John Robertson’s 2011 Budget reply speech
This is a Budget that hurts the very people that elected this government.
This is a Budget that rests on the back of pensioners, foster carers, first home buyers and the most vulnerable in our society.
In blatant breach of one election promise after another, the Premier has: SACKED 5000 workers CUT wages and conditions SLUGGED a $1 billion stamp duty tax on first home buyers INCREASED rents for pensioners SLASHED the allowances for foster carers.
But there is more to this Budget than meets the eye.
In fact, much of the substance has been deliberately hidden from the people of NSW.
The frightening unwritten truth is that there is so much more to come.
With $8 billion of cuts still to be made, the threat of an axe hangs over every public sector worker in NSW – and every vital service.
We know the Premier is going to close three gaols. Does that mean he is going to privatise the rest of them?
We know he is going to lease the desalination plant. Is that the first step to selling off Sydney Water?
We know he is going to privatise ferries. Can the Premier guarantee the rest of the public transport system won’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder?
We know many of the infrastructure projects are underfunded. Does that mean the Premier has secretly decided to privatise electricity and sell off poles and wires?
So the people of NSW will have to keep holding their breath and wait even longer to hear the Premier’s real plans.
With this Budget, the O'Farrell Government has not just created a monster – but a two headed monster.
A Budget that hurts people – at the same time as it hurts the bottom line.
That's right Madam Speaker.
In six short months, the Government has taken the Budget from a $1.3 billion surplus to a $718 million deficit.
Madam Speaker, a deficit Budget to fund a bold job creation plan would be one thing in this fragile economic environment.
But the O'Farrell Government has delivered a deficit with very little to show for it.
Having overseen the loss of 20,000 jobs across the economy since coming to office, the Government has now axed 5000 more.
It forecasts employment growth to contract from the 3.8 percent it inherited, to a miserable 1 percent over the next financial year – a figure that will not even keep pace with population growth.
This is a Government well on the way to trashing its economic credibility.
It has endangered the state's coveted AAA credit rating.
It has left NSW dangerously exposed to international events – with no new initiatives or reforms to create jobs.
Later in my remarks I will outline another way.
A Budget Full of Victims
Madam Speaker, the people of NSW are the collateral damage from this Budget.
It is the first grisly chapter in the story of a new unfair NSW.
And it is littered with victims – unsuspecting people who took Barry O'Farrell at his word when he made them a promise.
On March 26, the O'Farrell Government was entrusted with a sweeping mandate. But five months later, just wander outside and see how the community is reacting.
That sound you will hear today is the cry of betrayal from tens of thousands of nurses, teachers, police, fire-fighters and other public sector workers.
Their wages and conditions king-hit by this Premier's decision to bring back the worst of WorkChoices – after saying nothing about his plans before the election.
Regular mums and dads forced to accept a wage cap of 2.5 percent while inflation runs hot at 3.6 percent.
Either that or trade off rights like overtime, penalty rates and breast-feeding breaks.
When Tony Abbott called WorkChoices dead, buried and cremated, Barry O'Farrell was already stomping out into the graveyard to exhume the body.
And today – as nurses, ambulance officers and child protection workers ask why their wages and conditions are being cut – his response is to let them eat cake!
Madam Speaker, these are not the only souls who have been betrayed.
This week we learned 5000 public sector workers will be given the tap on the shoulder – or as the Minister for Health likes to put it – "deleted" – and sent packing by this Government to Centrelink.
These are men and women with names and faces.
Health workers and prison wardens with families… Forestry scientists and ferry staff with children.
These workers and the vital services they perform will never be replaced.
Disappointment in the Regions
Then there is the epic disappointment at this Budget in the regions of our state – places like Western Sydney, the Central Coast, the Hunter, the Illawarra and beyond.
A disappointment expressed not so much with angry words but a piercing hurt, a sullen silence. At commitments made but not kept.
At hopes dashed that this new Premier would be different.
