ABC News Weekend Breakfast - NSW election

March 23, 2019


SUBJECT/S: NSW Election; NSW infrastructure

NICHOLSON: We are talking now with Labor MP Pat Conroy and Liberal MP Jason Falinski. Thanks, both of you for joining us. Jason, we might start with you, how are you? Now, why is this expected to be so close? Michael Daley, Labor's leader hasn't been in the job for long. There good jobs in NSW, the economy is good, there are lots of infrastructure projects underway but the result itself is expected to be so tight. Why?

FALINSKI: Well you're right Jo it shouldn't be tight. It should be clearly a very clear win for a great government that's doing a great job. But, you know, democracy is in the hands of the people. They get to make their minds up about this. I think there is a larger problem in Australian democracy these days, which is without getting all Aaron Sorkin, where people are not getting the information they used to get from the media. So, we have seen in this last week it's been a bit of a week from hell, as it's been described, for the Labor leader. But, you know, some of the media have not covered that, I think, appropriately or properly. So, his comments about Asians with PhDs taking people's jobs, his inability, I mean he's only had four policies in this election campaign. His inability to know the difference between $3 billion and $64 million, to understand what Gonski funding is versus capex...

NICHOLSON: ...All issues that were covered by the media...

FALINSKI: Over and over again. Well no they weren't. I hate to be critical of the ABC because I'm sitting here, his comments about about Asians with PhDs were covered by the ABC, with the lead of, "I was trying to explain an economic issue." If a Liberal politician, if Gladys Berejiklian had made those comments, can you imagine we would still be talking about it today. We have had revelations during this campaign...

SZEPS: Jason, just in our defence, I did talk about it today. I have already put a question about it earlier.

FALINSKI: But, Josh, Radio National covered that story about, and turned it into a discussion about the economic issues facing New South Wales.

SZEPS: Isn't that what conservatives are asking the ABC to do, to take seriously right-wing concerns instead of dismissing them.

FALINSKI: That's fine. I'm asking the ABC to deal with both political parties even-handedly. OK. So, we had this week, Waleed Aly accused the Prime Minister of Islamaphobia. There is no evidence of that and every major player in the room has come out and said that's the opposite of what he did yet that has gone on all week. We have a Labor leader going to a private meeting in a pub in the Blue Mountains and accusing Asians of taking people's jobs and the media has really gone very soft on that.

NICHOLSON: Well we are covering it this morning, so we are here to look at this morning...

FALINKSI: Well I'm now covering it.  Pat Conroy, I might go to you. Michael Daley did have particularly a shocker of a week this last week gone by. What do you make of his last week of campaigning?

CONROY: Well, look, there's been a couple of unfortunate stories out there. But this is a classic case from Jason and the Liberals where it's a tight election so they blame the people and blame the media, rather than the fact they have done nothing for eight years. They have had three Premiers in eight years, they haven't opened, they haven't completed a single major infrastructure project. They have mismanaged light rail, they've privatised everything that wasn't nailed down. And ultimately, we've got school students right now who go to schools that don't have air-conditioning, that are sweltering in 40 degree days, when they're knocking down a perfectly good stadium that could have been fixed for $18 million, we found out yesterday. So, the stadiums issue does resonate, because it shows how out of touch this government is. They put their mates on the SCG Trust above looking after school students in my area, in the regions, in the western suburbs of Sydney. That's why this election will be tight, because Gladys and her crew don't care about the people of New South Wales.

SZEPS: Pat, this has been one of the most aggressive governments in terms of building infrastructure. Are you sure that the argument that they haven't been investing enough in infrastructure is one that is going to win people over?

CONROY: You name a single actual project they have opened or completed?

SZEPS: Well, if you were very audacious and looking at big projects you wouldn't expect them to turn turnaround quickly?

CONROY: Josh, let me answer your question, they have been in power for eight years. In eight years you think they would finish a single project. They haven't. The light rail project in Sydney has been a disaster. They promised to open eight schools every year of their eight years in government. They have opened 12 schools in an 8-year term, instead of 64. They are knocking down a good stadium, they are great at mismanaging infrastructure projects, hopeless at actually finishing them. Ultimately, constituents in my area, in the Hunter, regional New South Wales, and in the mortgage belt of Sydney are suffering because this government is all talk and no action. That's why this election is close.

NICHOLSON: Jason, is Pat right there? Speaking about infrastructure projects, which are ongoing, but there have been a lot of issues with the light rail, obviously there's been backlash for the stadiums. Is this a problem of selling the message? What's going on with infrastructure?

