David Shoebridge: ‘Keep public assets in public hands’

March 19, 2011
David Shoebridge.

In the midst of widespread anger at the on-going privatisation agenda, blatant corruption and developer connections of the New South Wales Labor government, the Liberal/National Coalition appears set to romp home in the March 26 NSW elections.

With a Coalition government likely to extend the privatisation agenda even further, including massive cuts to the public sector and public services, the NSW Greens’ have come under fire for failing to direct their preferences to Labor.

Green Left Weekly’s Kiraz Janicke spoke to the Greens’ lead upper house candidate, David Shoebridge, about the issues facing the people of NSW and why there will be no state-wide preference deal with Labor.

* * *

What do the Greens view as the key issues facing the people of NSW in these state elections?

The big centrepiece of our campaign is “NSW is not for sale”, maintaining public assets and public services in public hands.

Make no mistake, our electricity industry, our ferries, our public services are under threat of privatisation, either directly by the Coalition, or by stealth, through programs of outsourcing, downsizing, franchising, rationalising. This is all code for privatisation from the NSW Coalition.

It’s going to hurt families and its going to hurt the public estate here in NSW. The Greens are making a very strong pitch in these elections to talk about the need to protect our public services, to protect our public assets, not only for this generation, but for future generations.

There are some other very substantial issues. We want to absolutely reform the planning laws. We’ve seen them become effectively lawless here in NSW with things like Barangaroo and Part 3 A. The Greens want to see a genuinely independent state planning commission put in place and a return to rule of law in planning decisions.

We also think there’s a need to talk about social justice in this election. The Greens are launching a “more justice with fewer jails” package this weekend. We want to turn around the ever increasing number of prisoners being held in our jails. Our prisoner numbers have increased from 6000 to almost 11 000 over the course of the current administration. Currently we are spending $1.4 billion dollars a year on jailing adults and juveniles here in NSW.

We want to turn that around. We want to reform the bail laws, reform the sentencing laws, reform the juvenile justice sector and spend money on mental health, giving kids a feed and fund public libraries as key access points for Aboriginal and disadvantaged children. If we do that right, we can have stronger, more resilient communities and save over $600 million over the next four years.

We are proposing a real law and order option that’s about getting that money back into the community.

One of the other issues is investing in public education. We launched a public education package yesterday, which is talking about redirecting funding from those 79 elite private schools, right back into the most disadvantaged and needy state schools.
Because the greatest single tool for equity, advancement and fairness here in NSW is our terrific public school sector.

That is why the Greens are talking about redirecting funding from those elite private schools, back into our public school sector to ensure that we have equity, so that every child has the best chance at an education, regardless of what is in the parent’s wallet.

We also have a program to rollout two years of publicly funded pre-school education. That’s the OECD average. That’s what we need to ensure that kids get the proper start in life. We have a package to roll it out firstly to the most disadvantaged and to the Aboriginal community. And then, from 2018, roll it out across the state.

Getting NSW back to the top of the pack nationally in terms of our dental health expenditure is another issue. That will require an additional $102 million dollars per annum to make sure our public dental health system has the same per capita funding as it has in Queensland.

Unless we invest in public dental health, we are going to continue to have especially young people and the elderly, particularly in rural areas, suffering impacts of bad oral health, including lost days at school, hospitalisations, decreased quality of life because they just can’t get the dental health care that they need., for six to sometimes 12 months, because of the absence of public spending on dental health.

Public services, public assets, public education, social justice, these are four key issues, as well as kick starting the renewable energy sector.

Another recent policy initiative the Greens just announced was the proposal to build three solar thermal power plants in NSW, one of the aspects of that proposal was the call for those solar thermal plants to be publicly funded and owned. Could you explain why the Greens called for that?

Well first of all we are calling for this plan to spark the renewable energy revolution here in NSW. Central western NSW is some of the best solar real estate anywhere in Australia, and we can provide real baseload solar thermal electricity from three new base load solar thermal plants.

The reason we are calling for them to be publicly owned and publicly funded is two-fold; one is that these kind of natural monopolies should be held in public hands to provide power and profits for the people of NSW, not for private corporations.

Second it makes sense on simple narrow economics to keep it in public hands, because the public sector can borrow at reduced borrowing costs to the private sector. We can borrow the money through a set of state government bonds, at reduced rates, meaning they are more economically viable if they are built by the public purse.

It would be in the public estate and we can then have the public sector driving that investment, driving those skills, to build a whole new industry here in NSW.

There’s been a debate in NSW about preferences. The number one candidate on the ALP’s Legislative Council ticket is Treasurer Eric Roozendaal, but the number six candidate is former NSW secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) Andrew Ferguson.

Ferguson has argued that if he fails to get elected it will be the responsibility of the Greens for exhausting their preferences in the upper house. What do you say to that claim?

Well firstly it’s the NSW Labor machine that put Andrew Ferguson at number six and right-wing apparatchiks like Eric Roozendaal and Greg Donnelly at number one and two and planning minister Tony Kelly at number five — all ahead of Andrew Ferguson.

People should be looking at the Labor machine for where they place candidates on their ticket. It’s not the responsibility of the Greens, or the fault of the Greens, but of the NSW Labor machine, that a quality candidate like Andrew Ferguson is in such an untenable seat.

It’s untenable because of the gross mal-administration of the NSW Labor Party over the last sixteen years, not because of anything the Greens have done. So it’s a rather odd suggestion that somehow the Greens are responsible for putting Andrew Ferguson at number six. That’s a decision of NSW Labor’s ugly right-wing machine, not the NSW Greens, and that’s who people should be addressing their criticism to.

But also, since optional preferential voting started in 2003, something like less than one in five voters actually preference, and then only a proportion of those would follow a party’s how-to-vote ticket. So we are talking about a fraction of a fraction of voters actually preferencing in any state election in the NSW Upper House.

And that means that since optional preferential voting came in, preferences have had no impact at all on the final outcome of the Upper House elections. It’s been decided on the first primary vote and that’s what this election will be about, primary votes. Every primary vote is worth more than ten times a preference vote.

Given the NSW Labor Party’s gross mal-administration over the last sixteen years and given that they are so on the nose with the NSW electorate, if the Greens had have recommended a preference to a ticket headed by the likes of Eric Roozendal, we would have substantially reduced our primary vote.

That would have a far greater impact than any preferences and would far more likely lead to conservative control of the Upper House.

So the Greens have very clear agenda; maintaining progressive control of the NSW Upper House, ensuring that it doesn’t fall into the hands of the likes of the Shooter’s Party and the Coalition who — I might add — Labor have done deal after deal with in the last decade.

The best way of ensuring that it doesn’t fall into their hands is maximising the primary vote for the Greens and therefore maximising progressive control of the Upper House.

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