Madam Speaker, when this Government failed to tell the people of Stockton for 54 hours of a toxic chemical spill in their neighbourhood – it sent a devastating message: that people like you are not important to people like us.
Now regular families in the great regions of NSW have the same sick feeling.
Just as this Government forgot the people of Stockton – it is already forgetting them.
That a Budget cooked up on Sydney's North Shore simply has no clue what life is like for people who do it tough.
It's a long way from Barry O'Farrell's high rise office to Blacktown/Mount Druitt Hospital in my electorate. Today, one in eight people are already walking out of the emergency department without being able to see a doctor.
Under the previous Government, contracts were tendered for a $245 million upgrade including a cancer care centre and 120 extra beds.
Barry O'Farrell wound the Government's commitment back to $125 million. Then on Tuesday, in an appallingly vindictive act, he gutted funding to an insulting $500,000.
It's the same story across NSW – Tamworth Hospital promised just $3 million for a $220 million upgrade.
Paltry scraps tossed at planned hospital upgrades at Parkes and Forbes, Hornsby and Cessnock – when the O'Farrell Government promised so much more.
No mention of further funding – and no start date on construction.
Not content with drowning Western Sydney's aspirational young couples in stamp duty, we now learn commuter car parks in Cabramatta, Granville and Blaxland have been scrapped.
Zero funding for the upgrade of Fairfield Station.
The $25 million Parramatta Arts Precinct – beaten to a pulp and shoved in the dumpster – despite the new Liberal member promising to deliver it at the last election.
And this Premier calls himself the Minister for Western Sydney. With friends like that, we don't need enemies!
On the Central Coast, we see roads funding slashed by one-third. The betrayal is repeated in the Illawarra where the Government has scrapped the Illawarra Advantage Fund…. despite its proud record of creating jobs… and squibbed its full commitment to the Princes Highway Upgrade and other public transport projects.
Meanwhile up in the Hunter, the Member for Maitland's gone missing on her own electorate.
A promise of $45 million on New England Highway safety upgrades mysteriously vanished into thin air.
Same goes for the $20 million to kick start Maitland Hospital.
And Madam Speaker, you're more likely to run into Elvis than a cop on the beat at Swansea police station. This Government's promise to reopen that station has bitten the dust.
Tax Hikes and Fee Increases
Madam Speaker, if only that was the extent of the betrayal in this Budget.
But having inherited a $1.3 billion surplus, this Government has seized the chance to give our state's most vulnerable citizens a gratuitous poke in the eye.
On March 26, the 70,000 pensioners in public housing who scrimp and save on fixed incomes had no idea that – five months later – Barry O'Farrell would hike their rents by $11.90 a week.
The state's foster carers who move mountains against the odds had no idea their allowance would be docked by more than $212 a fortnight.
Young first home-buyers had no idea they would be slugged up to $22,000 in stamp duty.
Put yourself in the shoes of a young couple prudently putting a little away each week to save for their first home.
Just as they're on the cusp of realizing their dream – Barry O'Farrell barges in and snatches it away!
Madam Speaker, the caller who gave the Premier a serve on talkback radio yesterday had it right.
This is a knife in the back of anyone who ever aspired to step off the rental market treadmill. Whose dream was simply to let their kids jump on a trampoline in their own backyard.
With this policy, Barry O'Farrell has chosen to play Big Brother, to barge his way into people's housing decisions with all the finesse of an elephant on ice skates.
His almighty shadow looms over young couples, terrifying them into taking up new housing on the city fringe or pay up to $22,000 extra.
But what he ignores is the fact that so many considerations go into a young couple's choice of residential location.
Some couples want to live near their parents.
Others want to live near work – or preferred schools for their children.
With home building approvals falling through 2011, the last thing NSW needs is a short-sighted policy that reduces demand for housing and compounds the downturn, or encourages people to take their housing investment interstate.
Madam Speaker, over and again the Premier campaigned on tackling the rising cost of living. Yet straight after the election he signed off on breathtaking utility price hikes.
