Remember the glory days of Australian politics? When hating the Greens was as Australian as disparaging Asians or beating your wife? When most people voted based on ill-informed loyalties rather than the policies of those they elected? A time when the media had yet to expose the self-serving antics of State MPs and the public believed what they read in the news.
Today the average Australian is less likely to racially abuse Asians, opting instead to tar all Muslims as terrorists. Domestic violence is no longer socially acceptable, however this doesn’t stop many in the western suburbs from first hitting the ice pipe and then their significant other. A burgeoning percentage of voters have learnt not to trust the biased media, to question what political parties are pushing, and to seek out what policies are on offer. While this new trend is encouraging, for many Green remains a dirty word.
While the 1990s seem like a lifetime ago, State and Federal Governments have managed to hold onto many of their outdated ideologies; a growing number of today’s electorates have found the reactionary attitude of the major parties to be incompatible with what Australian electorates want and need. In broad strokes Australia could still be considered a paint-by numbers nation, largely unchanged in the last 20 years; however some nonconformity is creeping into the Australian psyche. The two-party system is being rejected in favour of minority government formed with independent and smaller parties. A shift in social awareness has seen the emergence of a newer, more popular Greens party; so much so that in the upcoming NSW election, the Greens are presenting a viable alternative to the ICAC ravaged ALP and Coalition.
Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, voters are more informed than ever; we should see few surprises coming into this NSW state election, yet there remains a surprising degree of ignorance in many. A lot of this comes from the propaganda regularly printed in The Daily Telegraph; more still can be found in the various feelpinions disseminated on social media; as ever, the largest source of disinformation remains the major party campaigns.
The Coalition is running with a number of lies about government-owned assets, specifically regarding the proposed sale of 49% of electricity poles and wires. Their main excuse has been that it isn’t a sale per se, but a lease; unfortunately they have left out the fact that it is a 99-year lease with the entirety of the “rent” being paid upfront; or to put it another way, a sale. The Liberal party further claims that the sale will generate $20 billion to be used to invest in infrastructure, despite the Government’s own modeling showing that it is likely to only garner somewhere between $11 – 13 billion. At present, the State coffers earn over $1 billion annually from the electricity network businesses. Following the sale this would drop to $400 million, and within 18 years the anticipated proceeds would be exceeded by foregone payments.
The Baird Government is so desperate to make this sale that they’ve enlisted the help of former Labor ministers, most of whom have an axe to grind. Michael Costa, former NSW Treasurer, architect of asset sales, climate change denialist, and close friend to Andrew Bolt. Martin Ferguson, former Federal Minister for Energy from 2007-2013, and a man rejected by the Labor party following the 2013 election, to the point of the WA executive moving for his expulsion from the ALP. Mark Latham, professional right-wing nutjob.
The office of the Premier made efforts to edit a report on the sale of the poles and wires titled, Bad for the budget, good for the state. This report highlights that the long-term losses from a 99-year asset lease greatly outweigh the short-term gains, and Mike Baird wanted it revised to focus on proposed benefits and had it re-named Good for the state. In spite of this, the ALP cannot afford to be overly critical of Baird’s plan. During their 16 years in office Labor started the process of selling government assets, and in 2010 Eric Roozendaal cost the state billions with his botched attempt at energy privatisation. And there is one thing that both parties have refused to focus on: the fact that these electricity poles and wires have been built on lies.
Since 2009, the electricity networks that manage the poles and wires have spent $45 BILLION on the most expensive project even seen in Australia. It has all been charged back to consumers at an inflated price and is the single biggest reason for power prices more than doubling. To put it in context, network charges comprise 51% of the electricity bill, while the carbon tax only made up 9%. The beauty of this over-investment is that the vast majority of it will never be required. So why build it? Because of a scheme that allows the transmission companies to charge the government for any new infrastructure. Better yet, as the NSW distribution networks are state-owned, they borrow the funds from the state treasury at a cost of capital (interest rate) of 4-5%, yet due to average bank interest rates, they are allowed to claim a 10.02% cost of capital. The transmission networks have been rewarded for spending as much as possible.
NSW and QLD had the highest level of unnecessary investment and as the graph being touted by the Liberal party shows, they also had the largest rise in power prices. This can be seen in Newcastle, a network company, Ausgrid, invested $30 million in a substation that wasn’t connected to the grid. In VIC and SA, as the transmission companies are privately owned, there was some of the lowest levels of investment, despite, somewhat ironically, needing the most work to be done to upgrade the infrastructure.
