APPROPRIATION BILL 2017; APPROPRIATION (PARLIAMENT) BILL 2017; STATE REVENUE AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2017; EMERGENCY SERVICES LEVY BILL 2017

22 June 2017

2nd Reading Speech


The Hon. ADAM SEARLE ( 16:47 ): I will not give a full second reading speech on the Appropriation Bill 2017, the Appropriation (Parliament) Bill 2017, the State Revenue and Other Legislation (Budget Measures) Bill 2017 and the Emergency Services Levy Bill 2017, but I ask that the bills be voted on sequentially, which is the tradition that we have adopted since the 2013 budget. The reason, as all members will know, is that in the budget measures bill of 2013 there was a measure dealing with industrial relations and public sector wages that this House had twice rejected in legislative form, and the Government of the day hid the measure in the budget measures bill to slip it through because the tradition of this House is that the appropriation bills and the bills that are cognate with it are not interrupted or held up.

It is nearly 5.00 p.m. on the last sitting day until August and the last sitting day of the financial year, and the tradition of this House is not to hold up the budget. But that tradition was abused. Therefore, since then we have asked for the bills to be voted on sequentially so that we can examine them more closely. This year again, in the middle of the budget measures bill in schedule 5, is a measure that is wholly unrelated to the budget; it is about restructuring an important public sector agency. Landcom—known as Urban Growth—is to be dismembered and a number of the staff transferred into the public service, into a development corporation in the Premier’s portfolio.

That policy was announced some time ago, but there has been no consultation with staff or the recognised trade union. Over the past 10 months the organisation has been subject to a review, again without engaging the input of the staff. The uncertainty and paralysis that has beset the organisation has caused 60 of the 230 staff to resign, including the former chief executive officer and several senior managers. It is paralysing the urban transformation organisation of this Government for reasons not well understood. It should not be in the budget papers. It should be dealt with as a separate and substantive policy issue. This Government has chosen to put it in the budget papers and the Opposition will deal with it.

Transferring staff from a state-owned corporation to a budget sector agency will, without other measures, cause the pay and conditions of those staff working at Landcom, known as UrbanGrowth NSW, to be cut because they are outside current wage-setting parameters. There are some protections in the bill, but not for everyone. The Secretary of the Premier’s department addressed the staff at UrbanGrowth and gave them the distinct impression that all of them would receive a two-year protection of their current wages and conditions. That is not what this bill does. It provides the protection to permanent or ongoing employees, but does not provide the same protection to time limited contracted people or senior managers.

Although they are designated as senior managers and are well paid, they are charged with the responsibility of delivering hundreds of millions of dollars of public infrastructure. It is important, whether they are line workers or managers, to respect all those in our greater public sector who do work in the public interest, including at Landcom. The Opposition has proposed some amendments that give those employees much-needed protections. There has been discussion across the Parliament about this and I understand that the Government will have its own amendment that will deal with the issue, which we will support. I will not move any one of my four amendments directed to the concerns I have outlined, including the forcible transfer of employees. Labor does not think that is appropriate.

I thank the crossbench parties for engaging actively on this issue. I thank the Government for embracing the proposed amendment. I acknowledge the role of the Hon. Paul Green of the Christian Democratic Party, but all crossbench parties have played a role to get us to this position. That issue will be dealt with in detail in Committee. The Fire and Emergency Service Levy Bill was a piece of legislation described in The Australian newspaper by a senior government source as “the greatest tax reform in New South Wales history”. In this bill before the House the Government is repealing its own legislation only a few weeks later. The first discussion paper was published in 2012. The Government was warned that the modelling would lead to the imposition of hardships and extra costs on households that should not bear the costs. The Government did not listen. It legislated in the face of opposition from many in this Chamber and it is now has to support the repeal of its own legislation. Labor would urge the Government to consult closely to get it right going forward.

Turning to the substance of the budget, I note that in the six years of this Government State taxation revenue has increased by 53 per cent from $20 billion to $31 billion. At the same time it has privatised $50 billion worth of public assets. That sounds like a lot of money. The public is being short changed. The Government is selling the right to the regulated stream of a monopoly service provider, Land and Property Information [LPI], for $3 billion. There is no risk to a purchaser. They are buying it for $3 billion, except the revenue stream is worth $5.2 billion. It is easy to sell a $5.2 billion asset for $3 billion. That is not much more than half the value. The same short-changing has occurred with the privatisation of the electricity assets and the other privatisations engaged in by the Government. It sounds like a lot of cash, but it is short-changing the community.

