CHRIS MINNS – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP – NSW PARLIAMENT – TUESDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2022
TUESDAY, 4 OCTOBER 2022
SUBJECTS: Campbelltown hospital; West Invest; Warragamba Dam; John Barilaro; Land Tax.
CHRIS MINNS, NSW LABOR LEADER: Chris Minns here, NSW Labor Leader, there’s a few things on the agenda this morning, I thought I’d start with Campbelltown Hospital. It’s obviously ridiculous to think that the NSW Government will plunge so much money into a piece of infrastructure that ultimately hasn’t worked and if you listen to the Nurses and Midwives Association, they warned the NSW Government about design flaws at Campbelltown hospital when the project was in the midst of being built. The NSW Government wasn’t listening to their own workforce about the implications of building this new piece of infrastructure or understanding what the effect would be when it’s finally been built. And when you consider that New South Wales has $183 billion worth of debt in New South Wales, which is the greatest figure the state has ever had, both in overall terms and as a percentage of gross state product, the idea that we can waste money when it comes to the design and implementation of infrastructure is obviously reprehensible. The NSW Government has a responsibility to protect taxpayer money as if it’s their own personal money and the biggest problem I see with major blunders and cost overruns when it comes to the NSW budget is the NSW Government’s approach more often than not, is to shake it off and pretend that it’s not a big deal as if it’s not their money. This is what happens when you do not protect taxpayer money in New South Wales. They’ve got an obligation to do it, they’re building pieces of infrastructure, not listening to frontline workers, not understanding what the implications of the changes will be and they’ve got a responsibility to get it right. If you listen to the Nurses and Midwives Association, they’re reporting that they spoke to the hospital administration about design flaws in the midst of construction again, their warnings were not heeded and now we’re in this situation. The government is proving to be very good at issuing media releases and video guides and examples of what they will build but the actual infrastructure is either late, there’s a massive cost overrun or both and at the end of the day, it’s the taxpayers of New South Wales that have to foot the bill.
Look, the second issue is WestInvest, I really want to make sure that taxpayers particularly those in Western Sydney understand the implications of WestInvest and where the money has come from. The NSW Government has effectively sold a concession worth over $100 billion in today’s dollars in tolls that will come straight out of the pockets of the families of Western Sydney to private toll road companies. We have a 100 per cent privately owned toll road monopoly in the most tolled city on earth as a result of the NSW Government’s obsession with privatisation. They made the decision to sell the rest of WestInvest. They went to the last election in 2019 promising no more privatisations, they went ahead and did it anyway. So the trade off for WestInvest has meant that over $100 billion will be taken out of the pockets of Sydney motorists, and $5 billion will be given back when it comes to parks and a few eateries in Western Sydney. It’s a paltry amount when you consider the amount that’s been gouged out of the pockets of the motorists of Sydney. And I think the NSW Government should be honest about the implications of privatisation, what it means for the family budget, what the impact is for cost of living, and the real detrimental impact that they’re having on the economy of many, many families in Western Sydney, as well as many businesses that have to operate logistic and transport companies operating right throughout Sydney metropolitan area. It’s a huge impost, a huge cost that they have to bear each and every day. It is in fact a secret tax on the families in Sydney.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask on media reports from over the weekend that the vast majority of families with ISIS terrorists are likely to be resettled in Sydney and I just wanted to get your response, is that something that should be welcomed or do you harbour concerns about that?
MINNS: I’d like to see some more information as to what the implications are for Sydney, what the security checks have been done, what the suggested processes from the federal government will be before resettling takes place in Sydney. Obviously, it’s a complex and difficult area to navigate but the safety of the people of New South Wales must be the priority and I’m sure it is from the federal government. So more information obviously is needed, we’d like to see how that progresses in the coming days.
JOURNALIST: Chris just [inaudible] about $130 being added to the cost of people’s water bills if the level of Warragamba Dam is lowered? Is that still a plan that you guys are looking at closely?
