2018/19 State Budget

Photo of new NSW train
16 August 2018

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (13:06:54): It is truly a privilege to speak on the 2018‑19 New South Wales budget because it really is a budget that reflects well upon the Government, and not only the Treasurer and those within his office but also the hardworking, diligent public servants of New South Wales who have assisted the Government to put together that great budget. It is common when people talk about government budgets to spew out a whole lot of numbers which invariably make members of the public start to go to sleep, so I am not going to do very much of that. I want to briefly point out a few of the features of the financial budget before I go on to talk about the impact of the budget on people. It is important that at the end of the day governments are about people and do not sound as though they have just walked out of an accountants convention and only talk about numbers.

The important financial fundamentals of the 2018-19 budget are that it is a budget which continues on from the previous year in that there is no net State debt. That is very important. Very few governments in the world can say that. This State Government is one that can proudly say it has no net debt. At a human level, if a person is fortunate enough to pay off their house during their lifetime and not have any debt, they are usually extremely relieved. As citizens of New South Wales we ought to be extremely relieved that there is no government debt in New South Wales.

Sometimes surpluses can be achieved by racking up a whole lot of debt. But not only does New South Wales have no net debt, it also has a projected surplus this financial year and projected surpluses for as far as the forward estimates go over the next four years. The combination of those two things—no net debt and budget surpluses for four years—is truly an outstanding achievement by the Government and one which all citizens of New South Wales should be very thankful for. There is another important statistic from the budget which we ought to have regard to, and that is the position of the total assets of the New South Wales Government. In 2011, when the Coalition came into government, the value of the assets in New South Wales owned by the State Government was approximately $160 billion. In the last seven years, through the prudent management of the Coalition Government, the assets of the New South Wales Government now exceed more than $260 billion. In a seven‑year period, the wealth of New South Wales has increased by more than $100,000 million.

That is quite a staggering figure to appreciate. We would be hard pressed to find any corporation, enterprise or other government in the world that can say they have no debt, a surplus budget and projected surplus budgets as far as the forward estimates can go and they have increased the wealth of that entity by over $100 billion in the preceding seven years. That is quite an extraordinary achievement. What is important about that achievement is that it completely refutes the false narrative of the Labor Opposition, which is that this Government achieved its financial performance by selling off the family jewels. It is a deception on the people of New South Wales to say that. It is totally contrary to the Treasury-produced figures, which show a $100 billion increase in the State's wealth over the last seven years. One must appreciate that that wealth has increased at the same time as the Government has gone from having debt to having no debt.

What it reveals about the dishonest narrative of Opposition members is that they misrepresent the nature of the Government's asset recycling policy. The Government transparently went to the 2015 State elections saying that it would lease 49 per cent of the New South Wales' poles and wires. That asset recycling policy involves the privatisation of some assets, but not using the proceeds to rob future generations of the value of those assets. The proceeds of those privatisations are invested into more productive assets. As an example, the assets of the poles and wires were what economists would call lazy assets. They were not economically productive assets. The Government has been able to convert those lazy assets into far more valuable and productive State-owned assets. Not one cent of any asset that is recycled by this Government goes into anything other than new public assets. It does not go into operational expenditure. It is not wasted in any way. It only goes into new and better productive assets.

That is the way in which this Government is providing more than $80 billion in infrastructure assets over the next four years. It is an extraordinary number. We all might remember the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government crowing about the Building Education Revolution program. That was $1 billion spread across the whole of Australia. In the next four years this Government is spending $6 billion just in New South Wales on our public schools. It is quite extraordinary. The Government is building infrastructure projects such as the Sydney Metro and light rail, and road projects such as the NorthConnex and the WestConnex. The Government is able to build these assets and infrastructure that will facilitate the future of New South Wales and enhance the lives of the residents of New South Wales because of its asset recycling program, which is frequently misrepresented by the Labor Opposition.

I now turn to some of the highlights, particularly from the Ku-ring-gai electorate point of view, of the 2018 budget. These sorts of things can be provided for the community only if there is a disciplined management of government budget. Some of the headline education features of the budget are that there will be 2,000 extra classrooms built throughout the State. New air-conditioning will be provided in 1,000 public schools throughout our State. In Ku-ring-gai we can see how that $6 billion education investment is operating. Only last week I was fortunate enough to be at Killara Public School for its education day. I heard a great concert by several different music groups in the school. Killara Public School has eight new State‑of‑the‑art teaching spaces, which allow group and collaborative technology-based learning to set up our children to function in the modern world. This involves artificial intelligence and the use of technology being utilised in a group environment. These children are very fortunate.

