NSW election: a road to nowhere

“Leave a poo at Gladys Berejiklian’s doorstep.” This was the title of a recent Facebook event to leave the NSW Liberal premier “a little present since she’s being so shit lately”. It attracted more than 14,000 “going” or “interested” clicks.

With the NSW election coming up, the government is certainly on the nose. There are so many reasons to be pissed off that it’s sometimes hard to remember them all. The common thread is a government completely in the pockets of big business, which for eight years has enthusiastically sold off or destroyed as much public infrastructure, land and parks as it could get away with. A weak and right wing Labor opposition, and a lack of mass resistance from our side, have allowed the Liberals to get away with a lot. It’s been a bonanza for developers, banks, construction and toll road companies. But while “development” is everywhere, progress is nowhere.

The biggest infrastructure project in Australia is the state government’s WestConnex monstrosity, a massive new toll road network that will cement Sydney as the most tolled city in the world. At a total cost upwards of $40 billion, according to some estimates, the project is destroying houses, parks and communities while funnelling billions into the pockets of Transurban, the private road monopoly which will own 12 of Sydney’s 14 toll roads.

The government is spending billions on new metro and light rail services. But to call this public transport would be misleading. The biggest project is the privately run Sydney Metro. The first phase has involved shutting down the existing publicly owned rail line from Epping to Chatswood, resulting in massive increases in transport times for passengers forced onto buses while construction takes place. The second phase involves doing the same to the even busier South West line to Bankstown. With no improvement in service or capacity predicted, it’s hard to see Sydney Metro as anything but the privatisation by stealth of rail in NSW, with an added kick of union-busting through the advent of driverless trains.

The government’s south-east light rail project has been a debacle, blowing out by years in construction and billions in cost.

The sums of money being spent are staggering, made possible by huge revenues from a long housing construction boom and the privatisation of public assets. $40 billion worth of state assets have been sold since 2012. To put the spending in context, the cost of the WestConnex project alone could pay for free public transport across the entire state for over a decade. Another $730 million is earmarked to demolish and rebuild a sports stadium.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless people in NSW has increased by 30 percent since 2011, and a whopping 70 percent in Sydney. Around 55,000 people are now on the waiting list for social housing, while 795 public housing homes were sold off in the last three years. This is in a housing construction boom, now becoming a glut, which has increased the number of empty homes by 15 percent since 2011, when it was estimated that Sydney alone had 90,000 empty dwellings.

The government has refused to implement pill testing at music festivals, despite five young people dying since September. Instead, we get music festivals banned, more sniffer dogs, and more police armed with yet more powers to harass, strip search and ban festival-goers who haven’t even committed an offence.

This is a part of Berejiklian’s increasingly puritanical police state. A raft of laws boosting police powers, introducing facial recognition mass surveillance and limiting the right to protest have all been passed. One of the main groups backing the latter has been the Minerals Council of Australia, keen to stymie environmental protests against coal seam gas and mining.

On the environment, this government presided over the excessive and corrupt water handouts to agribusiness irrigation, which caused a million fish to die in the Menindee river system. Along with the huge expansion of roads and the emissions and air pollution that go with them, the government is refusing to rule out a new coal-fired power station proposed for the Hunter Valley.

The key issue in this election will be how the public judges the government’s infrastructure record. Berejiklian is pointing to the billions spent on transport projects as evidence of a government getting things done. In reality, a colossal transfer of wealth from workers to big business has occurred via state government policies, while the average one-way commute for a Sydney CBD worker remains 63 minutes, and housing remains unattainable for many.

To these concerns, Berejiklian has one answer: blame immigrants. While it is not on the level of the Victorian Liberal campaign of racism and hysteria about non-existent crime waves (they are the incumbents, after all), this has been a constant theme, with the NSW government calling for immigration to be cut by 50 percent.

If only we had an opposition worthy of the name. NSW Labor is still remembered as the party so in bed with developers it was often hard to tell where one ended and the other began. It led the way in public-private partnerships, toll roads, privatisation and overriding community concerns in favour of the big end of town. When former Labor premier Bob Carr left office in 2005, he immediately started a consultancy on $500,000 a year with Macquarie Bank, a company that grew rich from Carr’s policies in government.

Carr also loved to whip up racist law and order and anti-immigrant campaigns, a tradition continued by NSW Labor today, former leader Luke Foley outrageously lamenting the supposed “white flight” of people from migrant suburbs. Foley was eventually dumped as Labor leader in November, not for his racist remarks, but because he sexually harassed a journalist. Such is the calibre of NSW Labor.

New Labor leader Michael Daley has tried to tack slightly left in recent days, picking a fight with the government and right wing shock jock Alan Jones over the Allianz Stadium demolition. Even this fairly tokenistic stance has won Labor some rare enthusiasm. If Labor were to champion a working class agenda, it could blow the Liberal-National government out of the water, but given its attachment to neoliberalism and big business, this won’t be the approach.

This explains why the polls remain close, despite there being lots of constituencies with grievances against this government and the ongoing crisis in the federal Liberal Party.

The stage is set for a close contest and a large vote for minor parties, including several contests with independents and a spectrum of far right cranks and bigots like the Shooters and Fishers Party and One Nation, which look set to win a few upper house seats. The best option on election day remains to vote one for the Greens or Socialist Alliance candidates where they are running and put the far right last, just below the Liberals.