The only way to protect the vulnerable in society is to protect the budget, Premier Mike Baird asserted ahead of next month’s election in New South Wales, in defence of his program of asset recycling.
New infrastructure projects funded by the sale of existing assets are the lynchpin of the Liberal Premier’s plan to protect the budget and continue to grow the NSW economy, thereby delivering improved services including transportation, health and education to the population. Baird was speaking at the committee of economic development of Australia (CEDA) economic and political overview 2015.
“Congestion costs the economy $5 billion to $8 billion a year,” Baird said. “Rather than just fixing the problems, I want to get ahead of them. The funds released from asset sales will give us a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”
The recycling of assets has already financed the Dubbo and Wagga Wagga hospital upgrades. The north-west rail link, an infrastructure project promised since 1998, is well underway and under budget, according to Baird, with many other projects poised to be given the go-ahead, such as increasing the capacity of the Bankstown train line by 100,000 commuters an hour.
“This is making a huge difference not just in infrastructure, but in driving the economy,” Baird said.
The NSW economy has jumped from last amongst the states in 2010 to the largest in Australia today, experiencing a growth of $40 billion in the past four years with an additional 126,000 more jobs being created.
“In the corridors of parliament Labour knows that this is the right strategy,” he said. “Everyone is saying this has to be done, but a scare campaign is easy to run. The scare campaign will come and we know it’s not true. Use the independent reports, don’t just rely on me.”
He added that there are only two ways to fund infrastructure projects and avoid the “clear and present danger that the momentum will stall and head back”. Those two methods are putting up taxes or looking at the balance sheet.
“I would ask Luke Foyle (the opposition leader) is he planning to raise taxes?”
Baird explained that the political volatility in other states, leading to infrastructure deals collapsing, has had an impact on businesses, citing Victoria and Queensland as examples. But he feels their instability offers NSW an opportunity.
“I am going to aggressively target Victoria and Queensland for businesses to invest in NSW,” he said.
Baird said his infrastructure plans were ambitious and different from what has been done before, but there was the capacity and funding to go alongside it, all for the greater purpose of improving NSW.
“Numbers on the page are not the real bottom line,” Baird said. “We need to take the vulnerable and disadvantaged with us.”