Sunday, January 02, 2011


How I'd fix up our state

02 January 2011

AWU National Secretary Paul Howes' opinion piece written for The Sunday Telegraph on 02 January 2011

I am a big fan of Kristina Keneally. Always have been.

I liked her long before she became NSW Premier. I've always thought she has the attributes required for good leadership.

However, I'll admit that lately it's become difficult to be much enthused about the NSW Labor government.

And while I'm a strong proponent of the notion that the worst Labor government will always be better than the best Liberal government, my partisanship has taken a beating in recent times.

For even its most loyal supporters (such as myself) it's hard to say exactly what NSW Labor has going for it right now.

The party has accomplished much in the past, which is probably why the people of NSW have put State Labor into power for 52 of the past 70 years.

However, for the past couple of years NSW Labor's stocks have been low and the handling of the Gentrader electricity privatisation hasn't helped one bit. But, if the Government is serious about at least trying to be re-elected, it's time the Premier began outlining and, more importantly, implementing plans to improve NSW. And there's a lot left to do.

So if I were to compile a wish list of things that I'd like to see a Labor government do in the event of it being re-elected, it might look something like this:

1 Build a rapid public transport system for Sydney.

The city's present heavy rail system dates back to around 1850, before which carrier pigeons were still the best way to send a message across town.

So although it has served the community well, it's time for it to join the 21st century or, if that's too ambitious, time it at least caught up with the 20th century.

Labor did have ill-conceived plans for a metro system which was rightly scrapped, but it can still begin planning a proper, well-designed, rapid mass-transit system.

After all, a metro doesn't mean abandoning our current CityRail network; it can complement and enhance existing links. It needn't take forever. The Shanghai Metro was opened in 1995and now has 273 stations and moves more than seven million people daily.

2 Build the M4 East to link the M4 with the City West link.

This must be the most obvious thing for a Labor government to do.

Sydney would have to be one of the only international cities where there is no motorway linking its two major business centres (the CBD and Parramatta in Sydney).

Not only would this make sense, but it would also be a great piece of infrastructure servicing the city's western suburbs.

3 Link the F3 Freeway with the Gore Hill Freeway.

Surely it's about time we were able to drive from Newcastle and the Central Coast to the Sydney CBD on a motorway.

Having to hop off the F3 at Hornsby and struggle along the Pacific Highway to the Gore Hill Freeway provides yet another reminder of the many black holes in Sydney's infrastructure.

4 Build more light rail.

I've never been able to understand the hostility to light rail. It's cheap, effective, popular and quick.

You can literally build a light rail line in a matter of months.

Thankfully, Labor has begun extending the existing light rail network to Dulwich Hill from Lilyfield, but it should go further.

A line from Central up Anzac Parade to UNSW or even Maroubra would alleviate huge pressures on the roads in the eastern suburbs.

It could also go from Central to Circular Quay and even right up the middle of Parramatta Rd from Central to the Parramatta CBD.

A similar system has been achieved in Adelaide, so why not in Sydney?

5 Amalgamate the councils.

It amazes me that we still have micro-governments making major planning decisions which, if the outcome is wrong, can take decades to rectify.

Most other states have managed to reform their local government structures to create sustainable, well-resourced, professional councils that are able to engage in long-term decision-making. NSW is crying out for this type of reform.

6 Create an independent infrastructure authority to achieve growth in regional NSW.

Living in Sydney, it's easy to forget that NSW is a big place and that NSW doesn't stand for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong.

But if we're going to take full advantage of the potential of regional NSW, we need to do more to encourage growth in the State's regions, much like Victoria has.

An independent planning body, similar to Infrastructure Australia and working in tandem with properly amalgamated councils, could see regional NSW really prosper.

7 Allow an inquiry into the sale of the electricity assets.

Several weeks ago, I wrote that I was unhappy with the way in which the State's electricity assets were being privatised.

Since then, my concerns have only increased. But if the Government has nothing to hide, and I'm sure it doesn't, there is nothing to stop it allowing the Upper House to investigate the sale. Of course, all this may well be too little, too late.

But with three months of this term of government still left to run, it may be time to show people what Labor can really do. After all, what has NSW Labor got left to lose?