The rise in prices has tapered off, however the sale of poles and wires to private companies isn’t going to result in a drop in prices due to the investment made and the cost of capital to be repaid. In making the case for the sell-off, the most Premier Baird can guarantee is that prices won’t rise. He knows that electricity prices aren’t going to fall at any point and rather than attempt to hold the power networks to account, he’s rewarding price gouging with the fruit of their immoral labours.
Three things have occurred that put a stop to the booming prices:
1. These facts were made public following a number of inquiries and reports.
2. Tony Abbott’s endless campaigning on the carbon tax has led to a large number of people opting for greener power, such as solar.
3. A leap in disconnections directly related to the rise in prices.
With the plateau now seen in power prices, the question must be asked, how did this occur? At a federal level, there was one man responsible for most of this, the NSW Liberal Party’s new friend, the former Rudd/Gillard energy minister, Martin Ferguson. In NSW, three men played a large role in their capacity as NSW energy minister: Joe Tripodi, Ian Macdonald, and Chris Hartcher.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has exposed widespread corruption in both the Liberal and Labor parties. Since 2009 it has brought corruption findings against 4 ALP heavyweights and the former MP for Penrith. It would seem that after 16 years at the top, many in the ALP decided that the rules no longer applied and they could do as they pleased. There are of course many citizens who remain skeptical of the ICAC findings, not for those found guilty of corruption, but for the many who left the State Parliament and claim to have no knowledge of the gross misconduct of their colleagues. Whether they are now safe in Canberra or working in the private sector, there are a number of Labor Party members whose record is shady to say the least. The great shame is that Obeid, Macdonald, Kelly and Tripodi are the few foolish enough to be caught. Abuse of travel privileges are well-known to have been rife towards the end of the ALP’s time in power, yet only Paluzzano was caught out.
The Liberal Party fared no better, with 10 MPs falling to the corruption watchdog during their first term. Even the Premier, Barry O’Farrell was forced to step down after his memory happened to fail when it came to a $3000 bottle of wine. Then there was the king of the double-dealing Liberals, Chris Hartcher. A powerbroker who held the reigns over a belt that covered Newcastle, the Hunter region and the Central Coast of NSW for years, stacking the area with party members loyal to him alone. His was a classic case of political corruption, he craved money and power and didn’t think twice about sacrificing the state for his own personal benefit.
The fact that the Liberals were caught out so quickly should come as no surprise, ICAC finally is operating as it was designed. It’s weakness lies in the fact that parties quickly close ranks as corruption inquiries begin. There is little doubt that both Labor and Liberal parties remain infested by duplicitous men and women seeking to serve themselves, rather than their electorates. There is a reason for making this assumption, the Greens stand alone in pursuing additional powers for ICAC, as well as the expansion to a federal corruption watchdog. The behavior of the Iemma/Rees/Keneally and O’Farrell/Baird governments has caused many to lose faith in the NSW Legislature and in spite of the skepticism of some voters when it comes to left-wing politics, the Greens are the only party actively attempting to clean up Macquarie Street.
Of course, ICAC isn’t the reason for John Robertson being dumped as ALP leader mere weeks before the NSW election. As the Member for Blacktown, his office assisted Martin Place gunman Haron Man Monis with the structure of legal paperwork related to his divorce in the capacity as the office of the State Member for Blacktown. Robertson did his job serving a member of his electorate, years before the Lindt cafe attack; yet because news outlets picked up the story, the ALP decided that they couldn’t risk explaining the role of parliamentarians, and so they folded to pressure and Robertson was made to step down. In the days following the events of the Sydney Siege, a non-story toppled the State Opposition Leader as neither the NSW media nor the ALP had enough respect for the people of NSW to explain why the service his office had provided was completely irrelevant.
This time last year, the NSW Coalition was faced with a media-driven scare campaign around an alleged spate of single-punch attacks in Kings Cross. Within three weeks of reporting commencing, new legislation was announced to be going to the floor of parliament. The O’Farrell government was so desperate to appear to be responding to the news of this crime wave that they ignored the requests of the Greens to hold an inquiry into alcohol-fueled violence. The new legislation includes mandatory minimum sentences for violence offences where the offender is intoxicated in public by alcohol or drugs. It further addresses a misguided perception that the late-night service of alcohol is irresponsible. Across NSW off-licence sales cease at 10pm, in the CBD lockouts are in force from 1:30am and drinks are cut off at 3am; of course this is only within the lockout zone. The Star and James Packer’s new Crown Casino are exempt, driving late night patrons to their doors. Also outside the exclusion zone is Newtown where a rise in trade and late-night assaults has gone hand in hand.
