Mike Baird will take a policy to lease 49 per cent of the electricity network for 99 years to next year’s election. Photo: Kate GeraghtyNSW opposition leader John Robertson has accused Premier Mike Baird of “holding a gun” to the head of voters by promising to only fund billions of dollars worth of infrastructure if they agree to the privatisation of the state’s electricity network.
In his budget reply speech delivered in the NSW Parliament on Thursday, Mr Robertson said Mr Baird’s predecessor Barry O’Farrell “never accepted the proposition that selling the poles and wires was necessary to build infrastructure”.
Mr Baird has announced he will take a policy to lease 49 per cent of the electricity network for 99 years to next year’s election and use the anticipated $20 billion proceeds to build infrastructure including a second harbour rail crossing and extensions to the WestConnex motorway.
“[Mr O’Farrell’s] replacement as Premier is holding a gun to everybody’s head,” Mr Robertson said.
He described Mr Baird’s infrastructure commitments, such as the WestConnex motorway, as a “mirage” and claimed the government had “produced more animations than Walt Disney and Pixar”.
Mr Robertson used his final budget reply before the election to cast Mr Baird, the former Treasurer, as the architect of deep cuts in the first three years of the Coalition government.
As Treasurer Mr Baird oversaw cuts to departmental budgets, including in health and education, a cap on public servant wage rises and announced 15,000 public service redundancies in order to achieve what he calls “sustainable finances”.
Referring to the unpopular federal budget cuts announced in May, Mr Robertson accused Mr Baird of allowing Prime Minister Tony Abbott to “get away with” $2 billion worth of cuts over five years to health and education funding in NSW.
“After four Liberal budgets in NSW, it’s clear that Mike Baird is no antidote to Tony Abbott,” he said.
Mr Baird and Mr Abbott had “forgotten what it’s like to struggle to pay the bills”.
Mr Robertson used his speech to announce three new policy initiatives should Labor be returned to government.
He promised to “scrap the heartless changes” to WorkCover which saw benefits to injured workers cut to rein in the cost of the scheme; to cap TAFE fees at 2014 levels with increases restricted to inflation; and to commission a “landmark review of education and training in NSW after Year 10”.
Mr Robertson said the education and training review would be conducted by a “pre-eminent expert” and focus on how to improve vocation education to improve the needs of young school leavers.
“Something precious has been lost” in NSW and across Australia during the three years of the O’Farrell/Baird government and the nine months of the Abbott government, Mr Robertson said.
“NSW Labor will fight the Baird budget just as fiercely as we will fight the Abbott budget,” he said.
“And we will work towards delivering a government in NSW that puts people first.”