An Emergent Premier Chris Minns – Uniting Sydney Metro and the Regions
By Denis Bright
After more than a decade in Opposition, NSW Labor is about to test its capacity to inspire the electorate ahead of the state election on 25 March 2023. NSW Labor was well short of an absolute majority in 2019. However, Labor’s victory in the Bega by-election on 12 February 2022 was a significant morale booster. The redistribution of electoral boundaries has improved Labor’s prospects in Upper Hunter and Penrith while adding new challenges in other locations.
Aaron Patrick, Senior Correspondent at the AFR (19 January 2023), reported on the inspirational capacity of some Liberal branches to reach out into the community when they are preoccupied by internal concerns and factional loyalties. Deficits in the inspirational outreach of election campaigns extends across the political divide. Labor has a real problem in some of its regional areas.
With the exception of the seats of Lismore and Bega, all of the other 35 Labor members are located on that T-shaped urban corridor between the Lower Hunter Valley, Metro Sydney and the Illawarra District. These seats include Cessnock and the Blue Mountains on the extreme fringes of the urban corridor. Low primary Labor votes outside these precincts affect outcomes in the NSW Legislative Council which is elected from a statewide electorate. Just half the Legislative Council will be elected for an eight-year term. Labor won only seven of the twenty-one spots in the Legislative Council in 2019 with a primary vote of 31.4 per cent. Even at the high tide mark at the 2003 elections, Labor managed to gain ten of the available 21 spots available in the Legislative Council.
Although Labor has a slender corridor from its strong support base in Southside Sydney near Sydney Airport to the Blue Mountains, there are still many winnable seats in Liberal hands from the 2019 state election. Two inner-city seats of Balmain and Newtown are held by the Greens. In Balmain, Kobi Shelley will be the new Greens candidate following the announcement of Jamie Parker’s retirement. Within Metro Sydney, the electorate of Sydney is held by an Independent. Lake Macquarie in the Newcastle District is also Independent.
Coogee was the only gain for Labor in Metro Sydney in 2019.
Shadows from the 2019 NSW Elections
Redistribution has made Healthcote a notionally Labor seat with a margin of 1.7 per cent after preferences. A Labor victory in Heathcote and East Hills plus gains in Sydney’s West will assist in the formation of a majority Labor Government. SkyNews (17 January 2023) used Labor’s internal polling to claim that Labor was currently ahead in the seats of Winston Hills, Holsworthy and Riverstone with a 50-50 result after preferences in Penrith.
Updates on the consequences of electoral redistribution in NSW are provided by the ABC’s election expert, Anthony Green.
Voters in 2019 questioned the value of National Party control of the NSW regions with gains by Independents in Wagga Wagga and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party (SFF) in Orange, Barwon and Murray. The SFF members are now re-contesting their electorates as Independents.
Outback and regional communities had not scored politically from the long years of privatisation of government services and water losses to irrigators on the cotton fields of far-off Queensland in the Barwon electorate.
To their credit, Chris Minns and the Green Party candidate Leigh Williams campaigned in 2019 against the sitting National Party in Barwon (ABC News 18 April 2018):
“Barwon is the largest electorate in NSW and the current MP, Kevin Humphries, is stepping down next year.
Labor has partnered with the Greens in a campaign to improve the health of the Darling River, and held a joint community meeting in Broken Hill on Monday night.
Labor water spokesman Chris Minns said water was a live issue across the electorate, not just along the Darling.”
Since the 2019 election, the NSW Government has commenced a trial of Countrylink bus services which connect Broken Hill to Mildura and Adelaide to extend concessional travel options in the far-western region. The tourist components of this affordable outback travel are popular during the spring months to places like Menindee Lakes, Broken Hill and the iconic town of Silverton, 25 kilometres north of Broken Hill (Image: Resortbrokers 14 October 2022).
Barwon has not been a Labor seat since 1947 but outback towns with mines and rail freight centres strongly endorsed Labor members from Broken Hill to Cobar to Castlereagh and Namoi in far-off times. However, the impact of media coverage of dying fish in the Darling River created a statewide empathy for the hardships faced by residents in outback communities as a result of economic and environmental degradation. Such coverage has flow-on effects in more winnable marginal electorates.
