2nd Reading Speech

21 June 2018

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE (15:37): Before I commence addressing the substance of the Appropriation Bill 2018 and cognate bills, I request that they be voted on separately for reasons that members who have been in this place for a number of years would well remember. Appropriation bills are properly not able to be amended or blocked by this House. Of course, the other bills do not fall into that category. Given the behaviour of a past Treasurer, the Opposition wants the bills to be voted on separately.

Eight budgets, four Treasurers, three Premiers and still this Government has not been able to repair the accumulated and massive damage that it and its predecessors have done through their cuts to investment in health, education and other vital services across this State. After eight budgets, members opposite have only now worked out that the community rightly expects that the services that make life worth living must be funded properly by government. This eighth, and hopefully final, Coalition budget reveals clearly that members opposite will continue to put stadiums before schools, hospitals and other vital services that our communities desperately need.

Before I continue, if those opposite wish to keep interjecting I can take every moment of the 40 minutes speaking time available to me. Is that how the Hon. Catherine Cusack wants to play it?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (The Hon. Trevor Khan): Order! I will keep the House in order.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: Thank you, Mr Deputy President. What we have here is a pre-election budget con job focused on cuts to services that is attempting to give the impression of playing catch-up after eight years, or eight budgets, of neglect to the health and education systems of this State. Let us look at the state in which the Government is leaving the budget as we head towards the next election. The budget position for this financial year is $600 million down on the half-yearly review. The budget surpluses between 2019 and 2021 have been written down by almost $730 million. Those opposite like to try to monster our side of politics with charges of debt and deficit. When last in office, the Labor Party reduced the net debt of this State from $15 billion, or 7.1 per cent of gross State product, to less than $8 billion, or 1.8 per cent of gross State product, when Labor left office.

This budget will return net debt as a percentage of gross State product to more than 4 per cent over the forward estimates, ratcheting up each year. Net debt in 2018-19 will go up to almost $3 billion and is forecast to be almost $29 billion by 2021-22, despite the fact that the Government has privatised or sold off $50 billion worth of public assets. That is $50 billion worth of privatisation and net debt blowing out to almost $30 billion. But of course that is net debt. For the benefit of those who do not know, this is not a mortgage offset account. It is not as though the Government can just sell things, put them in the bank and that somehow cancels out the debt that has been racked up. Total State sector borrowings are forecast to hit $77.5 billion by 2018-19 and almost $94 billion by 2021-22. That is, again, despite $50 billion in privatisations.

The repayments on this debt—because repayments are not made on net debt; they are paid on actual debt—will go up to something like $4.5 billion over the forward estimates per year, from almost $3.5 billion this year. At the same time, through the privatisations, this Government has weakened the balance sheet of the State. In 2012-13 dividends from various sources to the Government totalled $2.6 billion, but in 2017-18 they were only $1.5 billion. That is a loss of more than $1 billion a year in recurrent funding for the State budget. That is $11 billion of revenue over the next decade sacrificed. This has exposed the State to unreliable stamp duties, from which we can see some softening in the revenue. This year’s budget confirms that $5.5 billion in stamp duties will be lost over the 2019-21 period.

Despite being in its eighth year in office, the Coalition Government has failed to address the fact that 180,000 new school places are needed in the next 15 years. It has announced just 13 new schools, none with a start or a finish date nor a single dollar of investment next to their name—there is only a figure of some $417 million for planning over the four years. Those opposite should remember that this Government cut the Education budget by almost $2 billion in 2012 then cut $266 million from school capital works. The Government has promised a dozen new schools a year, but under this Government more schools have closed since 2011 than have opened. The previous Labor Government averaged five new schools each year; this Government has averaged just two. Our children are sitting in almost 4,800 demountables that the Minister for Education has confirmed are here to stay.

When we turn to TAFE, we see that there are 175,000 fewer students in TAFE. We see course fees put up, TAFE campuses closed and all sorts of things done to weaken the TAFE system, including 5,000 fewer TAFE teachers. That is simply not good enough. No construction money has been allocated in the budget to the Sydney Gateway and Rozelle Interchange sections of WestConnex, nor for the north-south rail link to the Western Sydney Airport or the second stage of Parramatta Light Rail. This year only 8.4 per cent of the almost $33 billion Restart NSW Fund went towards health and education.

Of the 170 announcements claimed by the Government, only 20 are in any way new projects. That is another example of the Government’s attempt to engage in sleight of hand. Let us talk about the air-conditioning program for schools. The Government has announced a $500 million program, but that is not over the forward estimates. It is only providing $100 million a year, pushing it out beyond the forward estimates. This pales into insignificance with the program already announced by the Labor Opposition: $300 million from the Snowy Hydro sale with the other $500 million to come from consolidated revenue.

When we look at Health, we see the same attempts at sleight of hand. The Government has promised $582 million for Tweed Hospital but less than $51 million is provided in the budget and it will not be completed until 2025. The much-vaunted Liverpool health and academic precinct, said to be worth $740 million, is allocated only $3.5 million in the budget and has a scheduled completion date of 2026. For Westmead Hospital, $765 million is promised but there is only $188 million in the budget—and, again, it will not be finished until 2025. We see the same pattern with Randwick, Maitland, Campbelltown and even Nepean hospitals, with the completion dates pushed out not beyond the election date of next year but the election date at the end of that Parliament. Those opposite are making promises to be delivered not by their successors in office but by their successors’ successors—two elections away—which means that none of these promises can be believed.

There are many other areas on which this budget can be critiqued, but I will not delay the House. I simply make a couple of observations. If the best this Government can do to help citizens tackle soaring energy prices is to allocate an assistance service through Service NSW, even though the parliamentary inquiry heard this week that the profit margins of the big energy companies alone constitute 15 per cent to 20 per cent of household energy bills, then the people of New South Wales are in for long, cold winters and hot summers because they will not be able to afford the energy.

Last year and this year we have heard a lot about instances of wage theft—the Wollongong scandal, for instance. In successive weeks, including last week, there have been reports from the Fair Work Ombudsman of scores of instances across the State, including in rural and regional New South Wales, of not accidental underpayment but systematic ripping off of mainly young and vulnerable workers. There is nothing in the budget to help address that. There are so many shortcomings in this budget. Those opposite and those reading the record of the debate should not misinterpret the fact that Labor will not vote to block the budget, because the convention of this House is that budgets are allowed to pass without much debate and without amendment. But make no mistake, in the days, weeks and months ahead in the lead-up to the election members on this side of the House will be unravelling this very poor budget that delivers very little for the people of this State.