In his NSW state election post-mortem comments, Peter Manbed is right about only one thing- this is Labor’s last chance.
Voters returned Labor to NSW government despite a conga line of cockups, mainly because Peter Manbed was viewed to be an out-of-touch fatcat from the big end of town with no concept of life in the real world, but the electorate’s ire with Howard was a big factor as well.
Howard thinks that WorkChoices wasn’t a factor in the NSW result. Wrong, bucko. While a federal level matter, WorkChoices did indeed play in NSW voters’ decisions. Manbed had claimed that as Premier, he would have no problem with complying with WorkChoices- and would hand control of NSW workplace relations to Canberra. I believe Labor would have done much worse than just suffering a ~5% swing against them and losing 3 seats- had it not been for many begrudging votes, not so much for Labor and Iemma but against WorkChoices. The Greens appear to have picked up many voters lost by bad Labor policy (including me). I do believe this will be repeated at the federal elections. Quiver, Johnny. You have good cause to fear- ratbaggery is no longer working to hold the Labor vote in check.
To be reasonably fair to Iemma, he’s inherited most of NSW’s problems from the Carr government. It was Robert John Carr, someone I once had glowing respect for, who negotiated the toll-road and tunnel PPP contracts, allowed public healthcare to slip to maddening if not threatening levels of paucity, failed to come up with effective public transport schemes and maintain/improve public transit infrastructure. The blush was really off the rose with my opinion of Mr Carr when he walked out of his Premiership and into an office at Macquarie Bank with not so much as a stop for a sandwich. Mac Bank is a financier of tunnel projects and the Kingsford-Smith Airport. More concerning yet, Mac Bank will get to ‘double dip’ if the sale of Qantas goes through with the blessing of ACCC, with Mac Bank permitted to set the airport facilities rates it will charge to its own airline. NO conflict of interest there…
The delay in opening the Lane Cove Tunnel until the day after the election (with a $25 million dollar bonus to the contractor for delaying the opening- the tunnel has been ready for weeks) was a cynical Iemma manoevre, one which reveals the Labor government’s solid knowledge of how much we hate toll roads. However, it’s not the toll roads and tunnels themselves nor the extra $20 per week for drivers which must pass through the tunnel areas which are at the core of our hatred- it’s the ‘tunnel funnel’ traffic redistribution.
Blocking perfectly good free public roads forces drivers to use the toll roads. The toll roads are run by private companies which set prices at will and respond to shareholders interests- not those of the greater community who are forced to use the toll roads. In reaction to community fury, Iemma backpedalled at Mach III, re-opening some blocked roads around the Cross-City tunnel, which has since financially failed due to extreme overestimates of how much traffic the tunnel would attract. Protesting drivers have studiously avoided the tunnel, raising the craft of rat-running around the toll roads to a high art. While tunnel-funnelling does force some drivers to use the toll facilities, it is simply impossible to block them all. The avoidance of toll roads and tunnels forces drivers to use much slower routes and spend many more hours idling engines in city traffic, creating even more pollution than before the tunnels were opened.
The toll roads are “public-private” partnerships, for sure… but the ‘public’ part of that pair is the government, not the people of NSW. I’m fairly confident NSW voters never were polled in the Carr years on allowing our public roads to be hijacked by private profiteers.
Somewhere along the line, governments developed a fear of deficit financing and operating to the benefit of the public. If governments must be run like a business, they should more resemble a non-profit organisation. The massive US interstate highway system was built mainly as a defence project, but was financed with public debt over some decades. The economic payback from the freely available roads has covered the cost of the US freeway infrastructure in increased business and income tax revenue many, many times over. Toll roads do shift the cost to the users of the road, but this results in seriously unbalanced cost imposts on a very few members of the community and none on the community at large who don’t use them. Narrowing the main financing base of large physical infrastructure to only the very frequent users runs a great risk of insolvency if there’s a boycott by the potential users- as has happened with the Cross-City tunnel debacle.
Let’s hope that Rudd’s publicly financed broadband backbone plan is indicative of a broader commitment to use government economic power for nation-building. Public-private partnerships which don’t work on NSW roads are unlikely to work any better in a publicly accessible high-speed data backbone.
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