NSW State Government – Worse than a Desperate Crack Addict?

In a predictable move, the NSW state government, led by Nathan Rees, has cancelled several major rail infrastructure projects – namely, the North West Metro and the Richmond Line duplication, which has been ‘deferred‘.

These had been promised for many years and are needed to cope with the growing population in these areas. Housing has become highly unaffordable in inner-city Sydney, so people were encouraged to move to the outer areas in the expectation that the these Government transport projects, when completed, would be able to take them to their places of employment in the inner city.

The government of course states that these projects, which they previously claimed to be ‘fully funded’, have to be abandoned due to the budget ‘black hole’ created by the financial mismanagement of the past NSW Labor governments led by Morris Iemma and Bob Carr, and the global financial crisis which has led to reduced tax revenue.

Despite having cancelled these projects, the NSW government is desperate for cold hard cash and is prepared to sell all the public assets they can at any price. The latest assets up for sale are the electricity retailers, NSW Lotteries and Waste Services NSW. These are all profitable and income-generating.

One major reason cited by the state government for refusing to borrow money for infrastructure is that they want to maintain their ‘AAA’ credit rating. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the whole purpose of having credit ratings in the first place to allow reliable borrowers to obtain loans on good terms?

Now is the perfect time for the government to spend borrowed money. NSW is in recession and the economy needs to be stimulated – capital works projects have been historically effective in these situations.

Reviving the cancelled infrastructure projects will remove bottlenecks and lead to increased taxation revenue and economic growth. As we are are now in a higher inflation environment, the net present value of future loan payments will keep falling, reducing the future costs of servicing these loans.

Furthermore, keeping those public assets will ensure that their income is retained, and this income will of course reduce the burden of loan repayments.

Sydney North-West Metro under Axe

September 11, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: NSW News, NSW Politics 

In what must be an absolute surprise, the new Premier Nathan Rees stated in an interview with the Fairfax media that he is ‘pulling back’ from the much hyped North-West metro link. in light of the ‘surprise’ $1 billion budget shortfall discovered a few days ago after the cabinet reshuffle.

NSW State Government Turned Upside Down

September 8, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW News, NSW Politics 

I really have little more to add to what has been reported in the media, but to recap recent events:

Following John Watkins resignation last Thursday, Premier Morris Iemma sacked Treasurer Michael Costa following the failed power privatisation bid. Iemma then resigned, after being challenged by newcomer Nathan Rees, who was appointed the new premier of NSW.

In one of his first acts as premier, Rees appointed a new cabinet, which resulted in the dumping of the highly unpopular planning minister, Frank Sartor.

All I can add is that I could not think of a more appropriate bunch of people to get rid of.

I do wish Mr Rees luck in his new job as he still has to face some major problems. NSW is in debt with no money to spend on vital infrastructure and its economy is in recession.

An obvious first step is to convince the Federal Government to give NSW its fair share of GST revenue. It has been previously reported in the media that GST revenue raised in NSW is being used to subsidise other states. Anecdotal reports suggest that this could provide up to $2 billion extra annually to the NSW budget.

Watkins does a Carr

September 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Politics, Sydney News 

Yesterday, the NSW Transport Minister, John Watkins, resigned from office partway into his term. He says he will be leaving politics to spend more time with his family and become the CEO of the Alzheimers Association of NSW.

His tenure will best be known for what he did not do:

  • Attempting to make Sydney trains run on time by reducing the frequency of rail services.
  • Repeatedly announcing plans for grandiose rail projects, e.g. new rail lines and high speed trains, then cancelling them
  • Failing to deliver a new Integrated Ticketing System after many years of delays
  • Not dealing with the systematic corruption and inefficiencies in Railcorp and related entities
  • Frequent media appearances to apologise for rail disruptions caused by poor maintenance

Good riddance.

$12b Sydney Metro a “disaster”

July 30, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Politics, Sydney News 

According to the front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald, a ‘buried report’ commissioned by the State Government indicated that the proposed $12 billion Sydney Metro line would be a disaster. The article has some logical sounding arguments explaining why the proposed route is unsuitable.

It is my personal opinion that the State Government did not issue this plan in good faith. On a number of occasions, they have announced so-called plans to dazzle the media and boost their popularity with voters, only to scrap them later.

$12 billion is a lot of money. The State Government simply does not have it,  and it would not have the stomach to raise the money through a massive bond issue. They could not even manage to implement a new ticketing system which is a comparatively trivial task. It would be more prudent to fix the problems with the current system, that is used by lots of people, rather than spend lots of money on new poorly planned infrastructure.

I do have a word of advice for the Premier, Morris Iemma. Instead of demonstrating your self-proclaimed “strength of character” by forcing through a power privatisation that nobody wants, why don’t you instead deal with the corruption in Railcorp and State Rail, and break the power of the Transport union, so that additional drivers can be hired? Maybe then, our trains will arrive on time.

