be an arrogant betrayal of those who rely on Labor Governments. We should not, however, shy away from the fact that dissatisfaction with the Coalition has not translated into excitement for Labor. People are angry because the future does not look better. There is a yearning for positive ideas and policy proposals that address the everyday challenges they face.

Those on the progressive side of politics need to expand what is possible and show that only political involvement can deliver. That means fighting not for what is convenient but what is right and to fight to the end even if we might lose. It requires a party that is democratic and open to debates. Transactional politics and backroom deals that fuel cynicism will only be to our detriment in the long-run. Only the Left can do this and it is our responsibility to lead by challenging the status quo and making the case for change.

The next NSW state and federal election are choices about what kind of country and what kind of state we want to live in. Labor’s message has to be that Australia is better than this, that New South Wales is better than this. And only Labor Governments can deliver this.

Originally appeared in the 2018 NSW Conference edition of Challenge

The Coalition Government is not “moderate”, it is privatising NSW

One of my biggest gripes is about how the Coalition Government in NSW is portrayed. It has been called “centrist” and “moderate” when its agenda is clearly driven by vested business interests.

It is mistaken as “moderate” because it is contrasted against the socially conservative and reactionary federal Coalition. The fact is that it would be impossible for a Coalition Government to get elected in NSW if it was seen as a bunch of bigots. It understands that it cannot be seen as too overtly socially conservative or racist.

Unlike the federal Coalition, the NSW Coalition is playing the long game and has sought to avoid overtly antagonising key groups. The use of the “asset recycling” narrative is their way of doing this as they pursue widespread privatisation. The history of New South Wales being a naturally Labor state and the failure of the last NSW Coalition Government undoubtedly played a role. The decisions it has made are strategic, seeking to gradually change New South Wales over many terms, not a single term.

As a result, there are many decisions that the NSW Government has made which have flown under the radar, assisted by a lack of scrutiny. Resourcing to the Opposition is pitiful and the media is focused on federal politics. If the same level of scrutiny was applied to the NSW Government that has been applied to Auburn Council, there would be community uproar.

Below is an ongoing and incomplete list of things that show how the NSW Coalition Government is privatising the state and delivering for its base of property developers, big business and conservative interests. Feel free to share this list and let me know if there is anything I have missed:

  1. Privatising the electricity network.
  2. Privatising the Northwest Rail Link & beginning the privatisation of our rail network.
  3. Selling the land the Powerhouse Museum is on to developers.
  4. Exempting the casino and a range of pubs from the lockout because of pokies.
  5. Evicting tenants from public housing in the inner city and selling off their housing in Miller’s Point.
  6. Using the Metro to demolish public housing in Waterloo.
  7. Slashing funding to womens’ shelters, leading to closures & transferring remaining shelters to faith-based providers.
  8. Ending one person, one vote in the City of Sydney.
  9. Gerrymandering local government boundaries.
  10. Watering down the powers of ICAC.
  11. Destroying TAFE by introducing contestable funding.
  12. Using the NDIS as an excuse to shut down all publicly run disability services by 2018.
  13. Changing strata laws to make it possible for developers to force people to sell their home.
  14. Allowing James Packer to take public land from Barangaroo to build a casino through an unsolicited bid.
  15. Privatising all public transport in Newcastle.
  16. Shutting down the Newcastle rail link because developers wanted it.
  17. Privatising ports in Newcastle, Port Kembla and Port Botany.
  18. Privatising the land registry, which is a natural monopoly.
  19. Selling off historic public service buildings in the CBD to hoteliers and Australian Technology Park.
  20. Selling the land Hurlstone Agricultural High School is on to developers
  21. Imposing a wage cap on public servants and taking away power from the Industrial Relations Commission to determine wages and conditions
  22. Demoted the Department of Environment to an office under the auspices of the Planning Department
  23. Allowed councillors with a pecuniary interest to vote on planning controls that effect all or a substantial part of a local government area as long as they declare the interest.
  24. Outsourcing public sector jobs in IT, corporate services, construction & maintenance that will undermine public sector capacity.
  25. Impose additional and reintroduce tolls on the M4 & M5 to pay for WestConnex
  26. Allowed shooters to hunt in national parks.
  27. Cut all funding to the Welfare Rights Centre.
  28. Introduced donations and expenditure laws to make it impossible for unions to run political campaigns.
  29. Promising to repeal legislation to allow the clearing of native vegetation like the Newman Government did
  30. Pursuing an anti-cyclist agenda by tearing up bike lanes and making it harder to cycle.
  31. Making it more difficult for children to enrol in ethics classes at school.
  32. Privatising HomeCare by stealth by transferring it to Australian Unity with no transparency.
  33. Selling off and closing regional TAFE campuses.
  34. Setting up the Greater Sydney Commission to override local council planning controls.
  35. Privatising ferry services in Sydney.
  36. Introducing ‘three strikes’ laws to evict public housing tenants with little recourse to natural justice.
  37. Rezoning a potential World Heritage site in Parramatta to allow developers to build apartments on it.
  38. Wasting $38m on a little used pedestrian bridge over Anzac Parade while refusing to fund the Iron Cove to Cooks River GreenWay.
  39. Carving off parts of Sydney Park to make way for WestConnex.
  40. Using the legalisation of Uber to water down taxi regulations such as vehicle standards and deregulate fares.
  41. Using the promised “one-stop shop” of Service NSW to shut down service branches and call centres and force people to use digital transactions.
  42. Compromising the safety of Sydney’s water by axing the jobs of five of the six top scientists responsible.
  43. Bulldozing a major arterial road through the historic Thompson Square and Windsor Bridge.
  44. Forcibly relocating a long-standing community  pool in Parramatta to make way for the corporate redevelopment of Parramatta Stadium.
  45. Cutting down 100 year old trees along Anzac Parade and Alison Road for a light rail route so Randwick Racecourse can keep a bus lane and 150 car spaces.
  46. Seeking the power to shut down rail lines without Parliamentary approval for the benefit of developers.
  47. Increasing usage of the “Cabinet in Confidence” excuse to block Freedom of Information requests.
  48. Environment agencies getting their budgets slashed by $20 million, with National Parks and Wildlife and the Royal Botanic Gardens among the hardest hit.
  49. Examining the privatisation of Sydney Trains.
  50. Refused to support a pill testing trial as part of a drug harm minimisation strategy.
  51. Failing to invest in our urban water infrastructure, forcing Sydney Water to pump sewerage into our waterways.
  52. Expanded police powers to use against protestors, including removing restrictions on move on powers and extended search and seizure powers.
  53. Reducing penalties for companies that explore or mine illegally.
  54. Pursuing a contestability agenda in prisons to drive down wages for staff and conditions for prisoners.
  55. Resourcing shortfalls pushing Western Sydney public hospitals in Penrith, Westmead and Blacktown to breaking point.
  56. Giving police the power to ban individuals from public places for 72 hours without a judge’s approval.
  57. Banning schools from being show a documentary about gay parents during school hours.
  58. Supporting the gutting of the Safe Schools program.
  59. Calling for a GST increase to pay for tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
  60. Planning to turn open parkland at Moore Park into car parks and stadiums.
  61. Concealing illegal donations and refusing to reveal their identities.
  62. Accepting cuts to federal funding to public schools.
  63. Closing down ticket offices at rural and regional railway stations.
  64. Effectively pushing for welfare quarantining for public housing residents by supporting deducting rent directly from Centrelink payments.
  65. Cut funding to ICAC.
  66. Imposing an extremely harsh penalty regime on cyclists.
  67. Making fines for protesting illegal mining greater than fines for illegal mining.
  68. Privatising education and training in prisons.
  69. Establishing a Commissioning and Contestability Unit to come up with new ways to privatise public services.
  70. Pursuing outsourcing of the operation of school and recreation facilities.
  71. Destroying critically endangered woodland to provide temporary parking for WestConnex.
  72. Privatised foster care services.
  73. Transferring a third of public housing from the public sector and demolishing estates which will be rebuilt as majority private residencies (70:30).
  74. Selling off the Sirius Building in the Rocks and opposing heritage listing to allow its demolition.
  75. Increasing land registry fees by 25% prior to its planned privatisation.
  76. Getting the NSW inter-city train fleet built overseas at the expense of local jobs, investment and skills.
  77. Privatising five regional public hospitals in NSW.
  78. Planning to use proceeds from privatising the land registry to pay for a stadium upgrade.
  79. Closing Service NSW shopfronts and reducing opening hours.
  80. Temporarily relocating Ultimo public school to a site contaminated with lead.
  81. Seeking federal government “reward payments” for privatising public services.
  82. Letting councils outsource the running of local government elections.
  83. Proposing changes to Compulsory Third Party insurance that would remove motor-accident victims access to fair compensation and legal representation.
  84. Seeking to get rid of licences that strictly control the number of native animals killed.
  85. Spending $150m per annum on consultants, significantly more than the previous government.
  86. Outsourcing fleet management.
  87. Selling off prime real estate in the CBD to pay for an upgrade of Circular Quay and refusing to say how much revenue will be foregone.
  88. Selling off a historic house to a wealthy private school when local public school enrolments are surging.
  89. Offshoring public sector shared services and using 457 visas to do IT work.
  90. Changing legislation to make it easier to privatise public spaces like beaches and parkland.
  91. Privatising the state superannuation administrator.
  92. Planning to privatise all public transport within the next fifteen years.
  93. Forcing council amalgamations in Sydney but not in areas in regional NSW and the Eastern Suburbs and North Shore of Sydney controlled by the Coalition.
  94. Privatising Inner West bus routes.
  95. Selling off $9 billion of government-owned property.
  96. Ramming through legislation to force the homeless from Martin Place.
  97. Putting a $110 levy of Parramatta residents to pay for its light rail but not on Eastern Suburbs residents to pay for theirs.
  98. Effectively subsidising private toll roads by giving free car registration to those who pay $25 a week in tolls.
  99. Spending $1.6 billion on rebuilding stadiums when neither gets anywhere near capacity on a regular basis.
  100. The former Water Minister sharing confidential documents with irrigation lobbyists and offering assistance.

