Back in Parliament after the election - here's my Treasury agenda

It's time to undo the disaster that was twelve years of Coalition rule in NSW.

Every new Parliament after an election opens with an address from the Governor outlining the Government's priorities. Abigail spoke in reply about the hard work we have in front of us to right the wrongs of the former Liberal-National Government and her agenda as Greens Treasury spokesperson. 


Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (17:25): The past 12 years of Coalition rule have left us with untold damage to the environment and the opportunity cost of not acting on climate as soon as we should have, and they have damaged our democracy in a really significant way. That cannot be underestimated, and I will come back to that as I go through my contribution.

It is clear that the Coalition has really damaged the State's finances in the past 12 years—and the full extent of that is now becoming clear and is beginning to seep out, and I am looking forward to hearing more from the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance around the budget. In this term of Parliament The Greens will work really hard to help to repair the budget and to unpick the disastrous privatisations, which is really hard. The previous Coalition Government was in caretaker mode when it signed up the State for eight-year bus privatisation contracts worth $5 billion, despite knowing that privatisation was a major election issue and something that the public was, at the very least, divided on, if not overwhelmingly opposed to. A lot of privatisation has been put in place that will be incredibly difficult and probably quite costly to unpick.

The South Australian Government has managed to unpick some of its privatisations in Adelaide, which has been really positive. I am hoping that it gives a little bit more courage to the current Labor Government here when it comes to do the same task. I have spoken many times about the impact of the privatisation of our toll roads on the everyday bottom line of families across the State. Unpicking those contracts, some of which are 50 years long, will be incredibly difficult. But, again, it is a task that The Greens are well and truly up for. We are keen to explore whatever ways we can to exit from those contracts sooner rather than later at the least possible cost. We know that if we allow them to continue, we are likely to transfer a far greater cost on to the people of New South Wales, and that is why we need to do it urgently.

We are now very much not just in a climate crisis but also in a cost of living crisis. A new generation of teenagers and people in their 20s are now very much aware that they are living a lower quality of life than their parents did and that even their parents' parents were able to benefit from. That is not just about the ridiculous cost of housing or the precarious nature of tenancies. It is also about the casualisation of the workforce, everyday bills and even food costs. I was speaking with Youth Action recently about what the major concerns of young people are. Within those concerns around the cost of living, number one was the cost of food and not being able to feed yourself. I survived on rice and noodles when I was at university, but members may be surprised by the average price of rice and noodles these days. It is quite extraordinary how expensive even the most basic items have become.

These people are labouring under significant student debts and their parents are not necessarily in as good a position as perhaps the previous generations were to help them out. We are seeing a real exaggeration of inequality in our society between those who continue to benefit from having had that hand-up or that leg-up from birth or whatever their family circumstances are and those who just have not had that opportunity. We used to be a country where you could get free education, where you knew that you could go to a hospital and see a doctor, where you could get in to see your local GP without being on a waitlist, or where you could catch public transport without it being extremely inaccessible, infrequent and expensive. These are really hard times.

I do not want to say that going around the State during the election campaign was "eye-opening" because I think we knew it was out there, as statistics showed how tough people are doing it. We sat with people and heard their everyday concerns about not being able to get to a place of work or not being able to spend enough time on their caring responsibilities because they are working three or four jobs. They did not know whether they could afford to go to university next year. They did not know whether they would still have their job if they got sick. People with casual jobs know that they cannot get paid for the time that they are sick. There was a real permeating feeling of despair that things are not going to get better and, even worse, that they will get worse.

With a new Government, we restore a bit of hope. However, that period of hope can quickly shrink if the government of the day does not do what we hoped it would do. I think we are seeing that now with the Federal Government. It is certainly significantly better than the previous Coalition Federal Government. But when it comes to some of the fundamental issues confronting our society at the moment, it is failing because it is not freeing itself of that neoliberal mindset. When it comes to housing, instead of directly investing in more social housing and public housing, somehow the idea is to invest in a fund and then the market will provide with a return to spend on houses and so on. It is policy that is stuck in the 1980s and 1990s where the assumption was that everybody gets richer, the stock market will continue to provide ever greater returns and we are not going to have a banking crisis et cetera.

Anybody under the age of about 40 will very clearly say that that mode of economic thinking and policymaking is not fit for purpose when it comes to 2023. It is not only incapable of correcting the mistakes that have been made, it is also actively standing in the way of us addressing urgent crises like the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis because the current unregulated system of capitalism simply does not work without redistribution and without a firm hand from government to ensure that corporations do not get out of control. We have a situation where corporations are making massive profits and the average person is going without to greater and greater degrees. That is not by accident. That is by virtue of the design of the system and the failure of government to intervene when it should.

In the next four years we have an incredibly hard task ahead of us to turn things around. I share some of the optimism of Ms Sue Higginson, but I am held back slightly by some of the fundamental issues on which Labor cruelly sided with the Coalition previously to push through some of the most draconian anti-protest laws or bail laws that we have ever seen. Labor also failed to rein in the worst of the so-called culture wars issues. It failed to defend transgender children or to really step up when it was needed on issues of women's equality and racism. It is not good enough simply not being the active party making the decisions to make life worse for the most marginalised people in society. You must stand up and show some leadership in order to actively defend and protect the rights of those people. It has been disappointing for me to see Labor be party to that in the past four years. Now that it is in government, I hope that those within the party who take a more progressive view on those issues find the strength to be able to stamp out the worst of it within their own ranks.

