Michael Costa was off to either a deluded
or fibbing start as NSW Treasurer yesterday, but that was pretty much in
keeping with the rest of the gang. Morrie Iemma tried to spin the cabinet
reshuffle as something to make NSW more business friendly, reports Imre Salusinszky in The
Oz
.

“The new cabinet line-up reflects the
Government’s determination to generate jobs, investment and growth,” he
said.

But Mr Costa muddied that message slightly by
insisting that business investment remained a driver of growth in the NSW
economy, which he strongly denied was in crisis, despite soft jobs and growth
numbers

While Costa, was trotting out this line, a very senior banker was quietly admitting to
me that NSW business lending was the one worry in his bank’s portfolio at present.
And of particular interest for employment implications, most of the capital
lending that was being done was going into increasing productivity, ie
reducing the demand for workers.

The kind interpretation is that the investment is a result of a shortage of skilled workers, but NSW’s steadily
rising unemployment rate suggests more serious underlying problems coming home
to roost.

It is symptomatic of the low state of state
politics that Costa, whose performance in previous portfolios was troubled even
by Bob Carr standards, was the big winner yesterday. He had been tucked away in
the rather low-profile Finance portfolio. Aside from being either deluded or
fibbing about the state of business, his other opening pitch was to rework the
old NSW standby of wanting more money from Canberra.

Given the state of the State, the Terror‘s story
that Costa is promising no tax cuts is somewhat more than obvious, but Mickey
doesn’t want you to receive any tax relief from Canberra either, as
he could spend the money better.

The usual spending reviews and audits are
promised, but here’s a suggestion for the nominally Hunter Valley-based
Treasurer: if you’re wanting to save some money, have a look at the
away-from-home allowance paid to “country” MPs who actually spend the vast
majority of their time living in Sydney.

More obviously funny than the new Treasurer
yesterday was Joe Tripodi trying to tell everyone that losing the disastrous
Roads portfolio to move to Assistant Treasurer, Ports and Energy, part of the old
utilities portfolio, wasn’t a downgrade or loss of face. No, really. So it goes.

Peter Fray

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