An electricity hike of 18% effective July 1 – and now an extra $12 price gouge in this week's Budget for good measure.
And a water price hike that the Premier has never come clean about but lurks like a predatory shark in Sydney Water's Statement of Corporate Intent.
Over the next financial year, the O'Farrell Government will extract soaring dividends from Sydney Water – demanding they meet a targeted 79 percent increase in profits before tax.
Needless to say, this result is only achievable on the backs of hard-suffering households – people sick to death of rising utility bills as their real incomes remain stagnant.
And that, Madam Speaker, is before the privatisation of Sydney's desalination plant raises water prices even further.
Trashing the State's Finances
Madam Speaker, Barry O'Farrell has already turned his back on the people who elected him.
Those who voted Liberal for the first time have awoken to find their seemingly inoffensive Premier suddenly bloated with arrogance and squeezing them hard.
And all for what?
After all the pain meted out by this Government – the mass sackings, the cruel cuts to wages and conditions, the gouges to pensioners, foster parents and young home buyers, the hike in mining royalties – this Government is so inept it can't even deliver a Budget surplus!
Of course the Government began trashing its own economic credibility from day one.
This Premier and his inexperienced, naive Treasurer came into office full of bluster – accusing the previous Government of leaving a black hole.
Their ranting and raving was based on the cynical premise that if you repeat an untruth often enough, it becomes the accepted wisdom.
Because their claims bore no relation to reality.
Premier, the previous Labor Government left you a triple AAA credit rating.
We delivered 15 out of 16 Budget surpluses.
We weathered the Global Financial Crisis without sacking a single worker.
And one by one, every independent expert – the Parliamentary Budget Office, Standard and Poor's and your own Michael Lambert – marched out to attest that we left the Budget in solid shape and issued our forecasts with full transparency.
Today Premier, you stand exposed.
You overegged your case.
Government Budget papers confirm a starting surplus of $1.3 billion – far better than even Acting Treasury Secretary Lambert anticipated in his report.
The Liberals and Nationals went from Opposition into Government but failed to realise the job description had changed.
Premier, you are no longer in Opposition with the luxury to talk down the economy for base political objectives as you have for the past 12 months.
You hold the responsibility of Government.
Your duty is to instil business confidence and certainty.
In August this year the REAL market shock hit – and the numbers did deteriorate.
But after talking down the economy, year on year in Opposition – you and your hapless Treasurer were caught flat-footed.
That is why this Budget missed the mark.
It should have been about building confidence, delivering certainty and growing employment at a time of global economic instability.
A Budget that invested in jobs instead of waving the white flag and settling for a pathetic 1 percent annualised employment growth rate, not even enough to keep up with population growth.
A Budget that provided clear funding plans and timelines for key infrastructure commitments.
A clear message sent to investors that the Government was in charge and had a plan.
Instead, the Government's fiscal strategy plays with fire and leaves no buffer in the case of an international downturn.
The Budget contains no details of how you will meet your $8 billion savings plan.
No details of how the assets you are privatising – Sydney Ferries, Port Botany and the desalination plant – factor into the Budget and help meet your uncosted infrastructure commitments.
You've basically announced a rail line on a wing and a prayer. You are out there posing for glossy photo shoots – but the figures and timeframes remain a mystery.
What do you have to hide?
The 5000 public sector job cuts – and the tens of thousands more positions the Government fails to replace through natural attrition – are almost certain to have a contractionary effect.
Their impact will seep across NSW like slow-acting poison.
The O'Farrell Government has learned nothing from the austerity lessons of North America and Europe.
That laying people off in uncertain times is exactly the wrong thing to do.
These job cuts will hit the tax base, hit household income and hit business and consumer confidence.
Combined with a fragile international economy – and all it takes is a small slip in growth or revenues – the Government is dancing on the precipice of a new era of Budget deficits for our state.
At a time of global uncertainty, the Government has pulled the wrong lever.
It could have invested in people and buttressed the state's financial position.
