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Adjournment speech: New South Wales State Election

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 16 Mar 2015

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:19): The New South Wales Liberal and National parties are hell-bent on selling off our collective wealth. While Premier Michael Baird might put a smiley face on the harsh coalition policies, he is not dissimilar from his friend and neighbour, Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Privatisation is a key election platform for the NSW Liberal and National parties. Support for big business, particularly by opening up the sale of public services and assets, is the foundation of the New South Wales coalition government.

The Liberal-National approach is evident in the rundown of the New South Wales TAFE sector. Our TAFE system has been world-class, and unique as a place of public education. It has offered a place for second-chance learners, or for those who simply did not fit in to the university model. The New South Wales TAFE system offered a means for so many to re-engage in education. Without TAFE, many of these students would have fallen through the cracks. After ongoing funding cuts, and opening vocational education and training to private businesses, the New South Wales TAFE sector is on the brink of collapse: 1,200 staff have lost their jobs, and fees for students have gone through the roof, making TAFE unaffordable for so many. To make it worse, the Baird government's introduction of a contestable model for VET funding-a process actually initiated by the Gillard Labor government-will privatise more than $600 million worth of TAFE funds, dumping TAFE into competition with low-cost, lower-quality, training companies that operate for a profit. Locking people out of the public TAFE system-due to high fees, closed campuses, and poor training and education quality-is a failed coalition education policy. Locking people out of TAFE too often means locking them into unemployment. This is a result of Baird government policies.

In New South Wales, the public transport system is another coalition failure. The government's own analysis has shown that the major corridors in Sydney's rail system will be overloaded within five years. In Newcastle, the Baird government has shown a shocking level of arrogance-the rail line has been cut. It is clear that the New South Wales government has little concern for those who depend on the train to get in and out of what is an already congested town centre. This scrapped Newcastle rail plan is another example of the Baird government looking after their developer mates. Railway land will be sold off, and it is along the beautiful Hunter River-an area that will clearly command huge prices for those developers when they choose to sell the land on.

There are no public plans for light rail, let alone a company engaged to construct it, despite the promises. There is no time frame at all. Given that rail services into the city have already stopped, it is becoming increasingly evident that the Baird government has no intention to replace the services with light rail. I have not met anyone in the Hunter who expects the light rail to be built. Those who rely on the rail service to get to university must now drive. Those who take the train from Newcastle to Sydney are more likely to drive. The young people from Maitland and other rural areas of the Hunter who take the train to the beaches-jumping on the train with their surfboards-are now more likely to stay at home, and their towns are likely to bear the brunt of their idleness, wherever that might take them. The cutting of the Newcastle rail line has nothing to do with the revitalisation of the city centre. It is about appeasing the developers, who have been after the land on which the rail line stands for decades.

There is a remarkably similar problem in Western Sydney. There the New South Wales government is racing to construct the $15 billion WestConnex motorway, which is set to become the most expensive toll road in New South Wales. The Baird government has refused to release the economic modelling for the project and has not conducted an environmental impact statement yet. However, it is already acquiring the homes, businesses and parkland to make way for the new tollway. The Greens MP in New South Wales, Mehreen Faruqi, has done economic modelling which was published in The Australian Financial Review. This shows that the WestConnex toll will come in at least at $26-almost triple the cap promised by the New South Wales government-if it is to break even. If the government actually keeps its word and tolls are capped at $7.35, or $9.60 by 2023 when it is due to be completed, the project will cost the people of New South Wales more than half a billion dollars each year. This is money that should be spent on hospitals and schools or on the more sustainable option of public transport. You would have to say: 'So much for sound economic government from the Baird coalition people.'

There are alternatives. The people of Western Sydney have been asking for a light rail system for years. Stage 1 of the proposed Parramatta light rail project would cost 10 per cent of the total amount of money being spent on WestConnex. The funds could complete this project, buy back the Sydney airport line and improve infrastructure and facilities for Sydney's rail system. Importantly, these projects are likely to meet the transport needs of thousands more people living in Sydney than WestConnex ever will.

The people of Sydney are suffering because the Baird government is holding on to the failed model of urban transport motorways. The way to reduce congestion is by funding public transport. People will use public transport when it is reliable, safe and inexpensive, and this is the way to free up congestion on our roads. But the Baird government is set on delivering for the motorway builders, like it is for the developers who reap millions of dollars out of the tollways that now ring Sydney. The New South Wales government is locked into privately owned transport, with barely any assistance for those who cannot afford to drive or who are looking for non-car travel options.

As the Baird government continues to invest in massive, expensive infrastructure and sells off our collective wealth, it deliberately and knowingly shifts resources and money away from the people in need. In June there were 59,000 households in New South Wales waiting for social housing, a 3.6 per cent jump on last year. Even those who may be lucky enough to be in social housing under the Baird government increasingly live with great uncertainty. Residents who live in Millers Point right in the heart of Sydney are being kicked out because the property values there offer the government a quick revenue raiser. The heart of social housing is to provide people on lower incomes with a sense of stability, a home and a place to develop as a community. Over time this has been the case in Millers Point, where many tenants come from families who have lived for generations in this area. Millers Point is a place where you can hear stories of the history of Sydney, where people have known each other for decades. It is a very strong community. Yet this will be broken apart all for the sake of the short-term profit that the Baird government is driving.

The message this sends to those in social housing is: 'Yes, you will have a home-until the property value rises and the government can make some quick money out of your home. It does not matter if you have lived there all your life; it does not matter if you watched your children grow up there. There is no stability.' The government uses the excuse that they cannot afford the maintenance of the properties at Millers Point. This sends a very clear message about who the Baird government is governing for, and it is not those in need.

How many communities have borne the brunt of decisions from corrupt politicians is a question that still resonates in New South Wales. Thanks to the New South Wales corruption watchdog, ICAC, we have seen a willingness from elected representatives-one premier, two ministers, eight members of the New South Wales parliament-to utterly disregard the laws that they are elected to maintain.

What never ceases to impress me, however, is people's resilience in the face of these problems. The strength of community when governments become entwined with business and industry is an inspiration. How they stand up to people who work in this way reminds me well of the reason why I am here, why I am part of the Greens. Together there are so many people who are working for a society where community-not business, not industry, not elite people in government-is the priority, where we work together to seek sustainable solutions to our problems. Those people are working together in a most fine way to counter the very damaging problems that the Baird government is putting on the people and the environment of New South Wales.


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