The NSW Government’s investment arm of the Generations Fund has made little impact on the level of disadvantage from Metro Sydney to the Bush. (Annual Report of the NSW Generations Fund 2020-21). It covers a vast Debt Retirement Fund ($14.7 billion) and a Community Services and Facilities Fund ($23.6 billion) which is invested to assist with macro-economic management and debt reductions.
These funds continue to be topped up with revenue from government, but the seed capital was derived from the privatisation of state assets.
Similar privatisation ventures were imposed upon the other states and territories under national competition policies since the 1990s particularly under the Abbott Government with enthusiastic support from the Productivity Commission.
The Greiner years (1988-95) commenced the systematic sale of state assets. The NSW Investment Corp was sold off for a mere $65 million. Sale of NSW Electricity assets got well underway in 2002. The momentum increased after the state LNP was elected in 2011. The Issues Backgrounder of the NSW Parliament on privatisation has a complete list of all the state assets which have been privatized since 1989.
In May 2014, the NSW Government signed up to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Partnership Agreement on Asset Recycling (the Asset Recycling Initiative). Under the Initiative, the Commonwealth provides incentive payments equal to 15 per cent of the sale or lease proceeds that are reinvested in new infrastructure.
Many viable state assets needed revitalizing by injection of new funding, management expertise and advanced technology from funds like NSW Investment Fund.
In contrast, Queensland persisted with its Investment Corporation (QIC) which was formed in 1991. It now supervises almost $100 billion in investment assets. These assets include a 25 per cent involvement with the Westlink M7 Motorway in Sydney as well as the Castle Mall and Castle Towers Project. QIC’s operations in NSW are so significant that it has a key office and media department in Martin Place, Sydney. Many voters are totally unaware of the importance of high finance to their future welfare. Campaigning always addresses very basic issues.
NSW Labor hopes that its initiatives on stamp duty for the remnants of affordable housing will be a plus is the more disadvantaged electorates. An incoming Labor Government will abolish stamp duties on first homes up to $800,000 in price extending to reduced rates into the next $200,000 range. This will replace the annual Property Tax option introduced by the Perrottet Government. In the rental sector, Labor also proposes new rights for tenants in a less than affordable housing market in which rents for all houses are heading towards $1,000 a week and $700 for all units on the SQM Index for Metro Sydney in 2023-24.
The LNP will give first home buyers a choice of the annual property tax for the usual stamp duty payments up to a limit of $1.5 million.
Both sides of politics in government will benefit from an improving state economy. Royalties from coal and gas exports have lessened the state budget deficit which has bounced back from the gloomiest days of the COVID-19 crisis in 2021-22 to just less than $3 billion in 2022-23.
If there was one blemish in Daniel Andrew’s successful Victorian campaign, it was the revival of the National Party, elected on a populist campaign against regional disadvantage. With just 4.77 per cent of the Victorian vote, the Nationals gained three additional seats against two progressive independents and a Labor member in Morwell in the La Trobe Valley. In the Victorian Legislative Council, the Nationals hold an additional two spots. One Nation is also back with one member.
Making Sydney a stronger global financial hub is as crucial to our national security as every piece of defence hardware. Incoming investment capital from the Australian and overseas corporate sectors can be cleared on security protocols for new investment in the federal Future Fund and the various sovereign wealth or investment funds. The security assessments should include a willingness to pay appropriate taxes in Australia.
It is ironical that the US military and electronic giant Cubic of San Diego which operates the Opal card in Metro Sydney for the NSW Government has a long-term record of legalized tax avoidance despite its lucrative contracts with the Australian military and transportation systems across Australia. There is no record of tax payments during that long decade of federal LNP rule in Canberra (ABC News 2 November 2022).
Legalized tax loopholes contribute to the financial grant’s problems which faced NSW in the 2020-21 budget. Federal grants and the carve up of GST revenue accounted for almost half of the revenue of the NSW Government. Jim Chalmer’s 2022-23 budget has addressed the stagnation in the federal LNP’s grants to NSW from grants and the sharing of GST revenue, but one budget alone cannot provide greater flexibility in NSW infrastructure spending.
As venture capital units such as Woolworth’s W23 have a better record than many Anglo-American multinational firms in meeting their commitments to the Taxation Office, there are no real ideological barriers to the involvement of more ethical Australian corporate players with the NSW Generations Fund and to the Australian Future Fund to offer some financial incentives to new investment in more disadvantaged regional and outer metropolitan areas. Woolworth’s has a good record of investment in multi-functional retail projects which include housing units which can be opened up to lower income applicants as a part of the housing supply mix to serve all components of the housing market plus build-in facilities for sports and recreation with government financial assistance.
