The next New South Wales state election will be on Saturday 23rd March 2019. The present coalition government has a comfortable majority of about 17 in the Legislative Assembly. This majority is large enough that the opposition and minor parties (currently three Greens, three independent members and a Shooter) are irrelevant. How concerned should the government parties be about the possibility of losing power in 2019?
If the government were to lose just nine seats in 2019, things would be very different. Consider these Liberal seats:
All of these have been Labor in the recent past and must be regarded as possible wins for Labor. If Labor were to gain about ten seats, it would be well placed to form a minority government with help from the cross-benches. Also note that the seat of North Shore cannot be taken for granted by the Liberals. Further afield, the Nationals' seats of Lismore, Monaro, Upper Hunter and Tweed all look vulnerable. The once-safe seat of Wagga Wagga was lost on 8 September 2018. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party reportedly think they have a chance in Barwon.
On the other hand, the Liberals apparently hope to regain the Granville seat. Other interesting Labor seats are Strathfield, Prospect, Gosford and The Entrance.
What issues are likely to be on voters' minds in 2019? The current coalition government proclaims that it has numerous wonderful projects in train. Presumably the hope is that a grateful electorate will return a Liberal-National government in 2019. Let's take a closer look at what might happen.
POLES & WIRES - A flagship policy of the Baird government was to sell about half of the Sydney electricity distribution networks. The purchasers will charge for the use of their asset. Costs for network use and maintenance will have to be paid. There are many thousands of consumers angry about increases in the price of electricity which commentators suggest is about double what it might have been without privatisation and other government interference. By 2019 there will be even more.
NEWCASTLE - Gladys Berejiklian as Transport Minister closed the Newcastle railway line in December 2014. It is being replaced by a light rail line which will be on-road in busy Hunter Street, despite a recommendation that it be built off-road on the former railway corridor. By 2019, many Newcastle road users might quite reasonably be annoyed by light rail construction or operation in Hunter Street. And former rail users will remain annoyed about inconvenient interchanges at Wickham that wouldn't have been necessary had the original railway remained.
Meanwhile, many Newcastle residents are annoyed about the sham public consultations on the transport issue. And many are annoyed that most of the $1.7 billion proceeds from the NSW government's sale of the Newcastle port is being spent elsewhere.
SYDNEY METRO NORTHWEST - Crewless trains on the North West Rail Link are to be operating by mid-2019. The 2009 railway through Macquarie Park will have been closed for conversion for at least seven months, during which all train services will have been replaced by uncomfortable substitute buses on busy roads. Even after the new railway opens there will still be inconvenience - large numbers of passengers will need to change trains at Chatswood but there will be insufficient seats on the trains. And for many passengers, the trains will not be as fast as the buses they replace. Also, residents of the Beecroft area will not be able to ride trains to the CBD without at least one change.
CSELR - the CBD and South-East Light Rail was to open in 2019 but legal action launched in April 2018 makes mid-2020 more probable. So after years of construction inconvenience and wholesale destruction of mature trees there is no end in sight. When (if?) it does open, because traffic authorities will not allow more than 15 light rail trains per hour in each direction, many residents south and east of Randwick will be forced to stand in tightly-packed conditions, and that only after an inconvenient change from bus to light rail at Kingsford or Randwick. Residents of the Coogee and Maroubra electorates are starting to understand what they are facing.
Worse, bus passengers from Glebe, Camperdown, Annandale, Leichhardt, Fivedock etc. will have to change from bus onto the same already-packed light rail services at Haymarket. They won't like it.
BANKSTOWN METRO - Residents around stations of the Bankstown railway have already indicated annoyance that they too will have to forsake trains for buses on overcrowded roads for perhaps a year while their railway is "upgraded" to automated single-deck trains with minimal seating and, for some, an extra change of train. Residents of St Peters and particularly Erskineville are very concerned that their train services might be reduced.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMALGAMATIONS - Many local councils were amalgamated into larger organisations in the name of efficiency. There is no particular reason to believe that the promised economies will eventuate. What is certain is that the millions of dollars paid to stood-down executives will never be recovered. By 2019 there could be many thousands of ratepayers exasperated at crumbling local government services that will dictate a substantial rates hike as soon as the state-imposed freeze expires in 2020. The elections for some councils on 2 September 2016 and the by-election for the seat of Orange on 12 November 2016 made very clear that the former Baird Government's view on amalgamations is not widely accepted.
The subsequent mandating of planning panels for large developments is also unlikely to benefit the Government's reputation; it will be perceived as interfering with democratic rights.
