The inability of the Liberal Party to find candidates for Hunter seats for the March New South Wales state election suggests that even its party faithful recognise that Gladys Berejiklian’s Coalition government is headed for electoral defeat and, probably, a total wipe-out in the Hunter.
Key government decisions have been a disaster for this region. For example, with the buses privatised, getting around is now more difficult; selling the Port has limited our economic potential; and $100 million has been siphoned from Hunter Water.
Whatever the election result, the Coalition will still in effect win if a victorious NSW Labor leaves in place the government’s more toxic policies.
At this stage, for example, Labor has only committed to telling private bus company Keolis Downer to fix its timetables rather than pledge to reverse the privatisation.
Labor also faces other key policy tests for the Hunter, including the need to:
• Reverse the privatisation of the Port and open it up so that our economy can move beyond coal exports;
• Cancel the hugely wasteful private tollway scams in Sydney and spend the $25 billion saved on public transport and regional services;
• Undo the damage done to TAFE under previous Labor and Coalition governments;
• Transition to renewable energy by opposing seismic testing for offshore drilling, make the break from coal and ban fracking;
• Build and maintain the inter-urban rail fleet locally, and;
• Keep Stockton Centre open and in public hands.
Chances are that an incoming Labor government will take instructions from those treasury bureaucrats who have close links to corporate interests that favour coal, privatisation and tollways.
Will Hunter Labor MPs be prepared to break ranks with the party machine and vote against party decisions that are bad for the region?
There is an emerging gap between the policies typically adopted by state governments — privatisation, tollways and casualization, for example — and broad support for public hospitals, schools, TAFE and decent, secure jobs.
Labor’s past performance in government indicates that the wrong people may well continue to put corporate interests first and make decisions that are bad for the Hunter.
Our ongoing challenge will be to hold the government to account and formulate equitable and just solutions to regional problems.
[Stephen O’Brien is a Socialist Alliance member in Newcastle. First published in the Newcastle Herald.]