As the LNP moved at federal and state levels moved to the neoliberal right after the recession of 1991-2, Australian policy makers have tended to overlook the long traditions of progressive government intervention in our economic history. The old social divides in pre-democratic societies have been reformed by a whole generation of commitment to neoliberal values with a new awareness of challenges in indigenous development and environmental sustainability. Media coverage of the fish kills on the Darling River brought outback problems to coastal electorates.
These issues are awaiting a new generation of leaders to take up the challenges ahead as welcomed by outstanding economic historians like Dr. William Coleman in his editorial work Only in Australia (2016) which covers the history, politics and economic foundations of government intervention in Australia from differing perspectives in the Oxford Scholarship series.
Such policy innovations will not happen without high levels of public interest in election campaigns. Let’s hear from readers on examples of best practice in innovative campaigning beyond stuffing letterboxes with soggy brochures as summer moves into autumn and the hectic pace of private lives gains momentum. Politics has perhaps drifted a long way from any real short-term challenges to those structures of power and influence across society which was a feature of the McKell era in NSW Labor history before the appointment of William McKell (1891-1985) to the position of Governor-General by Ben Chifley in 1947.
Perhaps journalists will be writing about the Chris Minns era in 75 years’ time. Now it’s up to NSW voters to make history happen by closing the book on the neoliberal era in NSW politics.
Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.
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Minns deserves support, and not merely as an alternative to conman conniving, corporate crap, old boy networked graft and corruption, applied superstitious deviance, hyperinflated mediocrity and never ending indecency and filth. NSW has had a continuum of rubbish posing as rubies, O’Farrell, Baird, Berejiklian, now Perrotet the primitive poseur. It is a minor parallel to the federal conservative shitshow from Abbott on, just awful, inadequate, deficient, brutal, and a lullaby of liars and larceny to the background of Merde Dog’s barking madness and his cast of castoff putridities. Let us recover, advance, repair.
To completely misappropriate a quotation, recognisable to those whose memories don’t terminate at the last hurrah, in 2001 George Bush said this of Vladimir Putin;
“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Chris Minns. It irks me to dredge up a Bush utterance, but I’d say the same of Mr Minns. A good man, whose time at the helm of NSW politics is nearing, to my deep relief at the impending consignment of the current mob to the dustbin wherein those who have failed in their duty are sent to suffer for their sins.
[Nice pic of the Silverton Hotel, btw. I had lunch there on the 30th Dec 2021… recommended. Friendly place, especially the flies.]
The Back of Bourke will be a great tourist draw-card next spring when outback communities have recovered from the floods and the Darling ecosystem comes to life again. It is hard to imagine that steam-driven river barges once carried wool and other freight down the river from Bourke. Now all freight to Bourke is carried by road with the closure of the rail freight link to Bourke.
Let’s make the Premier State great again with Chris Minns
Thanks so much Denis!
The Gold Coast and adjacent resort cities in the Northern Rivers of NSW have a combined population of about 750,000, All general freight comes by road from Sydney and Brisbane. The Inland Rail will terminate near Beaudesert and freight to the Coast will continue to use the local Motorways. All this contributes to calls for the widening of motorways and more greenhouse emissions.
The Commonwealth took control of maintaining rail infrastructure through the ARTC which Tony Abbott wanted to privatise. Border areas near the Gold Coast were once served by freight services to the Tweed Shire from both Brisbane and Sydney. The NSW Government alone could not maintain the tracks from Casino to Murwillumbah as the bridges and lines had become unsafe.
NSW Labor seems to be on the recovery mode but here on the Central Coast Terrigal is still solidly Liberal after the redistribution and Gosford more solidly Labor. Identifying Labor with disadvantage and resposible through the promotion of new investment may held in those coastal regional seats like Tweed and Ballina where the Green vote is strong. Having a responsibly progressive agenda is very important for Labor’s new identity under Chris Minns.
Sigh…why am I not surprised. Nice big donations too tempting to miss out on?
Denis, thanks for an interesting article about the NSW election.
Returning to the old traditions of the best of the NSW Labor Governments under Premier Minns