Suspension of the amalgamations plan was announced on 27 July 2017. This action was widely perceived as tacit acknowledgement that amalgamations were a political disaster.
NORTHCONNEX - This expensive road project consists of a 9km tunnel from West Pennant Hills to Wahroonga, partly financed by government grants of up to $810 million with the rest (over $2 billion) to be financed by new tolls. Boring and operating road tunnels is so expensive that astronomical numbers of $7 car tolls ($20 for trucks) will be necessary to pay for Northconnex. So, traffic authorities will implement measures to deter use of Pennant Hills Road as a free alternative. These will probably include a weight limit for trucks and re-introducing kerbside parking, perhaps even in the centres of Thornleigh and Pennant Hills. Look what happened to Epping Road above the Lane Cove tunnel - two bus lanes and a bicycle path! Motorists and truck operators won't be happy, despite the modest savings in travel time that might follow from Northconnex's opening which is expected in 2019.
WESTCONNEX - This huge road project, being built in several stages, will be largely financed by tolls. Tolls were re-introduced in mid-2017 on the M4 between Concord and Parramatta and are not rebatable. There will later also be further tolls between Concord and Ashfield, again without cashback. Many motorists won't be happy, despite possible savings in travel time. Still more tollpoints will be added in due course - the Government intends to privatise each stage shortly after its completion and apply the sale price to construction of the next stage. All this adds up to a growing number of angry road users. And there might well be a groundswell of anger at the stupidity of fostering a toll-road industry with an obvious interest in continued traffic congestion.
WYNYARD RAMP - The Thakral development cruised through the assessment process because it was an unsolicited proposal. While it claimed benefits for eventual improved access to Wynyard station, the proposal ignored the cost of disruption during demolition and construction. Possibly 40 000 users of Wynyard station will be inconvenienced daily for a couple of years. They will have to use new steps or escalators, in unattractive and crowded conditions, twice each weekday. Will they be grateful in 2019?
NEW INTERCITY TRAINS - As well as the issue of building the trains overseas (South Korea) at a time of high youth unemployment in Newcastle and Wollongong, there is the question of passenger comfort. The seats in the upper and lower decks of each carriage are to be fixed to the floor and cannot be reversed. When the seats are full at peak times, half the passengers in those compartments will be riding backwards. It is well-known that most people riding long distances on trains like to face forwards. With plenty of time to talk and someone facing you to listen, the topic might well turn to politics.
NEW FERRIES - Late in 2014, then transport minister Berejiklian called tenders for six new 400-passenger vessels for the inner harbour routes to commence service from 2016. There were a multitude of faults, some them major, which delayed commissioning. And don't mention Ferry McFerryface.
Ferry passengers will not be happy about this, especially since NSW Treasury officials could well respond with a clamp-down on further ferry investment.
ICAC - Late in 2016, the Baird government rushed legislation through Parliament which emasculated the Independent Commission Against Corruption. This was seen as payback for ICAC's treatment of several MPs found to have accepted donations illegally.
LAND TITLES - The NSW Land Titles Office was recently re-organised into five parts to make its privatisation easier. The new arrangement is widely blamed for landowners along the proposed M6 route not being notified about motorway plans. The Berejiklian government proceeded with privatisation despite a groundswell of opposition to the sale. This change will further damage the Liberal team's support.
PORTS - It seems that the privatisation of ports has restrictions on competition that will prevent sensible measures to reduce truck traffic around Sydney suburbs. Learn more...
POWERHOUSE MUSEUM - Many people have expressed outrage at the planned emasculation of the Powerhouse, which is to be replaced by an inferior museum near Parramatta. Evidently the NSW government hopes to save the seat of Parramatta with an ersatz museum, a stadium and the promise of more railways. We shall see.
FIXATION ON NEW INFRASTRUCTURE - The current NSW government is noted for favouring new projects over upgrades and other adjustments which can be better value. Learn more. This preference could become notorious among taxpayers.
Other issues are simmering already. They include stadium re-builds (just about the only things the government doesn't want to privatise!), TAFE cutbacks, overcrowded state schools, and poor access to medical facilities for those without private insurance while billions are spent on stadiums. And no-one will forget the Baird backdown on greyhound racing (11 October 2016) echoed by the Berejiklian $500000 prize (31 July 2018) that showed conclusively who runs the state. The privatisation of inner-west State Transit Authority bus services in 2018 could well see passengers adversely affected by pruning of services. There was another backdown - in August 2017, NSW Trustee and Guardian was made to abandon a policy of requiring surety bonds from fund managers including private managers.
By 2019 all these matters could accumulate into an unstoppable force and bring an end to the coalition government in NSW.