If the NSW Government’s knee-jerk reaction of forming policy based on Daily Telegraph headlines seems like an adequate solution, then there is a need to look below the surface.
– Kings Cross has seen an 84% drop in foot traffic since 2012, double the previous decline; businesses are reporting a 40% drop in revenue across the board; 35 shops are out of business; and the New Years long weekend, the great catalyst of these policies, saw one-punch assaults and glassings despite the government announcing the policies were a success.
– The only section of the Crimes Act 1900 that involves mandatory minimum sentencing is in relation to drug or alcohol fueled violence. This means that child molesters, rapists, speeding drivers that kill someone in a crash, as well as genuinely violent people can, in some cases, receive 2-5 year minimum sentences for sober decisions they made to ruin someone’s life. This doesn’t include people under the influence of alcohol or illicit substances choosing to get behind the wheel of a car and killing someone as a result. A mandatory minimum eight year sentence for a death caused by a “coward-punch” does not address the root cause, furthermore it usurps the role of the courts.
– The separation of powers is a central tenet of good democracy: the legislature makes the laws, the executive puts the laws into operation, the judiciary interprets the laws. By removing the ability to interpret laws, the government has created a system that promotes injustice. If the Liberal Party’s full slate of proposals was to pass, reckless wounding under the influence would result in a mandatory three-year sentence. What is reckless wounding? Assault occasioning actual bodily harm without malice aforethought, or giving someone a black eye in a drunk scuffle. While such an attack is deserving of condemnation, it goes beyond fair and balanced judgement. These mandatory sentences remove the ability of a judge to consider all the relevant facts.
At the end of the day, these band-aid laws haven’t worked as they were intended. There was strong demand from the community, especially from Daily Telegraph readers, for something to be done to address these attacks, and the government needed to show that it could react in a crisis. The problem was that the crisis was manufactured and the time needed to create an adequate response was not delivered. Good government takes time; it sometimes requires making unpopular decisions for the good of the people. The mob-like mentality created by media outrage overwhelmed the legislative process and we were left with half-baked plans designed to respond after the fact. Preventative measures were ignored; rather than addressing the reported rise in steroid use and the aggression that accompanies it, the government increased the maximum sentence for possession of illegal steroids. The rise in steroid use is related to a misconception that steroids are now safe, this misconception comes from the widespread usage in amateur bodybuilder circles. But education campaigns about drug use aren’t as headline grabbing as GOVERNMENT CRACKDOWN. Wide ranging mandatory minimum sentences for crimes hadn’t been seen in NSW since the 19th Century, yet the government felt that such a reactionary approach was required to punish assaults that could be easily prevented.
There is a need to educate the public on these laws, on better solutions, as well as finding a way to combat the culture of binge drinking and how people behave when intoxicated. Last year, community-based approaches were widely celebrated as offering a better solution to the problems that the government was attempting to treat with recycled policies. From boxer Danny Green’s personally funded A Coward’s Punch Can Kill campaign to nightclub kingpin John Ibrahim’s self-policing mantra Don’t Be A Dickhead, the broader community could see that there was a way to deal with these crimes without sacrificing our basic freedoms.
According to the ABC Vote Compass, 49% of respondents support harsher sentencing for one-punch assaults, 22% are neutral and 23% against. Hot-button topics always tend to have skewed figures, but this has become so emotional that community-wide understanding of the consequences of these laws is important before there can be any progress. Alcohol impairs judgement, so responding after the fact will do nothing. Everyone knows you have to treat the cause, but all the Government seems to want is a favourable editorial in The Daily Telegraph.
The NSW Auditor-General released an independent review of the WestConnex motorway late last year. It was immediately dismissed by the Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, as it was critical of the traffic projections, project cost, economic benefits, financial analysis, governance arrangements and the procurement strategy. The WestConnex project, just like many other policies of this government, was poorly planned. It creates a bottleneck on already congested city roads, and with the NorthConnex and M5 expansion projects will create even more traffic problems than the Sydney CBD is capable of handling. Most studies show that the future of Sydney as a world-class city rely on a vastly improved public transportation network.
Furthermore, to demand the WestConnex and M4 upgrade is to ignore the M7 and M2 upgrades. The people of Western Sydney should be demanding better public transport, more frequent services, infrastructure projects that will be useful in the next 50 years. The CBD choke-point is reason enough to scrap the WestConnex, but the Liberal Party is relying on the ignorance and laziness of Western Sydney voters.
