Throughout the NSW election campaign Kristina Keneally has taunted Barry O’Farrell for refusing to submit his policy costings to the parliamentary budget office. The premier promised voters all Labor’s policies would be submitted for analysis and that they would not force the budget into deficit.
Yet the parliamentary budget office, headed by former auditor-general Tony Harris, yesterday found that Labor’s $1.5 billion of election promises would plunge the state into debt within three years. And Harris yesterday told ABC News that only 42 of Labor’s 91 policies were submitted in time to be costed.
The government is now asking voters to ignore the office’s figures and believe its own — forecasting an $834 million surplus over four years — because they include the proceeds of its electricity sell-off. It’s a tricky argument to sell given Keneally and Co set up the the PBO and have spruiked it constantly during the campaign. Even trickier when one remembers the final revenue from the power sell-off is a hotly contested issue.
But while the cost of Keneally’s promises is now clear, what of their value? Today, in the first of a three-part series on the major parties’ policy platforms, Crikey reviews Labor’s election promises.
Has this really been an ideas-free campaign or has the media been too jaded, too poll-driven to notice? Is Keneally a policy visionary in disguise or just a sassy saleswoman? We report, you decide.
Education: it’s become de riguer in NSW to blame state Labor for almost all of life’s ills, but not even the most tribal Liberals bag the government’s record on eduction. The most recent NAPLAN results show NSW children outperforming their interstate counterparts in almost all literacy and numeracy categories. And the NSW high school curriclum is regarded as one of the world’s most rigorous. Labor has also spent millions reducing class sizes in the early years of schooling.
At Sunday’s official campaign launch, Keneally played to her party’s strength by focusing on education. But there was no big bang promise — just initiatives that, while worthy, would have been mere footnotes in past campaigns. Keneally promised to add an extra 100 “highly accomplished teachers” to teach in disadvantaged schools, provide extra tutoring for students struggling with literacy and fund 540 new selective school places for talented students. Unfortunately for voters, Labor hasn’t got around to working out which schools would score the new places.
Transport: from the 12 promised rail lines that were scrapped to an integrated ticketing system now 11 years overdue, Labor’s record on transport best explains the looming electoral apocalypse.
The centrepiece of Labor’s transport policy is a project first proposed 13 years ago: the Epping to Parramatta rail link, which it has promised to build with $2 billion from the federal government. Keneally has also promised to cap public transport fares to the rate of inflation. The government has recently begun constructing the light rail extension to Dulwich Hill and a new heavy rail link to south-west Sydney. Labor also wants to expand its Metrobus network to Rouse Hill, Liverpool and Mt Druitt — all, coincidentally, located in Labor seats it is battling to hold.
As for the integrated ticketing system promised for the 2000 Olympics: not a word.
Health: Labor’s proposed a whopping $4 billion increase in health spending, although it’s failed to win over the Australian Medical Association, which describes it as a “failure of long-term planning”. The AMA has slammed the government as untransparent for doling hospital infrastructure funds without an objective priority list. The doctors’ lobby is no doubt also unimpressed that Labor has prioritised funding for 2200 new nurses. Keneally supports the Gillard government’s health reform push, saying it will deliver 488 new beds for NSW.
Labor is also promising a new home-visit program for mothers at risk of postnatal depression and 10,000 new dental vouchers for pensioners and children.
The economy: the NSW unemployment rate is 4.8%, the second lowest in the country, and the state maintains a AAA credit rating. But economic growth has long trailed the national average, and Labor’s handling of tourism after the Olympics is widely recognised as disastrous.
Labor has promised to support 155,000 jobs a year through its infrastructure spending and says the much-maligned Barangaroo development will cement Sydney’s place as the financial hub of the Asia-Pacific. The government has also vowed not to scrap Part 3A of the planning act, a mechanism even Labor MPs have bagged as “fundamentally flawed” and “completely discredited”. Keneally says it is vital to ensure a flourishing development sector.
And no election campaign would be complete without a mighty dollop of middle-class welfare. Labor is offering $250 electricity bill rebates for households earning less than $150,000 a year.
The rest: Keneally’s plan for coal seam gas extraction has pleased neither farmers, environmentalists nor miners. She admits her plan — which bans currently unused chemicals and outlaws “fracking” near national parks — is “not a finalised policy”.
At Sunday’s campaign launch the Premier emphasised Labor as the party of “equity” and “social justice”, pledging an extra $2 billion for disability services and a $1.3 billion boost for social housing. Keen to hold on to the migrant vote, Keneally has also stressed her support for multiculturalism and allocated $16 million for a new immigration museum.
*Tomorrow: Crikey reviews the Liberals’ promises