FALINSKI: What Pat's saying is absolutely and completely outrageous. In 16 years, the Labor Party announced 29 transport projects and cancelled 32. We are still looking for the three they double cancelled. This government is now in the midst of a $130 billion infrastructure project. He can point to one project which is light rail. All that, Michael Daley has been able to talk about for the last 3, 4, 5 months is stadiums and light rail. Because he's got no policies on health, he's got no policies on education, he's got no policies on transport or policing. The Labor Party are bereft of ideas. They are bereft of ideas federally, there bereft of ideas at a state level. This government has done more to actually improve the lives of people than any other government in the history of New South Wales following a government without doubt that was described as bad as the Rum Corp by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, that's what we've seen today. Now you can point to the light rail. It was built down the oldest street in Sydney. It was always going to find things under that road. It was always a difficult project. You have to focus on that if you're being critical. It ignores the other $127 billion worth of infrastructure that's been built. We've opened 170 schools, we've opened 40 new hospitals. And the reason that we've done that is because the Labor Party closed and sold off 117 schools when they were last in government, including one in my area that housed the Gough Whitlam Library. Nothing was sacred under the Labor Party. Who did they sell it to? They sold it to property developers.

SZEPS: Jason, I want to move on from infrastructure. The front page of The Australian this morning talks an about a new push from the federal government to try to improve Australia's image overseas because there can be a perception sometimes that we're a bit sleepy, a bit boring and a little bit dull. One thing that has contributed to that is Sydney's lockout laws.


SZEPS: Is the decline of live music in this city, the decline of festivals in New South Wales and there are rumblings within the government itself and within Coalition. Are we losing young people? Is the government just uncool, is it killing night life?

FALINSKI: I think I agree with your premise. A re-elected Berejiklian government if that's to happen, that's in the hands of the people, I really think need to revisit the lockout laws.

SZEPS: Why doesn't the Premier just say that?

FALINSKI: I think it's a process they are working through. It was obvious these lockout laws were introduced when someone died and there was a bit of media hype about it. Sometimes hard cases make for hard laws and it is time to review those laws. I believe, as you mentioned, people inside the government, largely believe that as well. It probably isn't something that should be discussed or developed - policy during an election campaign, where people are willing hypercritical and looking for political advantage. It should be done calmly. Same with music festivals and, look, the live music scene in New South Wales is something that needs to be looked at very, very seriously. We need to come up with good policies, regardless of which party's in power. Because this didn't just happen in the last four or eight years, this has been going on for some time.

NICHOLSON: Pat, is it time to revisit those policies?

CONROY: Well, in my home city of Newcastle, the lockout laws have actually worked in terms of reducing violence and crime. I don't want to talk about the centre of Sydney, because I haven't seen the statistics. In Newcastle, where we were the pilot, it has actually worked. Labor has however announced exciting policies around live music venues. Looking at increasing safety at music festivals. So, we do need to get the balance right. Labor has been very progressive about policies around live music, which is really important. I want to get back to an earlier point where Jason just lied about our policies. We are putting in an extra $2.7 billion into schools, we've committed 5,500 more nurses into hospitals, we’re the party that's committed on education and health. All the Liberal Party can do is just sigh like Jason just did then. I notice he couldn't answer my question about a single infrastructure project that's been opened by this government. They've been in power for eight years. All they have done is destroyed things, ripped things up and not built anything. It is pretty rich of Jason to talk about ICAC when there were 10 Hunter and Central Coast Liberal MPs who had to go through ICAC, we had mass resignations. They lost a Premier because of ICAC. So, it's pretty rich of Jason to think the voters of New South Wales have forgotten the last eight chaotic years.

NICHOLSON: Jason a very quick response we are running out of time.

FALINSKI: Well I'm sorry, you're running out of time. I don't think the people have forgotten about Eddie Obeid, Ian McDonald.  Eddie Obeid who Michael Daley thanked in his first speech. Eddie Obeid whose house was a DA

CONROY: What about Chris Hartcher mate? How is Andrew Cornwall going? 

FALINSKI: I know you're talking over the top of me because the fact is you don't want to talk about Eddie Obeid, or Ian MacDonald. You don't want to talk about the lies and corruption and incompetence of the Labor Party.

CONROY: You lost 8 MPs.

FALINSKI: Bob Carr or Kristina Keneally. Let's not forget Michael Daley approved Eddie Obeid's DA when he was on council and he didn't declare it.

CONROY: What about Owen? You’ve had three Premiers in eight years.

FALINSKI: These are the stories that should have been covered during this election campaign and have been ignored.

CONROY: Yet again blaming the media.

NICHOLSON: Well voters will decide today. Pat Conroy, Jason Falanski, we've run out of time. (LAUGHTER) Thanks for your time.