If, as is planned, the Badgerys Creek airport goes ahead in the next 15 years, then there will be a far greater need for public transport in Western Sydney, as anyone who has been to Melbourne could tell you. Melbourne lacks adequate public transport around the airport and the city suffers as a result. The major problem with WestConnex is that the people of Western Sydney blindly want it, without understanding that it is not beneficial to the future of this state. From the funding required and the source of this funding, to the services prevented by such a massive investment, to the additional pollution that comes with increased cars idling in the city.
One the great risks that comes from voting based on a single policy such as WestConnex is the poisoned chalice that such a choice represents. Voting Liberal because you want WestConnex means approving coal seam gas mining throughout the state. The fracking process has repeatedly been found to contaminate waterways, in some cases leading to tap water so polluted with gas and fracking chemicals that it is flammable. CSG and fracking are so controversial that Alan Jones has come out against it. Public opinion regarding CSG has caused the ALP to leap out of bed with CSG mining companies such as Santos, for now. Labor is presently seeking more information about CSG and the hydraulic fracturing process, but after they have been convinced of the positives by the frackers, will likely go back to their previous policies under the guise of it now being good for the state. It wouldn’t be the first time that the ALP reversed a populist position after consulting with big business. The Greens again stand alone against coal seam gas and fracking, opting for a blanket ban on all CSG mining operations in the state, a position they have held consistently.
Health is a great challenge for whoever holds power come Sunday. The Coalition have already stripped millions from health funding. Hospital waiting rooms are at capacity with some patients having to wait up to 48 hours for treatment, in some cases E.D. patients are being treated in the waiting rooms due to the lack of staff and available beds. Mike Baird’s plan is to build and upgrade hospitals and secondary services, when it is the front line of health care that needs additional funding. More nurses, better wages and additional community funding must be allocated for a rapidly aging population. Community awareness is needed as well. At present, 45% of hospital intakes are persons aged over 65, in the next 10 years dementia will be the second leading cause of death in Australia and the leading cause of death in the next 35 years. By 2029 there will be a deficit of more than 150,000 carers for people with dementia in Australia. There is clearly a need for early treatment, but the Baird government is far more interested in cutting ribbons on new wards than providing for his aging constituents. There is a reason why older persons with dementia are so ignored by politicians. People with dementia can’t vote. Mike Baird and Luke Foley only care about the votes they can get, and despite the fact that dementia will be the leading cause of all deaths in Australia by 2050, neither carries a dementia policy into this election. The best Labor’s Luke Foley can manage is requiring a registered nurse in aged-care facilities. Mike Baird and the Liberals are offering concessions and are reaching out to tech-savvy hipster grannies.
With the election now less than a week away, it is exceedingly urgent that you find out all the policies that the major parties are intending to force upon NSW in the next 4 years. As ever, it is the duty of all who intend to vote to know what they are voting for, however it’s also immensely important to know what Labor and Liberal candidates aren’t telling you. Many have become so obsessed with doing what’s popular that they forget to do what’s right. Many more of them are career politicians, only out for themselves. If we ignore the lessons of ICAC, we only have ourselves to blame for what comes next. If we allow the sale of the electricity poles and wires that were built on a bedrock of corruption then we are a truly ignorant society. I cannot stress this enough, read The Monthly article Power Corrupts, if you want to understand why electricity prices shot up by so much and so quickly.
Late last year, a British survey found that if people voted based on policies, the Greens would win the election. This is telling of the ideological mindset that many voters have in relation to Green and left-wing politics, that it must involve hippies and environmentalists. Once upon a time this was true but as the last few years have shown, the Greens have become feasible third option for people at elections. We are not being forced into the the two-party system any more and in areas that used to be the domain of the Greens, such as LGBTI rights or medicinal marijuana, we are increasingly seeing “mainstream” parties adopting these policies as public demand grows.
This blog post isn’t designed as Greens propaganda. It’s designed to draw attention to the incompetence and corruption that has been rotting at the core of NSW politics for a long time. You don’t want to put the ALP back in charge after their 16 year cock-up? Great. You don’t want to approve CSG mining nor see the 99-year lease of the poles and wires go ahead? Even better. You feel that the Independent Commission Against Corruption has only exposed a fraction of the misconduct in NSW Parliament? As do I.
This Saturday will be the first time I have ever voted Green. Part protest, part faith in a party that doesn’t feel the need to take on populist ideals, my choice is ultimately based on the fact the neither the ALP nor the Liberals are capable of delivering what NSW needs in the 21st century.
Go to http://www.abc.net.au/news/nsw-election-2015/vote-compass to find out where you fit in the political landscape and in relation to the policies of the Greens, Liberal and Labor parties.