NSW
Liberal leader John Brogden is ready to announce his $20 billion plan –
to be called ‘Rebuild NSW’ or ‘Rebuilding NSW’, depending on who you
talk to – aimed at winning the next election.

With a $20
billion wish list of major public private partnerships, it will be
launched at a Millennium Forum luncheon at the Westin Hotel on 11 April
before an audience of developers, builders and construction types.

It’s
the brainchild of a Victorian PR company which believe the voters of
NSW want to see lots of shiny new toys. Brogden has already given
interviews with small newspapers to announce support for a highway over
the Blue Mountains, an inland rail line linking Queensland with
Victoria, a Very Fast Train heading to Newcastle, another Very Fast
Train to Canberra, and a tunnel under Middle Harbour to ease traffic
for the suffering residents of Mosman.

How are they going to
pay for it? By going to the private sector. Here’s hoping that it works
out better than that last brilliant NSW Liberal PPP, the airport line.
Great service. Shame that it went broke and that the taxpayers are
picking up the bill.

The Labor Party is already honing the
points of its spears as it plans to attack. Rebuilding NSW, it will
argue, is Brogden’s very own Kimberly canal. Rebuilding NSW is a
commitment to reward potential donors before the election with a
promise of untold fortunes. Deals will be ticked off before the
election. There’ll be a blur of white shoes heading to the Millennium
Forum. The boardrooms closed to shadow ministers for so long will open
thanks to pre-election “in principle” approval. Probity checks, due
diligence or crunching the numbers will go by the wayside. If you can
provide a flash map or drawing of your project that will go well with a
media release, you’re in.

The criticisms are valid – to a point.
Brogden risks returning to the Laurie Brereton days where
multinationals got big infrastructure projects while taxpayers got the
bills. It’s easy to characterise the approach as one where the Liberals
will announce the project and expect the private sector to turn up.

It’s
also a far cry from Brogden’s policy before the last election to
develop a state infrastructure plan and follow it by a prioritised list
of projects the private sector could bid for.

But the time could
be right. Bob Carr is marking his tenth anniversary as premier. No-one
doubts his intellectual capacity – but does he indulge it rather than
put it to practical use? Hobnobbing with Gore Vidal and working through
the Penguin Classics during Question Time does little for a punter
waiting for the 9:28 at Sydenham or stuck on the Parramatta Road.

His party can’t provide solutions. Witness the storm created by former
state secretary and Minister for Economic Reform Michael Costa’s recent comments that NSW has 20% more public servants than it needs.

Sydney
is the de facto capital of Australia. It keeps growing and governments
need to meet its changing infrastructure needs. Carr has tried to avoid
the responsibility with his Malthusian musings on population capacity.
Manage it with the prudence of a Nick Greiner, and Brogden might be on
to a winner.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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