From Public To Private: The Real Reason Why Mike Baird Stinks


The NSW Premier has lost his gloss because he’s selling everything we own, to boost the big end of town, writes Greens MLC, Justin Field.

Mike Baird’s Coalition government is down in the polls. While decisions on greyhounds, lock-out laws and council amalgamations get the blame, these are symptoms of a bigger problem, namely, the NSW Government lacks a plan for NSW other than to sell off the state to the highest bidder.

The deeper issue is a growing public unease that governments – both this one and Labor before it – have been gutting the institutions and services our community relies on, and a creeping sense that the interests of big corporates are continually put ahead of the public interest.

The people of NSW have spent the last decade watching as Labor and the Coalition have privatised, outsourced and sold-off our state’s assets, services and infrastructure.

The truth is; it’s the economy Mike. People are frustrated, fearful and angry, because the glossy spin on the state’s economy no longer hides the fact that things are getting harder, more unequal, more expensive and more people are getting left behind as the big end of town is the primary beneficiary of the public purse.

NSW Premier Mike Baird. (IMAGE: Beau Giles, Flickr)
NSW Premier Mike Baird. (IMAGE: Beau Giles, Flickr)

When the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman, Rod Sims, said in July that the sale of ports and electricity infrastructure and the opening of vocational education to private companies had caused him and the public to lose faith in privatisation and deregulation, he was speaking for a growing number of people in NSW.

He said, “I’m now almost at the point of opposing privatisation because it’s been done to boost proceeds, it’s been done to boost asset sales and I think it’s severely damaging our economy.”

The Greens are certainly of the view that privatisation of publically owned goods and resources like our ferries, rail services, poles and wires, hospitals, sport and recreation centres and our intellectual property, is damaging our economy and more importantly, damaging some of our most vulnerable communities.

It is lazy, ill-disciplined economic management. It’s what you do when you don’t have a plan that includes fairness and equity and building a vibrant and resilient community, and this failure is at the heart of the Government’s poll problems.

Despite strong public opposition to privatisations, the NSW Government – led by banker-in-chief Mike Baird – is continuing undeterred.

Earlier this month, the land titles office was just the latest service prepped for sale. Expected to attract an upfront payment of over $1bn for the right to charge for the services of this natural monopoly, the actual design of the sale will be left to the Minister, no doubt advised at great cost by a private investment bank.

The enabling legislation passed the parliament with the support of the Christian Democrats and Shooters and Fishers Party.

Christian Democrats leader Fred Nile. (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell, New Matilda)
Christian Democrats leader Fred Nile. (IMAGE: Thom Mitchell, New Matilda)

This essential public service is the envy of the world. The Torrens Title – an Australia invention – was built, maintained and modernised by generations of public servants and recognised as a modern, secure, and efficient way to manage land titles.

It generates around $70m to the public purse and is the basis of public confidence in property. The risks of privatisation in this case is that the cost of buying a property will increase and the security of our land title system and access to information about property sales will be compromised.

The Baird Government also recently announced that five regional hospitals will be built and operated under a public private partnership, or PPP. That’s more double speak for hospitals now being run for profit instead of for patients.

The public instinctively know that the only way a private operator can make money from these transactions is to do one of two things – either it charges more for the service, or it reduces the costs. They’ll call it “efficiency” but we know it as cuts to jobs and reduced services.

Why are the public disillusioned with the NSW Government? There are some hot button issues no doubt, but these come off the back of two decades of economic rationalism that plainly isn’t.

The city is buckling under congestion, inequality is growing, housing is unaffordable for many and economic security increasingly harder to come by. The promises of better services from privatisation and outsourcing hasn’t come to fruition, yet Mike Baird is offering more of the same.

It’s absurd to think we can’t have both world class modern public services and infrastructure, and keep them under public ownership. The very assets that are now so highly prized in the market place were built by the public service in the first place. In an era of record low interest rates, borrowing to build the infrastructure for the future makes sense.

The fact is we have real alternatives to selling off the family farm. Rather than continuing down this disastrous path it is time we began to ask our leaders, which services need to be bought back into public ownership to create the resilient and cohesive communities we all want.

Justin Field is a Greens member of the NSW Legislative Assembly.