MINNS: We need to get the Warragamba Dam issue in perspective and really understand the full context there. There’s a few things related to the raising of Warragamba Dam wall, which I think are important for NSW taxpayers, the original cost was $650 million, it’s now over $1.6 billion and importantly, that doesn’t include any environmental offsets that will have to be borne by NSW taxpayers. That could be upwards of a billion dollars extra. Now not one inch of concrete has been laid on the site, we have no idea how long the project from the planning phase to the construction phase would take place. The NSW Government continues to insist that this is an urgent priority, notwithstanding the fact that they’ve done nothing about the project for 12 years in New South Wales. The other issue here is that 45 per cent of floodwaters in the floodplain in the northwest of Sydney and in the Penrith region come from tributaries and rivers other than over Warragamba Dam, so it’s the Gross the Colos, the South Creek and the Nepean. Now, fixing Warragamba Dam or raising the Warragamba Dam wall won’t fix those flooding impacts for those other parts of Sydney. The other point of this which is important and one of the reasons we’re investigating all options other than raising Warragamba Dam is that the NSW Government in their own planning documents is putting in a provision to build a second desalination plant, whether it’s at its current site at Kurnell, or potentially a second facility in the Illawarra. So I think a responsible thing for any political leader to do would be to look at our water capacity where it will come from, how it will grow with Sydney’s population needs and if in the end, we need to build a second desalination plant in any event, well, that would be a responsible thing for the NSW Government or the Opposition to look at. I think the government’s being disingenuous when they don’t reveal that their own planning documents suggest that they’re pursuing a second desalination plant in Sydney.
JOURNALIST: So is your preference to lower the dam level?
MINNS: No, we’re looking at all potential suggestions when it comes to flood mitigation. But as I said, there’s complicating factors when it comes to the flood risk in the northwest of Sydney and in the Penrith region, whether it’s the 45 per cent of floodwaters that don’t come over the top of Warragamba Dam, and are there more cost effective, innovative ways of reducing the flood risk for those communities that don’t destroy the NSW taxpayers’ bank balance?
JOURNALIST: Just on WestInvest, the government’s making another WestInvest funding announcement today, it’s the second one in two days and there are several of these projects expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Are you concerned this amounts to pork barrelling?
MINNS: I wouldn’t call it that but I think it’s very important to note that this is already the taxpayer of New South Wales money. It’s been handed back to a few discreet projects chosen by the NSW Government, but it has effectively been paid for out of the hundreds of million dollars that will come out of the pockets of the families of Western Sydney via toll roads. So every time you hear that beep, you’ll be paying in effect for some kind of project in Western Sydney. But it’s a huge discrepancy between the two figures, over $100 billion in today’s dollars, in net present value from the NSW taxpayer and $5 billion going into certain projects in Western Sydney. I don’t think it’s a fair trade off for the many, many people that have to rely on our toll road network and it seems like Mr. Perrottet is standing up every 24 hours, expecting the people of this state to be grateful for the fact that he privatised the toll road network. We are already the most tolled city on the face of the earth, we effectively have a 100 per cent privately owned toll road monopoly. One company owns all or part of the M2, the M4, the M5, the M5 East, the M7, the M8, the Cross City Tunnel, the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Eastern Distributor and the NorthConnex, that situation, that economic situation that is putting a secret tax on the families of Western Sydney has been brought to you by the Premier of New South Wales Dominic Perrottet, and it’s a direct broken election promise from the 2019 state election.
JOURNALIST: What can you do to unravel those contracts?
MINNS: We’re gonna release our plan in relation to cost of living particularly in relation to tolls closer to the NSW election, but I’ll be clear and honest about it, it’s a difficult situation because the NSW Government under the Liberals who are obsessed with privatisation have sold off the concessions with contracts that extend for many decades and they were warned not to do it, they promised not to do it at the last NSW election. It’s a huge hidden burden on the families of NSW and I suspect if the NSW Government is re-elected in March next year, you’ll see more of it. I mean, if they went to the last election, promising no more privatisations and effectively broke that promise almost immediately, imagine what they will sell off if they’re re-elected in March next year.
JOURNALIST: Just one more on the dam, I’m not sure if you’ve seen the report, but do you accept that lowering the level of Warragamba Dam would add $130 on average to the family household bill?
