Saturday, March 28, 2009


smh, 28.3.09

A SALE of public assets that may include privatising the state's ports and the electricity industry are on the agenda of a future Coalition government.

The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, also confirmed he may outsource part of the Department of Community Services' work.

In an interview with the Herald to mark two years until the next election, Mr O'Farrell said he was open to privatisations to improve the state's financial standing provided they met "a public interest test".

A Coalition government would also look to move to a policy of devolution in both the education and health portfolios to give schools and hospitals more of a say in how the systems worked.
Mr O'Farrell has also taken the unusual step of saying that if elected he would hope to serve two terms then retire.

"I believe I'll be premier in two years' time, I believe I'll be leader in two years' time and I believe I'll be leader in six years' time," he said.

"I think it's going to take two terms to fix the state. I have no ambition beyond that. I suppose some might say hoping to win two elections is a mighty ambition. I'd like to see the job through … but I tell you what, after half a term in office, let alone a full term, people will notice the difference."

Coalition sources have said the ports sale was being pushed by the National Party Leader, Andrew Stoner, and could reap more than $1 billion.

Asked if he would consider selling the state's ports, Mr O'Farrell said: "We have a public interest test and we will do what we believe is in the public interest to deliver this state the services. We were out there arguing that Sydney Ferries should be contracted out, we strongly believe that … [the] pretence that government can do everything has failed.

"As long as we convince the public that what we're on about is in their interest and as long as we're up front with them in advance of the election, they will give us a go."

He said the theory an incoming government could have one set of policies before an election and a tougher and more unpopular set once it came into office would not work for the Coalition because it was likely it would face a hostile upper house.

"We need a big win to demonstrate we've got the mandate to make the changes and we need to enunciate those changes in advance if we're going to have any chance of implementing the reforms that are required."

Mr O'Farrell said non-government agencies should be allowed to do more of the work that is done now by the Department of Community Services. He said this had been recommended by Justice James Wood in his recent report on the community services sector.

"I've been out with Burnside Uniting Care; I've seen the great work that they do and I think that the non-government sector have a greater capacity to deal with individual cases with the sort of sensitivity and care that they [deserve]," Mr O'Farrell said.

Asked if he would press ahead with electricity privatisation, he said it would depend on the "shape of the emissions trading scheme" and the economic situation. "The Liberal-National

Parties don't have a problem with private sector involvement in energy or any other sector but … it has to be about ensuring that what's been delivered to the public is fair and reasonable and not a knockdown sale price."

He reaffirmed his commitment to to the dumped north-west and south-west rail link proposals and did not rule out public service job cuts to rein in recurrent spending, which would allow for more spending on infrastructure.

Asked how confident he was of winning the election on March 26, 2011, Mr O'Farrell said: "I'm as confident as someone who's been part of a party that's failed at four elections will ever allow themselves to be.

"[But] I believe that we'll be in office in two years' time."

Internal critics of the Opposition Leader say he is "cautious" and not a "reformer" but Mr O'Farrell said of those who give him such titles: "They're the people that said we couldn't fix our party. They're the people that said that O'Farrell wouldn't be standing two years on. I don't care what people say about me.

"All I know is I'm determined to fundamentally change the way in which NSW is governed."

He was not concerned about campaigns of industrial action should he be elected and press ahead with privatisations. "When we last got to office [in 1988], the Labor Council had a choice of either fighting it every inch of the way or getting on and doing the job for their workers.

"From memory there was a one-day stoppage … in transport, there was a day of action in relation to education and other than that [they] got on and respected the mandate."