Living within our means is pointless if we gut our society in the process, writes Greens MLC Justin Field.
If the new Treasurer of NSW, Dominic Perrottet wants to be the voice for my generation, he’ll have to do better than continue the ‘sell it off, rip it up short-term opportunism’ of the NSW Coalition Government.
In his profile in this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald the new Treasurer outlined his ‘vision’ of intergenerational equity. He states, “I don’t think it’s fair that my generation is going to foot the bill for modern day governments that don’t live within their means”.
It’s a sound bite but the devil is in the detail.
Mr Perrottet’s prescription for living within our means is for continuing ‘asset recycling’ – more commonly known as privatisation – and reigning in expenses, which is code for cutting public service jobs and reducing services for the community including in health and education.
When it comes to his priority of housing affordability, Mr Perrottet seems to have succumbed to the property developers’ line of “more supply”, despite years of new housing development having failed to reign in prices and put home ownership in reach for individuals or families earning an average wage.
The harder and more effective option we know is pushing for important tax reform that will change the focus of housing policy from supporting speculative investment to meeting an essential social need.
I can’t imagine too many Gen-Xers would think the Treasurer’s vision is a prescription for future prosperity given it’s the same one that has got us to where we are today. I don’t think you’d find too many people who wouldn’t agree that an average wage earner should be able to afford an average home in an average suburb – it’s as simple, and as complex, as that.
What’s clear to many people my age – and the generation coming after us – is that the economic program of the past two decades has been full of promise, but the outcomes don’t stack up.
The cost of education has exploded, housing is out of reach, employment opportunities are dwindling as manufacturing declines and offshoring takes hold, and baby boomers delay the path forward in many professions.
The failure to deal with climate change looms larger every day and we all instinctively know it will consume many of our future hopes and dreams if we don’t change course. The good life promised by continuing economic growth seems further out of reach and time for family and friends to enjoy the great outdoors and creative pursuits seems ever more constrained.
The new Treasurer and I may both be in our 30’s, but as the NSW Greens Treasury spokesperson I couldn’t have a more different view when it comes to the role of governments in delivering for our generation, and those into the future.
Starting out, we need to expect more from our political leaders with their hands pulling the levers of the economy. Our economy is there to serve us, not the other way around.
Governments can’t allow the public purse to be the play thing of big business and vested interests with sweetheart deals for miners, casinos and clubs, toll road operators and property developers, and nothing but rising prices, more congestion and reduced services for the rest of us.
The obsession with a balanced budget means nothing if the other indicators of a happy and prosperous life – and a healthy and sustainable natural environment – continue to decline.
My generation has a broader perspective and richer expectation when it comes to measuring our success and setting a program for the work of Government. It looks much more like the UN’s sustainable development goals, which sets benchmarks far broader than GDP, that include reducing inequality, full employment and decent work, affordable and clean energy, justice and strong civic institutions, and climate action.
Economists have a saying that what you don’t measure, doesn’t matter. It’s time we stopped judging our economy based on gross state product and number of public assets sold off, and started looking at the bigger picture.
If you care about intergenerational equity and a sustainable budget into the future, first things first, we need to act on climate change. There is no greater threat to the wellbeing of people in this state and around the world and no greater threat to the state budget than failing to mitigate the risk of global warming.
After a weekend where NSW was the hottest place on the planet, following the hottest summer on record, following the hottest year on record, it has never been more clear that climate change is not some problem off in the future – it is now.
As a coal producing and exporting state, with an over reliance on coal-fired power and billions of dollars of infrastructure lining increasingly threatening our coastlines, mitigating climate risks must be a priority for government at all levels.
The privatisation agenda of the past two decades has failed. Just last year Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims acknowledged that privatisation – often done to boost proceeds rather than to enhance economic efficiency – has severely damaged the economy.
The recent power outages across Australia have shown the potential market failure of the privatisation of electricity assets across the country, and means now is the time to pause and reassess this discredited market approach. Yet we know the new treasurer will continue to push the sale of the land titles office in NSW, a monopoly service that has a proud record of keeping land transfer costs low while being a secure titling system.
If housing affordability is a goal, selling the LPI is the wrong way to go and will potentially expose homeowners to the potential need to take out expensive mortgage insurance. It will also sell off a profit-making public service.
I don’t think it’s fair that my and future generations will have to pick up the bill for recent government decisions, but failing to live within our means isn’t the problem. It’s failing to mitigate the risks of climate change, overseeing the hollowing out of public services and gifting the wealth of this state to private corporate interests.