The Greens are incredibly keen to help unpick privatisation. We are also keen to unpick the disaster that was the Transport Authority Holding Entity [TAHE], which is another issue that we have spoken a lot about in the past four years. Again, now that we have a new government, things are beginning to come out to make us even more concerned about the financial impact of not only TAHE but also a whole bunch of things that the previous Premier, primarily when he was the Treasurer, oversaw that were clever little schemes that were perhaps fit for an investment banker to suggest but were not fit for a responsible government to suggest. In substance, what we are seeing is a budget that when the surface is scratched looks significantly worse because of the accounting tricks that the previous Government employed.

As discussed, we must urgently rebuild our democracy. We must also restore our essential services, not just through anti-privatisation measures but also by rebuilding our public sector. When we talk about privatisation by stealth, a bunch of issues came about in the last Government when it effectively gutted the public sector and made us become reliant on the corporate sector. Hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts were given to consultancy firms. I was speaking with my colleague Dr Amanda Cohn about some of the wasted expenditure within the health system. We have this crazy system of private agencies placing temporary medical staff in hospitals. I do not think the commissions are even regulated.

With the amount that the health department is paying to them, we calculated that we could save $200 million in reforming that system alone. It is not only increasing commission costs; the constant failure to have sufficient permanent staff in hospitals has resulted in a much higher payment to temporary staff than would otherwise be the case. That is $200 million right there that could be used for other purposes. As I touched on in the take-note debate, during the election campaign The Greens spoke at length about the fact that there are not just two or three—if you listen to the Liberals—options for getting more money to play with in the budget: raising taxes, increasing debt or selling off stuff. Nobody talks about revenue-raising measures. We do not have to tax individuals more; that is not on The Greens' priority list either. People are doing it tough enough.

There are many profitable companies in New South Wales. I spoke earlier about the increase in fossil fuel royalties in Queensland. The fossil fuel industry kicked and screamed about that, saying, "We're going to lose jobs. We're not going to be profitable." The Queensland Government increased royalties and raised billions of dollars in extra revenue, while the affected coal companies still reported record profits and no jobs were lost. If New South Wales had done the same thing, we could have been about $10 billion better off over the past two years. It is not too late. We can still do that. Yes, the coal industry is winding down. But we continue to give it subsidies and let it off the hook for all sorts of things. We could introduce something that, in the hands of the State, would allow us to afford so much; in the hands of those companies, it would be nothing but an extra 1 per cent profit. I strongly encourage the new Labor Government to look at those revenue‑raising measures.

We could introduce a supplementary banking levy in New South Wales, similar to the one introduced six or more years ago in the Federal sphere. The Federal Government levies the big four banks on the value of their assets—loans and mortgages. Compared to international standards, the amount the Commonwealth levies them is really small. The big banks have again reported record profits of billions of dollars. While the everyday person and mortgage holder is experiencing increased housing stress, the big banks are absolutely raking it in. We could tax them on their assets in New South Wales in the same way. Our Constitution enables the State to levy the big banks on the value of their assets—mortgages and loans—in New South Wales. We could raise, as a modest estimate, an extra half a billion dollars per year. I suggest that at current profit levels and the current state of the housing crisis, which has been in no small amount caused by profit gouging of the major banks and the system as a whole, we could easily raise $1 billion every year without impacting on those banking profits in any significant way. The banks will not go out of business any time soon. That is the sort of thing we can do.

The Greens also took to the election a windfall tax for when property developers buy up land that then gets rezoned and they make significant amounts of money from it. A consultant's report—I cannot remember which one—calculated that New South Wales could have raised an extra $8 billion in revenue in 2019-20, when the Government was rezoning a lot of land in preparation for some of the major transport projects. Those are the sorts of things we can do. When we say that the Government could easily find an extra $15 billion for the budget, it is not just talk. They are sensible and easy things to implement that would only hurt the big end of town. Even then, given how much they are profiting at the moment, it would hurt them so very little that all the Government would have to lose is political capital. I hope that this Labor Government is a lot less scared of the big corporations and industries in this country than the previous Coalition Government was.

We need the extra money because, unfortunately, the State budget is a finite pool of money. We need to restore essential services. We need to do this unpicking. Fundamentally, we need to pay public sector workers a fair wage. If the Government cannot balance the budget in any way other than by paying nurses, paramedics and teachers less than a fair wage, then it is not doing its job right when it comes to managing the State's finances. It will take a significant catch-up amount to bring all of our essential workers across the public sector up past what they are now to what they would have been if the Coalition was not in power. That is necessary to do, and we can easily afford it with some of those revenue‑raising measures. When we get the budget in September, if the first thing the Treasurer says is that we cannot afford to give our workers a fair wage, I will ask for a checklist of which of those revenue measures were considered and a good reason why we have not used them before we yet again hit the people who are least able to withstand it in our State.

We must restore all essential public services, particularly disability services. I have spoken in this place a lot about domestic violence and the need for domestic and family violence services to finally be funded correctly. That would not require a huge amount of money. I hope that this new Government will be true to its word on that, as well as on mental health and a bunch of promising programs and services for First Nations individuals across New South Wales. I hope that, along with the commitment for truth and treaty with Aboriginal people in New South Wales, some real commitments will be made to actively fund the community-led initiatives that First Nations people have been calling for. I will leave it there. The message I want to give this new Government is that I share my colleagues' excitement and hope, and I want that hope and excitement to continue for more than just a few months. I look forward to working with the Government to do what we can to correct the past 12 years of cruel, senseless and economically irrational management by the previous Coalition Government and to finally provide for the people of New South Wales the good services, climate and environment initiatives and everything else that they dearly deserve.

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