My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for 27 June 2017: Budget surplus of $4.5 billion nothing to celebrate

by ray goodlass

The coffers of the NSW government are overflowing with a surplus of $4.5 billion, and billions are to be spent on school and hospital infrastructure, but before you pop the champagne corks think where all that money came from, and whether the announced expenditure is the best that can be done with it.

The money largely came from the government’s privatisation neo-liberal ideology, that is, the sale of public assets, most recently and notably the sale of our electricity supply’s ‘poles and wires’ to private enterprise. This is really bad policy because once such an asset has been sold it is gone forever, along of course with the income it generated for us year in year out.

A large proportion of the surplus was also thanks to stamp duty. This was largely because of the huge surge in Sydney property prices, but the government seems blithely unaware that it can’t last forever. The property boom is looking more and more like a bubble, and as history has taught us, bubbles always burst.

Now on to the cash splash. On the face of it $2.2 billion for school infrastructure seems on face value to be welcome news, but once the distribution of funds is understood, the real benefit of this expenditure can be seen for what it is, the blatant use of public funds to help the Coalition win the next election.

The Liberal/National coalition government has not conducted any sort of needs-based school assessment, for if it had the result would certainly not result in expenditure going to 77 Coalition seats but only 39 to Labour seats, with to 4 independent and Greens seats. It is just another example of the incumbent government using public funds at the expense of our neediest children to improve their electoral chances.

So what more could they have done with this short term surplus? Something to help the environment, which they have been busily trashing, would have been a good start. Greens MP and Environment Spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC said that the budget completely failed the environment and ignored climate change while squirreling away billions of dollars in surpluses.

With such a large surplus they could have also done something constructive for first home buyers. Cutting stamp duty on homes up to $650,000 for first home buyers is totally unrealistic in the Sydney market, for with metropolitan median house price of more than $1 million this policy helps very few people living there buy their first home.

Regional public transport has also missed out. Though the Government has acknowledged regional NSW will have a population of 3.4 million by 2031 there is no significant planning or investment in public transport.

The budget has failed yet again to make much needed investment in active transport modes, for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure were allocated less than 0.5% of the total transport spend. An odd omission, given traffic congestion and the ever increasing levels of obesity afflicting our population.

And though the Liberal Party and its Nationals allies are trumpeting Wagga’s wins, one new public school in an undisclosed location, after years of neglect of the existing ones, and a paltry $4 million for the hospital, which is a drop in the ocean towards finishing it, are hardly anything to shout about.