I'm going to write about some of the issues in the NSW State election, due 28th March. I thought first of all I'd speak to the Greens. Further articles may follow to reflect the views of other parties. I asked a Greens spokesperson : what are the key issues? And will it be fought on local, state or national matters?
1. Mining and coal seam gas were named the number one issue. There has been a pattern of mining in the Hunter valley for many years, with electricity stations burning the coal found in the area. In recent years, mining has been accelerated, and large tracts of land have been allocated to foreign companies. The Greens say they will halt some mines and restore the ban on shooting in national parks.
One example shows how these issues tangle State and Federal issues up together. On 23 February Guardian Australia reported that, on one hand, the Chinese State-owned company, Shenua Australia, is becoming impatient with delays to its plans for a $1.2bn open-cut coalmine. It's on a site near some of Australia's best agricultural land on the edge of the Liverpool Plains. Liu Xang , chairman of the company, said approval of the project did not tally with Australia's "proclaimed enthusiasm for offshore investment". The coalmine is currently under review by the Federal Government Environment Minister, Greg Hunt. But the decision is due on 13 March, two weeks before the State election. Members of the National Party hold nearby State seats such as Tamworth, and the Caroona Coal Action Group says the government "are going to end up with a fight the likes of which they have never seen." Any Federal fight would catch up the State parties very easily.
Mining, coal seam gas exploration and privatisation were issues which helped defeat Campbell Newman in the Queensland election, says Greens spokesperson Julie Macken. She pointedly asks whether the Nationals support farmers, or coal seam gas mining. The radio journalist Alan Jones may well weigh in on this issue, as he did in Queensland.
2. Privatisation was also named an important general issue. This is clearly so from Premier Mike Baird's continual insistence that this project or that can only be managed if the government privatises 49 percent of the poles and wires in the electricity grids. The list of projects is very long and includes road improvements, a new Harbour crossing and improvements to the Sydney Opera House. Once again, this was an issue in the Queensland election, with slogans like "Don't Privatise Our Assets" often displayed. The Greens are well informed of the differences and similarities between the two States and want to learn what lessons they can. Privatisation is an issue the unions are taking up with a big campaign, as the Newcastle Herald explains in an article about truncation of the rail line from Sydney into Newcastle and cuts to, and privatisation of, TAFE.
3. TAFE itself is a connected issue. Technical education has a long history in many States. NSW has two very large public education systems which become burdened with huge numbers and a cumbersome bureaucracy. Knowing what to do with such large systems is often a challenge for governments: it was suggested to me that the role of Minister for Education was only a job you would wish on your worst enemy. A short extract from the NSW TAFE website emphasises how much TAFE is a public service helping people in the community overcome some difficulties and become more useful to society:
Today TAFE NSW has more than 500,000 enrolments..over 20 per cent are born overseas; over 6 per cent are indigenous; 9 per cent have a disability; and 23 per cent are from a language background other than English.
At the time of writing the Greens were preparing their plans for improving TAFE. They are wary of farming out technical education, apprenticeship training and job improvement to private providers. They suggest that it's too easy to allow private firms (often international corporations) to make large profits while providing poor services to fairly powerless clients whose needs are brushed off and whose complains are barely heard. The "Four Corners" program on work-for-the-dole privatisation was mentioned as a case in point.
4.People want better government and are sick of political jobbery, say the Greens. The fluidity of the electorate is almost unprecedented. We have seen in NSW the long sorry saga of Labor and its connexions with developers, long lunches and so on and all kinds of shady deals done over lunches washed down with expensive champagnes. There have been Liberals also implicated in shonky deals, all exposed on the television and the daily papers.
Each side points to the others' sins. The Greens say people are sick of the lot and want a new approach free from shonky deals and developers' bribes. If their arguments are well-founded, the Greens could easily play a very important role in a tightly-fought election. If not…..
5. The affordability of the family home is a big issue, especially in Sydney. The median price of a house in Sydney is now about a million dollars. Many of us have our own stories: we bought our houses for some 300 or 400 thousand. Now we could sell them for over a million. All very well, if we could afford something else to buy! But what about our children? That question bothers many of us. Foreign companies and nationals or local investors buy properties, negatively gear them and use tax losses to save as they build up their equity. The NSW Government has freed up some restrictions to increase the attractiveness of the scheme to investors. The issue is whether this makes it harder for young families to buy their own property. Various solutions have been canvassed, such as capping what can be bought by investors. Once again this is a Federal issue, as Significant Investors are given Australian residency and ability to buy property. Apparently this is done most often in suburbs like Mosman. At the time of writing there are proposals being put forward by the Abbott Government to limit foreign ownership. Such attempts to restrict foreign investment are being resisted by the real estate industry and property developers.
Rentals have also become expensive, and The Greens are looking at a Renters' Rights Bill as one way forward.
NOTE: The author interviewed Julie Macken, who coordinates the media campaign for the Greens. All responsibility for what is written is the author's.
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