The Hon. Greg Donnelly: You can only sell it once.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE: I acknowledge that interjection. The revenue stream is worth more in the hands of the Government delivering basic services than is the one-off sugar hit of the cash injection. The one‑off privatisation proceeds from the budget $4.5 billion surplus and the dodgy accounting trick with the Transport Asset Holding Entity [TAHE], that was legislated by this Parliament a few months ago, makes government spending look lower than it is to improve the budget bottom line. The fact is if you strip away the TAHE and the one-off privatisations the structural position of this budget is far from sound. I will not delay the House with details. It is a theme I will return to in the near future.

The Opposition leader in the other place has given a comprehensive speech. I will not delve into detail. I will mention electricity prices. This Government has done all it can to drive up power prices. In 2013 it sold Mount Piper and Wallerawang power stations without ensuring the new private owner would continue to deliver power into our communities. This placed New South Wales at risk earlier this year. The 1,000 megawatts of energy generated by Wallerawang would have mitigated any risk. At the same time the Government has dragged its feet on renewable energy. Its war against wind power is well known. It took six years to prepare the planning department guidelines.

In 2014 the Government sold Bayswater and Liddell power stations to AGL, even though the competition watchdog said it would narrow competition—and less competition means higher prices. In 2014 it deregulated electricity prices and within months the big retailers were charging two to three times more to sell electricity in New South Wales than the regulated retailer in the Australian Capital Territory. The carbon market economics report showed that within 12 months of deregulation the retailers were charging 10 to 15 per cent more. Other increases have come through since and customers are now facing increases of up to 19 per cent from 1 July.

In the face of all of this the Government has confirmed that it will continue with the deregulation of regulated retail gas prices from 1 July. It is extraordinary. For the past two years it has been in court attempting to stop the energy regulator from cutting network prices, which would reduce energy costs to households by $300 a year and businesses by $523 a year. Over the regulated period customers could have saved $6 billion, but this Government wanted to keep the money in those companies because it was privatising them and wanted to get top dollar. The Labor Party has announced that it will reregulate electricity companies to ensure that consumers are treated fairly and eliminate energy company super profits to make sure electricity is affordable for families.

The proceeds from the transfer of Snowy Hydro will be used by Labor to invest in renewable generation projects across regional New South Wales. Labor will not return a proportion to the Federal Government, but will place 100 per cent of the proceeds into regional communities. Labor will legislate to make sure the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal recommended rate for solar feed-in tariff is mandatory. That is what the Opposition is proposing in the energy space. In question time Government members suggested Labor had borrowed projects that the Government had underway. These are projects where the Government has not issued a press release or made a public announcement. Labor would welcome the adoption by the Government of the balance of its energy policies. The Opposition will invest in infrastructure for the three million residents of Western Sydney—the interests of 300,000 northern beaches residents—by accelerating the Sydney Metro West project, a new railway line for Western Sydney.

In 2011-12 this Government butchered TAFE by reducing funding by nearly $1 billion. There are 63,000 fewer students in TAFE today and a further 500 TAFE teacher positions are being axed in this budget. That will take the total number of teachers axed from TAFE to 5,700. Labor will require 15 per cent of jobs on New South Wales government construction projects valued at more than $500,000 to be allocated to apprentices, trainees, Indigenous Australians and the long-term unemployed.

We will create thousands of new jobs for trainees and apprentices and we will rebuild TAFE by guaranteeing that at least 70 per cent of vocational education and training funding for TAFE is invested in those important institutions.

Many other areas need looking at. This Government is building 60 per cent fewer schools than the former Labor Government. We will remedy that situation. We will also deliver on affordable housing. The Premier made affordable housing a flagship of her leadership, but so far this Government has failed to deliver any meaningful policy. We will require mandatory affordable housing targets and will deliver thousands of new homes every year for those on low to middle incomes. In addition, 25 per cent of dwellings constructed on Government‑owned land being redeveloped will be designated as affordable housing. We have already announced a range of other measures.

We will pursue measures to protect our environment. I note the inaugural speech of the Hon. Taylor Martin yesterday denouncing our regional $100 million package for his home region of the Central Coast. We make no apologies for investing valuable resources in regional communities, whether it be the Central Coast or the North Coast. We have plans in health. We will pursue those in more detail during the budget take-note debate and during budget estimates. Those are our comments. As a matter of tradition we will not vote against these bills, but that should not be mistaken for our supporting them. As I indicated, Labor will attend to amendments in this place.