The Case for Public Ownership of Infrastructure

May 8, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: NSW Politics, Uncategorized 

Disclaimer: This post is not designed to be a conclusion, but to draw attention to a few things that I feel have been overlooked in the media. I am not a natural writer, so please forgive the structure of this post – I just want to get my ideas out.

The term Natural Monopoly refers to industries where it often considered impractical to have multiple providers. Utilities such as Railways, Power Lines, Water, Sewage and in the past Telecommunications have traditionally been called natural monopolies, but more and more, we see these notions being challenged.

Technological advancements such as Fibre Optic cables and spread spectrum wireless communication have opened up Telecommunications to many competitors, and there are few people who long for the days of Telecom Australia.

The establishment of the National Electicity Market in 1998 and the interconnection of all Southern and Eastern States (every state except WA and NT) started paving the way for private participation in Electricity generation. In NSW, all generators are still publicly owned at the moment.

The other utilities, more or less, still fit the definition of natural monopolies.

Goverments have a great advantage in that they can raise money by issuing bonds. Government bonds pay lower interest rates than enterprise would have to pay if they borrowed the money from banks or issued their own corporate bonds.

Funds can also be raised by issuing new shares via an IPO, but it likely to receive a cold response unless investors are convinced that there are realistic earnings expectations.

Hence, it is significantly cheaper for a government to fund the construction of expensive infrastructure.

Indirect Profits
Privatised infrastructure can only make money through the direct operation of the infrastructure, i.e. by pricing electricity, water or rail tickets at a healthy profit that is considered acceptable to shareholders.

With public infrastructure under government ownership, the government can still make a net gain, even if the specific infrastructure operates at a loss. If the infrastructure enables economic and population growth, it will lead to increased taxation revenue.

For example, a new power plant could increase the productivity of miners who extract metals from ore (indeed, BHP’s Olympic Dam mine in South Australia is expected to consume half of the state’s supply following its expansion).

New railways could reduce transport bottlenecks, easing labour movement, reducing unemployment as people are more easily able to get to areas with opportunities.

Private enterprise wants profits from day 1, or at least as early as possible. There is little incentive for private enterprise to expand infrastructure to an area that is not currently experiencing growth, or may not experience growth for an extended period – e.g. 10 years.

As we have seen here in Australia, Telcos have been reluctant to provide service in the bush and the government has been forced to consider legislation to compell them.

In fact, this can worsen an existing situation where people will move away from an area with poor infrastructure and increase the burden on infrastructure elsewhere, leading to urban sprawl, traffic congestion. As someone who enjoys the convenience of working in the Sydney CBD and having a short rail commute from the East, I would not jump at an employment opportunity in North Ryde, for which I would need to buy a car, fill it up with expensive petrol and maintain it.

Operation of Infrastructure
I am not sure what is the best way for infrastructure to be operated, but here are my thoughts:

Operate Publicly
This is where the government is responsible for everything, including hiring employees. One could expect all the associated problems traditionally associated with government ownership, such as low productivity work culture, and frequent threats of union action.

Lease out the infrastructure to private enterprise
Potential private operators would issue tenders to operate the infrastructure for a given period of time, and would be responsible for day-to-day operation.

The advantage of this is that a bad operator can be evicted and replaced. The disadvantage is that the private operator has low incentive to improve the infrastructure. Any expensive upgrades or technological enhancements would have to be approved and funded by the government.

Other Issues
In order for Public Ownership to succeed, the following would preconditions would have to be met

  • We would need intelligent bureaucrats who know where to put the infrastructure
  • The bureaucracts would have to perform a sensible Cost-Benefit Analysis to ensure that there is a net gain.

Examples of poor analysis – the NSW Cross-City Tunnel and the Airport Link for which ticket/toll prices were considered unreasonably expensive by Sydneysiders. They were only patronised by a fraction of the expected number of commuters, and both facilities have gone into receivership.

Public-Private Partnerships
If handled correctly, these could possibly work, but recent history have shown the State Governments to be have been incompetent negotiators working against their constituents. Both the the failed NSW Cross-City Tunnel and the Airport Link were Public-Private partnerships.

Privatisation is Not for Everyone

May 6, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: NSW Politics, Uncategorized 

We’ve been hearing a lot about privatisation lately with the Iemma government’s determined plan to privatise the NSW electricity sector (Iemma powers ahead with electricity sale) despite widespread opposition within his own party.

I personally oppose the creation of private monopolies. Consumers realise no benefits from capitalism without the presence of healthy competition.

Another event took place that is likely to steer this debate further:

Today in the media, it was reported that the New Zealand government reached a $555 million deal with Toll Holdings to nationalise its railways. They were originally government owned, but had been privatised in the early 90’s under a previous government.

According to the article, under private ownership, the railway lines have been poorly maintained and many services reduced or cancelled, so the government saw no other option but to repurchase.

No Free Wifi for Sydney

ABC news has just informed that Morris Iemma has aborted the plan to provide free wireless internet access in the Sydney CBD and a few other areas.

I first read about this in MX in 2006, just before the election, and I knew the plan was total BS and a fake election promise to fool the naive.

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