Bob Carr was clearly champing at the bit to defend his record during the NSW election campaign when his tenure was widely pilloried by the media and barely mentioned by Morris Iemma.

Once the polls closed he was quick to act, featuring on the front page of The Australian last Monday defending his record and again on The AFR’s opinion pages today.

Telling porkies about public debt is clearly a bipartisan strategy in Australian politics. While Peter Costello pretends the Federal Government’s $54 billion debt doesn’t exist, Carr made the following outrageous claim in The AFR:

Between 1995 and 2005 the state government invested $61 billion in new infrastructure and $10 billion in debt reduction.

Okay, this pie chart from the NSW Treasury Corporation clearly shows NSW had $27.7 billion in outstanding public sector debt as at 30 June, 2006.

The challenge to Bob Carr is to show exactly when and where this $10 billion debt was repaid because in his final year, 2004-05, T-Corp had a net funding requirement of $7.2 billion and the call on debt markets this financial year has hit $7.4 billion.

If Carr’s publicly-funded infrastructure investment was so good, why does NSW have more public-private partnerships than any other state and why is Morris Iemma borrowing $5.2 billion in new money this financial year specifically for infrastructure funding?

Carr also seems to forget that NSW has the highest taxes and lowest growth of any state – hardly a fiscal legacy to gloat about. He sheets home the “infrastructure crisis” to all the publicity about the Cross City Tunnel and even Labor’s Stephen Conroy talks about “spectacular failures” when discussing the project in The Australian today.

The Cross City Tunnel is actually an example of a good PPP for taxpayers – the punters got a road and the private investors did their shirts. Far worse are most of the other Sydney tollroads delivered by the Fahey and Carr governments which have been a bonanza for Carr’s current employer, Macquarie Bank.

Commentators make the same mistake when criticising Jeff Kennett’s public transport privatisations. Sure, the private companies have lost a fortune but taxpayers have saved hundreds of millions and commuters still receive a reasonable service.

The size of the private profits is not the yardstick which should be used in measuring PPPs. If Bob Carr was fiscally responsible, the NSW budget would have been able to publicly fund necessary infrastructure without excessive use of PPPs or the present “infrastructure crisis” that is his legacy.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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