Control of the Upper House is the most important battle of the NSW election

While the media has focused on how many seats Labor may pick up off the Coalition on March 28 and the impact of Luke Foley as Labor leader, the Legislative Council election is shaping up to be the most important battle of the upcoming NSW election. Whoever controls the Upper House will determine whether electricity privatisation (and the Coalition’s second term agenda) occurs.

Current distribution of seats

The current distribution of seats in the Legislative Council (42) is 14 ALP, 12 Liberals, 7 Nationals, 5 Greens, 2 Shooters and Fishers and 2 Christian Democratic Party (CDP).

In 2011, the Coalition won 11 of 21 spots while Labor won 5 and the Greens won 3 with one each for the CDP and Shooters and Fishers.

The Liberals have been able to form a majority (22) in the Upper House by dealing with the CDP and the Shooters and Fishers Party.

The fight over electricity privatisation

Along with Labor and the Greens, the Shooters and Fishers have pledged to oppose the privatisation of electricity. There may be scepticism as they have a tendency to be bought off but they have stated that they will not deal on privatisation. The CDP has, however, indicated it will support the privatisation of electricity. This isn’t a surprise given the far right former Liberals that are in the CDP and the preference deal they had with the Liberals had at the 2011 election.

To gain a majority to sell off the poles and wires, the Coalition needs to win 9 seats with the support of the CDP (assuming Nile is re-elected). 11 seats would give them a majority in their own right. To win 9 of 21 suggests a primary vote of 41% (potentially less because of Optional Preferential Voting). A recent Galaxy poll has suggested that the Coalition is on a primary vote of 43% meaning they are hovering around a majority for privatisation.

The danger of a Coalition victory in the Upper House

The big danger is if the Coalition gains control of the Upper House (with the CDP) they will try to implement a radical free-market agenda that goes beyond electricity privatisation and includes the privatisation of water, trains and extend contestability and outsourcing across public health care, education and social services.

For anyone who believes in essential services should be kept in public hands, stopping the NSW Coalition from being able to implement its agenda must be a priority. Success will mean others will attempt to emulate Baird’s neoliberal agenda. The importance is underscored by Paul Kelly who states that:

Defeat for Baird would constitute the most lethal blow for market-based economic reform for years…

The added danger is a good Coalition result in the Legislative Council will make it harder to unwind any changes or pursue progressive reforms if Labor wins in 2019. Unlike federally, there is no mechanism to clear the NSW Upper House and the term served by each MLC is eight years. It makes it all the more important to stop the Coalition (and their allies the CDP) from being able to get a majority.

UPDATE 10/03/15: Antony Green has suggested that because of Optional Preferential Voting, the Coalition may only need around 39% to gain 9 seats.

The contagious effect of directly electing the party leader

Earlier today, the ABC reported that the Tasmanian Greens are considering a series of reforms to democratise their party.

The Tasmanian Greens are notorious as the least democratic branch of the Greens. With no rank-and-file input into preselections, the Tasmanian Greens make the Labor Party look like a vibrant participatory democracy. This is in contrast to almost every other Greens branch where One Member One Vote rank-and-file preselections are the norm.

Amongst the reforms is a proposal for party members to directly elect the leader and have the ability to remove them. While no detail has been provided about the proposed model, the fact that they are proposing this change is important.

In their 2012 book, Politics at the Centre: The Selection and Removal of Party Leaders, William Cross and Andre Blais point out that almost all the established parties that have democratised leadership selection after a disappointing electoral result, something the Tasmanian Greens have just experienced, and that there is a contagion effect “inducing parties to converge in the way they select their leader.”

At the time, Cross and Blais concluded there was no clear indication of a contagion effect in Australia and New Zealand while they identified one in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Australia was cited as an example of the contagion effect in reverse with many politicians interviewed citing the example of the Australian Democrats as a reason why direct election would not be adopted.

This however seems to be changing. New Zealand Labour adopted direct elections last year while federally and all states (bar Victoria and South Australia to date) have adopted the direct election of the Parliamentary Labor Party leader.

The coming debate within the Tasmanian Greens about the direct election of leader suggests there is a contagion effect at play in Australia. The success of Labor’s direct election after a disappointing election result has meant that the idea of direct elections is being seriously considered across party lines.

If the Tasmanian Greens do adopt direct election of the leader, it is likely that other state branches will follow. It may also only be a matter of time before the Coalition joins in and directly elects their leader but it will all depend on electoral results and grassroots pressure.

UPDATE 15/9/14: I have been informed that other than federally, in Tasmania and in Victoria, there is no formal leader. It may be that direct elections are intertwined with the creation of a formal leader role in other states.