In Ku-ring-gai we are in the advanced preparation stages with regard to virtually an entire rebuild of Waitara Public School, which is facilitated through the budget. Waitara Public School will receive approximately 42 new learning spaces, together with a new hall. When I ran for the seat of Ku-ring-gai in 2015, I was contacted by parents of children who attended Waitara Public School asking what the Government was going to do about all the demountable classrooms in the school. They asked, "How is the Government going to help our school manage the population growth, particularly in Waitara?" It is a matter of great pride for me to say in this House that the Government is investing millions of dollars on entirely rebuilding the school. It is facilitating a much better use of the playground space by constructing multi‑level classroom buildings. Another school to benefit in my electorate is Ku-ring-gai High School, which will have its binishell replaced. In addition, there will be classroom upgrades and other improvements. That is what is happening at a school infrastructure level.

The budget also contains an important pro‑family initiative: the introduction of a new $100 rebate for schoolchildren that can be used towards lessons in music, drama, coding or language. The $100 Smart Kids rebate is in addition to the Active Kids rebate of $100, which was introduced in the last budget. A family with three schoolchildren, which is not unusual in the electorate of Ku‑ring‑gai, can get $100 per child for sporting and active recreation activities—such as soccer, rugby, cricket, basketball and ballet—and get another $100 per child for lessons in music, drama, coding or languages. Importantly, those two budget initiatives give a direct benefit of $600 to such families. Those rebates are important to families in the Ku-ring-gai electorate. This Government is the first in Australia to introduce funding for three-year-olds to attend preschool education. The funding will save families up to $800 per year per child.

On top of that, the budget is providing for an additional 900 mathematics and science teachers in our schools. Any parent with children at school knows that science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM, are an important part of modern education. Funding for 900 more mathematics and science teachers is incredibly important to ensure that we stay at the edge of technological development, that our children get logical, analytical skills from science and mathematics, and that that will prepare them for the future technology‑driven world that they are likely to live in their whole lives.

I refer to another pro-family initiative: new mothers will be given a $150 essentials kit to support them with their new-born baby. Those of us who are parents remember when our first child was born. We know that babies do not come with a manual and parents learn a lot with their first child. We will give mothers a kit of essential items valued at $150 to give them a great start and to ensure that children are well cared for and looked after. In relation to that life cycle from birth to death, the budget provides 950 new nurses and midwives, 300 new doctors, 120 allied professionals and 260 mental health workers, all in addition to the current budgeted amount. [Extension of time.]

In addition, 750 new paramedics and ambulance staff will be hired, which will better manage health emergencies. The Government has made an important commitment of an additional $1 billion to assist homeless people. Transport is an important issue in the electorate of Ku-ring-gai. I am happy to inform the House that of the $133 million lift upgrade program in the budget, the North Shore will receive two new lifts, one in my electorate at Wahroonga and the other further down the line in Roseville. My area will receive two of the 11 railway station upgrades that are included in the budget. These upgrades are incredibly important. A large number of seniors live in the electorate of Ku-ring-gai. Nothing is more important to live a happy life at an advanced age than independence and mobility. Many seniors, for various reasons, cannot drive at night or otherwise need to rely on public transport. It is important for them to be able to easily access the outstanding train services on the North Shore.

I am happy to inform the House that within the budget $880 million has been allocated to improve the train capacity of the North Shore railway line. This increase in capacity involves signalling and other augmentations that will allow the number of trains per hour on the North Shore line to increase. It is important for the North Shore line to have greater capacity as the Rouse Hill to Chatswood Metro line will come online and be operational next year. This is great news for my electorate because when the Chatswood to Epping line was introduced many of the North Shore services between North Sydney and Hornsby were diverted up from Chatswood to Epping. That will no longer take place because the Metro line will no longer carry the rail carriages which are on the North Shore line.

Therefore, the Metro will stop at Chatswood, and trains will no longer be diverted from Chatswood to Epping, but will continue up the North Shore line, increasing the services to the Ku‑ring-gai electorate. That is an important development for the electorate, and one for which we should be grateful. Within the projected infrastructure program, by 2024 the Metro line will extend from Chatswood down to the lower North Shore, under the harbour and through to Bankstown. Two train services will operate in parallel from Chatswood to the lower North Shore—the Metro and the existing North Shore line. This increase in capacity is great news for the Ku‑ring‑gai electorate. It means that there will be an increase in train service and train choice, which is important to our community. Anti-social behaviour and law and order are issues that frequently come up in the surveys I conduct of my electorate. I am happy to inform the House that within the budget, to keep our community safe, an extra $220 million will be spent on policing, including 100 new police officers and more roadside drug testing.

One of the other interesting innovations within the budget is the new advisory service that will be provided by Service NSW. Service NSW is one of the great achievements of this Government. When I first got my driver licence in the early 1980s, anyone who wanted to go to the Roads and Traffic Authority basically had to bring a cut lunch because they were going to spend at least half a day there waiting to be served. In comparison, Service NSW has a concierge who meets people at the door and efficiently and quickly directs them to the excellent service. One of the new services that will be provided, which is particularly valuable for seniors, is an advisory service that will help people negotiate the myriad of Government benefits and subsidies they are entitled to, including the complex environment with regard to electricity and gas offers. This will ensure that people get the best offer possible on their electricity and other utilities.