Monday, October 20, 2008

Message Received

The swing against the New South Wales Government in the by-elections held at the weekend was massive: 22% in Ryde and Cabramatta, and 12% in Lakemba. Despite the magnitude of the swing, only the seat of Ryde actually changed hands with Liberal Victor Dominello taking what was former Deputy Premier John Watkins’ seat. Nevertheless, the message for the New South Wales Government is clear. By any measure, the Government is in deep trouble. But then we already know that. The real question is whether Premier Nathan Rees can perform some sort of miracle in the next two and a bit years.

Premier Rees says he has heard the message: “Lift your game or else.” Although he has been Premier for only six weeks, he has insisted that he is going to deliver where his predecessors have failed. He has promised to be decisive. He has promised to consider matters that have been left to languish in the “too hard basket”. He has warned us that he is accustomed to being underestimated, and that the criticisms don’t worry him.

On the positive side, the Premier has flagged the possible removal of developer levies which add to the cost of new homes and which have been a significant factor in the affordability crisis. He has announced that City Rail maintenance must meet new standards by March 31 next year or it will be outsourced to the private sector. He has proposed a joint State-Commonwealth plan to boost nurse training places at universities and in hospitals.

On the negative side, we have heard it all before. The people of New South Wales have had 13 years of policy promises and announcements which have either not been delivered or have led to costly debacles. The rail expansion plan, the T-card scheme, the Cross-City Tunnel have all been examples of big talk resulting in either a failure or a mess. Then, the doomed mission to privatise electricity saw the Labor Party rip itself apart so badly that it’s ability to govern evaporated.

Now, Nathan Rees is asking New South Wales to believe that he can bury the history of the past and make good on his promises for the future. Even with a little over two years up his sleeve it would take some sort of miracle to convince the voters that this time it’s for real. Even if Nathan Rees is the man he says he is, voters will still have reservations about the Party that he leads.

The Premier insists that he is listening to the people of New South Wales and that he has heard their message. The question is though, are the people of New South Wales listening to him?

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