MINNS: So it’s really important to note that the government hasn’t released that report, they haven’t issued it to the New South Wales public. We’d like to see all, if any information in relation to water mitigation measures, whether it’s extra capacity for Sydney’s drinking water, or to reduce the risk of flooding in the flood prone regions of Sydney’s northwest and west. But I want to make this point really clear, a second desalination plant is currently being considered by the NSW Government today as a result of their Sydney metropolitan water plan, whether it’s in the Illawarra or in the current site in Kurnell, one of the limitations associated with increasing the capacity of the desalination plant was the privatisation of it in 2012, a decision that I don’t think should have been made by the NSW Government at the time, which is the current NSW Government, the Liberals and Nationals.
JOURNALIST: What happens to residents now while the opposition and the government decide about what plan might work with this dam, do you think they should be releasing more spills from the dam?
MINNS: That’s a complicated venture primarily because legislation potentially needs to be changed to allow it going from a water storage dam, to a flood mitigation dam. Under the current licensing regime in New South Wales, it can’t automatically be done. In other words, my understanding is that a bureaucrat can’t make a decision to release floodwaters from Warragamba to ease the immediate flood risk or pressure. Now, there are some academics and water experts that suggests that if you can look at short term and medium term weather patterns, then you can potentially assess and look at releasing some of that water and creating some airspace before the weather circumstances change, whether it’s five metres or more. Now, I’m not an expert in that area, but that has been some of the expertise that’s coming the NSW Government’s way. I know that’s partly the way they’ve managed why Wivenhoe Dam in Brisbane, and obviously the NSW Government should look at that. But I just make the point in relation to second desalination plant, it’s a bit rich for the NSW Government to be criticising others for looking at it or investigating it as a source of flood mitigation or extra capacity for Sydney’s drinking water supply when the government itself has been looking at the exact same proposal for the last five to 10 years.
JOURNALIST: Chris you labelled the NSW Government’s John Barilaro appointment as a job for a mate, is you Albanese governments appointment of Stephen Smith to London also to a job for a mate and if not why not?
MINNS: I think that there’s essential differences in relation to that. Firstly, obviously, the ambassadorial appointments to major foreign capitals has been the core responsibility of the Commonwealth Government for a long time and I didn’t criticise the previous government for appointing former politicians to senior ambassadorial ranks around the world. Our key criticism of the NSW Government is that this was a job invented by the NSW Liberals and Nationals and eventually given to one of the members of the Liberal National Government. It was a job that previously hadn’t existed, it paid $500,000 dollars a year in salary and $100,000 a year in expenses. The expenses alone were more than a nurse would earn in a NSW public hospital, and they were the grounds in which we criticised the NSW Government for appointing one of their mates. It wasn’t an established or important ambassadorial position around the world, in fact, indeed, and in implication was a job for a mate.
JOURNALIST: Just today on media reports regarding the housing crisis, service providers are reporting that they’re just bursting at the seams with newly homeless people accessing their support, what is Labor’s plan to tackle that come March?
MINNS: It’s obviously a very difficult situation and we’ve been cognizant of that fact for a long time. And, you know, we’re quiet, obviously understanding when we when we criticise NSW Government for policy decisions that they make we do so in the knowledge that there’s a better way and I’ve noted for a long period of time that the housing crisis in NSW is brought about by a large confluence of factors that are not all the responsibility of the NSW Government, whether its Commonwealth factors, whether its demand and supply issues associated with the NSW housing market. I think it’s the responsibility of all political leaders to work towards mitigating some of these problems, and we’ll have more to say closer to the NSW election.
One of the things I don’t support and we wouldn’t support is a move to a land tax on the family home. It’s a decision that the NSW Government is pursuing, they’re potentially indicating expanding the regime to having more properties and more residential addresses subject to a land tax on the family home, something that we haven’t had in New South Wales before, we’ve had it on investment properties and properties that aren’t your primary residence, but we’ve never had it on the family homes in New South Wales. In the long run, you’ll pay far more on land tax in a yearly poll tax that you pay to the NSW Government than you will in stamp duty and I think that’s unfair, particularly for first time buyers.