When Dominic Perrottet became the premier of New South Wales last October, after Gladys shuffled off after a brush with ICAC, I was filled with a degree of optimism. Here was a truly conservative politician, an elected person who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.
One of my mates based in NSW was quick to set me straight. There was no way Perrottet would live up to my aspirations. He didn’t (and doesn’t) have the numbers, the ‘moderates’ (aka Labor-lites) in the NSW party call the shots and Perrottet would be no better than the wet leaders who preceded him.
How right was my friend! In many ways, Perrottet is worse than Gladys because he now goes against pretty much everything he once stood for. Where he once mocked the idea of having the indigenous flag flying from the harbour bridge, and other virtue-signalling paraphernalia, he now commands that the flag become a permanent feature – even at a cost of $25 million.
(Let’s just hope he has the time to get down to Bunnings to undercut the preferred provider of the new pole and flag. $25 million sounds a tad steep even if you are telling the world what a good person you are.)
And what’s all that stuff about the ‘ideological climate war’ Perrottet has been going on about and the ludicrous notion that the ‘state’s renewable target [50 per cent cut by 2030] will help future-proof its power supply’? Is he nuts? He might not have the numbers, but why would he actually make these remarks?
Now perhaps he has had a bad dose of green fever, but what explains his reference to an ‘entire lost decade’? Evidently, the ‘issue here, that NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia are dealing with now, has been a lack of private sector investment’.
The thing is, he’s talking through his hat. Since 2012, more than 90 per cent of investment in electricity generation in the eastern states has been in wind and solar. And, in per capita terms, Australia has the highest rate of renewable grid-scale generation in the world. It’s about ten times the world average.
The real problem in NSW (and the other eastern states) is that there has been no net investment in reliable, 24/7 generation, and that’s the key to explaining the crisis overwhelming the National Electricity Market.
Mind you, I should have been on to Perrottet well before he became premier. It was obvious that he was captured by investment bank types and the ‘miracle’ of modern financial management. He had been persuaded to set up the NSW Generations Fund to be run by a division of Treasury, TCorp.
Using the proceeds from the sale of the first tranche of WestConnex, the extremely well-paid staff of TCorp (average salary above $300,000 per year) were given free rein to bet taxpayer funds on the vagaries of the international equity and bond markets. Notwithstanding designating one of the sub-funds for the purpose of debt reduction, in point of fact the fund has been used to place some big financial bets, with the result being a great deal of red ink in 2022.
Perrottet was also the father (he is rather good at that role) of the highly dubious Transport Asset Holding Entity in which the assets and the liabilities of the public transport system were hived off into an off-budget fund, in part to disguise the amount of public debt being carried by the state.
I’m not sure too many readers will query my description of Perrottet as dumb, therefore. But when it comes to dumber, there are no prizes for guessing that Matt Kean, newly installed NSW treasurer (and still environment minister, groan) takes that title.
The fact that NSW now takes out the wooden spoon as worst fiscal performer, edging out the profligate and irresponsible states of Queensland and Victoria, is really all you need to know. Take a look at the figures and weep.
In 2020-21, net government debt in NSW was $37 billion. In this financial year, it will be $78 billion. That’s an increase of 110 per cent in two years! By 2025-26, net government debt in NSW is expected to reach $115 billion. (At least, the asset recycling program of former premier, Mike Baird, did actually involve paying down the debt even though it included some dodgy deals.)
Matt Kean’s first Budget is a spendathon, with the 2022-23 budget deficit coming in at over $11 billion. It’s not until 2024-25 that a very slim surplus is expected; I wouldn’t advise readers to hold their breath on that outcome. Where once we might have expected a centre-right government – pause here for unconstrained laughter – to be fiscally responsible, Mr Dumber is proposing to outspend Labor states and increase government debt at a much higher rate.
Be aware also that the NSW budget forecasts are based on implausibly optimistic economic assumptions, including the projection that the rate of unemployment will stay below four per cent for the next four years. No economic clouds for NSW, evidently.
But just in case you are unconvinced about my description of the person who is now NSW treasurer (he has already declared himself to be the most outstanding environment minister in the world) as dumber, let me end on an excerpt from his compelling budget commentary, including the exciting $5 billion Women’s Opportunity Statement.
‘Its timing is apt, if decades overdue. Last year, we saw an outpouring of frustration from women across the country, following the courageous advocacy of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. When women told these stories, I saw other women listening intently and nodding in agreement.’ (Move over, Greta: Brittany and Grace are now calling the shots on public policy.)
And here’s another example from the Keanster where the words speak for themselves. ‘We choose to give our children the best start in life so that they can not only reach their dreams but dream bigger in the first place. We choose to make sure that families can continue to buy a slice of the Australian dream. We choose to harness the wonders of modern science, and the power of our wind and sun. We choose to leave a better planet for future generations.’
Perhaps he imagines himself to be the next John F. Kennedy or Nelson Mandela – another wordsmith put on this earth to improve our lot. Or not?
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