Instead its Budget takes an axe to people and an axe to the financial position.
Labor's Jobs Plan
So today, Madam Speaker, I announce a plan to put people back at the centre of this Budget.
A practical, affordable plan to create jobs and invest in our suburbs, towns and rural and regional areas.
I call on the O'Farrell Government to redirect all funding from the $280 million dollar Regional Relocation Grant scheme… to create and retain 44,000 jobs in agriculture and manufacturing over four years.
The new Regional, Agricultural and Manufacturing Promotion Scheme (RAMPS) would help businesses in rural and regional NSW doing it tough.
Our policy would invest more than one quarter of a billion dollars in jobs and job creation – to deal with the long term structural changes and costs associated with the resources boom – summarised by the high Australian dollar over the last 12 months.
The Government must support growth outside the mining sector to ensure all industries in our economy are strong.
Part of the scheme would be made available to retrain and redeploy employees suffering from recent job cuts in the Illawarra, Tumbarumba and Ingleburn…
…Workers the O'Farrell Government has forgotten about in their Budget.
Most importantly, our plan would underwrite 44,000 jobs – and help grow rural and regional communities.
A $7000 handout won't last long for a family in rural and regional NSW – but a secure job will pay the bills and the mortgage for the long term.
The plan would have three major components:
- $200 million in targeted capital assistance to help regional businesses expand plus funding for companies to restructure to avoid downsizing or closure;
- $40 million to retrain employees displaced or laid off in rural and regional NSW; and
- $40 million to support businesses looking to innovate and seize new opportunities in the Australian economy.
Tags: Barry O'Farrell
The Government's own Regional Industries Investment Fund has reduced regional development funding by $11 million.
While your fund is a sneaky Budget cut for rural and regional NSW that includes spending for infrastructure and community projects, our program invests more than one quarter of a billion dollars to directly create and retain jobs in agriculture and manufacturing areas.
This will not just benefit rural and regional NSW.
It will increase business confidence across NSW and provide a strong tax base for the future – ensuring Government can provide essential infrastructure and services.
After all, that is what the NSW Budget needed to be about – and what those opposite have failed to deliver.
Madam Speaker, this week's Budget marks a line in the sand.
Barry O'Farrell will go down in history as the Premier who lost the surplus.
He's put all his chips on the North West Rail Link – even if he has to trash the state's most vulnerable citizens in the process: pensioners, foster carers, war widows ... and launch a $1 billion sneak attack on first-time home-buyers.
He has lazily settled for economic contraction rather than invest aggressively in jobs.
But the North West Rail Link will cost a whole lot more than $314 million this year and $2.5 billion over the forward estimates.
So, over to you Premier.
How do your promises of a wafer thin surplus stack up – when you've barely put down pocket change on the North West Rail Link?
Having shown in this Budget that most of your election promises are not worth the paper they're written on, what other frontline services will you cut? Who else will you sack?
What other assets will you move to privatise? Where will your terrible addiction to privatisation end?
Let there be no doubt from this day forth.
Premier, the honeymoon is over. Your Government owns everything that happens to the NSW economy.
If electricity and water prices go up, the Premier will be in the dock.
If the property market falters, because of your stamp duty hikes for young families, the Premier will be in the dock.
If NSW sinks its AAA credit rating, the Premier will be in the dock.
If the economy slows down and unemployment goes up, the Premier will be in the dock. He inherited an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent and he will own every single job loss.
I say to the people of NSW – in a few short months this Government has already started to disappoint.
And I am determined to lead a strong Opposition that holds this Government to account.
When the Government attacks the working conditions of nurses, teachers and fire-fighters – we will fight them.
When the Government guts the heart out of programs that improve people's lives – we will shame them.
Because we in Labor believe that every person deserves a little extra hope.
Today I say to all who feel let down by this Government from Newcastle to Bathurst and Coffs Harbour to Campbelltown – I hear you, I see you and you will never be forgotten again.
, John Robertson