Come Monday, NSW opposition leader Barry O’Farrell will be one of the most powerful men in Australia. Pollsters predict a thumping Coalition majority in the lower house and a conservative-controlled Legislative Council. At least two terms in office seems assured.
When it comes to his policy platform, many voters don’t know and don’t care what’s on the table — so desperate are they to pull down NSW Labor’s pants on polling day. Not that O’Farrell has made it easy for them: he’s left himself plenty of wiggle room on tough issues, saying, for example, only the Libs have “no plans” to cull the public sector. And over 40 reviews and audits are in the pipeline — including a judicial inquiry into the controversial electricity sell-off.
Yesterday Crikey reviewed Kristina Keneally’s pitch; today it’s O’Farrell’s turn. What is the agenda of a brand-new NSW government?
Transport: O’Farrell has locked himself into a stoush with the federal government over his plans to scrap the Parramatta to Epping rail link. The feds have allocated $2.1 billion to the project — first promised by Labor over a decade ago — and rejected the opposition leader’s pleas for the money to be redirected to other rail projects.
Government transport employees can expect a shake-up, with the Liberals promising to break down the state’s notorious public transport fiefdoms by integrating them into one authority. As for ticketing, O’Farrell says he will introduce an integrated transport card to Sydney “as soon as physically possible”. Sydney Ferries will remain under government control with a private operator managing service delivery — an approach Labor and the Greens call privatisation by stealth.
Cyclists shouldn’t expect much from the Libs: O’Farrell has promised not to put more “crazy” bike lanes on Sydney’s main roads and claims Lord Mayor Clover Moore “deliberately set out to inconvenience motorists” by building a 200km bike network.
Health: Polls show health, traditionally a Labor strength, is voters’ No.1 concern at this election and O’Farrell knows it. He has promised 1390 extra beds and 2475 more nurses if elected, trumping equivalent pledges made by Labor. The Australian Medical Association backs O’Farrell’s plan because it promises to cap occupancy rates at 85%.
Jillian Skinner, shadow health minister for 14 of the past 16 years, has won plaudits from the health sector for her support for preventative health. The Liberals plan to create an office of preventative health with $120 million to spend on keeping people out of hospital.
Despite repeated requests from Keneally, O’Farrell has refused to endorse the COAG health reforms. He says he will decide whether to sign up after reviewing all the detail.
Education: O’Farrell has threatened to stymie the Gillard government’s push for a national curriculum, saying he will not sign up to any change that diminishes educational standards in NSW.
The Libs have pledged $250 million for early intervention programs targeted at students falling behind in basic literacy and numeracy skills. They say the fact one in nine children in NSW fall behind minimum standards in reading, writing and maths shows a return to basics is needed.
O’Farrell has repeatedly attacked the government for its handling of the BER. The Orgill Report found NSW schools accounted for 56% of complaints, despite only representing a quarter of the total program. A Coalition government would hand school principals any unspent BER project money to spend as they please.
The economy: The Liberals claim they will create 100,000 new jobs by giving businesses payroll tax rebates for hiring new workers. Labor says the policy would simply move workers from one job to another and be a boon for big business. Less than 90% of businesses in NSW pay payroll tax.
O’Farrell argues the housing sector has been dudded under Labor and has promised to fast-track the release of land blocks in Sydney’s north-west and south-west for development. An independent report by the Department of Planning found the Coalition’s plan will see an extra 128,000 homes built on the city fringes.
But developers aren’t getting too excited. They’re anxious to learn how O’Farrell will keep his promise to overhaul Labor’s unpopular planning laws while retaining the power to push through state-significant projects.