Let me say it upfront: on greyhounds, the Government got it wrong. Banning the industry was a mistake, and we have changed our course.
The original decision was not made lightly. It was made based on compelling evidence compiled by a former judge of the High Court. It was made for good reasons, and with sincere intentions.
When you have a decisive government that isn’t afraid to face up to difficult issues and make hard decisions, it is inevitable that even our most ardent supporters will disagree with some of those decisions. That is the reality of governing in a liberal democracy with wide-ranging views on just about every political issue.
Of course, our friends on the left will insist the Government has now given in to political pragmatism over principle. That’s not true. The decision to overturn the ban is equally principled: an acknowledgement that acting swiftly to end greyhound racing altogether meant the industry didn’t get a fair go. Now it will have that chance.
Admitting that mistakes have been made and changing direction takes humility. It’s a rare quality in governments and in leaders. But that’s what this Government, led by Premier Mike Baird, has done. The case has been made from all quarters. Indeed, when even journalists with impeccably left-wing credentials like Anne Summers are singing from the same song sheet as the conservative talkback kings, you can’t help but know which way public sentiment is leaning.
At the Speccie’s recent ‘long lunch’ event, one erstwhile party loyalist pulled me aside and said, in no uncertain terms, that if the NSW Government didn’t do an about-face on greyhounds, he would never vote for the Liberal party again.
For an MP, feedback doesn’t get much clearer. It’s feedback we received in spades from the community, and when even your dyed-in-the-wool supporters are threatening to bleach their fleece, it’s time for some careful self reflection.
Indeed, one thing the greyhounds issue has demonstrated is that the conservative grassroots campaign run by the likes of The Spectator Australia has been eminently effective. Your voice has been heard. And it is my hope that the conservative base across Australia is heartened and encouraged to see that its campaigning efforts are an important part of shaping the policy that shapes our state and nation.
It’s also important to note that, while the greyhounds issue has been a significant one – and believe me, the tears shed in my electorate office from greyhound industry participants stand as testament to just how significant it is to those directly affected – it has been far from the only thing on our agenda.
To the contrary, we have had huge success in getting the fundamentals of government right. While governments both here and abroad have failed to make the tough decisions to eliminate deficit and debt, NSW stands out as a leading light, announcing just last week that we have cleared our state’s debt completely, with a budget now $4 billion in surplus. That’s $14 billion in debt wiped out in just over 5 years, under the stewardship of Mike Baird as Treasurer, then Premier.
And we did it while also delivering a $73 billion infrastructure program.
We are actually building rail where for decades it has been promised and never delivered. Long-overdue roads are being rolled out to bust congestion that has built up like cholesterol in our city’s arteries after years of inaction.
We have reformed the back office of government to deliver a leaner, more efficient engine to drive the state safely and surely into a prosperous future. And we have set new international benchmarks in revolutionising the way we deliver services to citizens. In short, we are doing exactly what we were elected to do by a voting public who were tired of Labor corruption and scandal and infighting and lethargy and sclerosis (to say nothing of the spiralling debt and deficit).
For the most part, our handling of these bread-and-butter issues doesn’t make the nightly news – or even The Speccie. But they do reflect the hard slog and determined application of classical liberal principles to the core responsibilities of government.
And our achievements on these fundamentals – the things state governments are ultimately elected to do – are a strong guide as to where the people of NSW can expect our energies to be directed. It is my hope that, at least among our traditional supporters, these achievements do not go unacknowledged, and the dark years of Labor are not forgotten.
I am reminded of those days every time I look – with dread – across the Parliamentary chamber at those sitting on the opposition benches, and think about the havoc their incompetence might wreak.
Like in Queensland, where a profligate Labor Government seems hell-bent on swelling the size of the public service until the state sinks under its own weight.
Or South Australia – the Athens of the south, as Greg Sheridan has called it – where candle manufacturing is the hot investment tip, because blackouts and astronomical power prices are the new normal in the land where electricity has been sacrificed at the Green altar of taxpayer subsidised renewables.
Or Victoria, where the Government’s crowning achievements have so far been spending billions on not building a desperately needed road, and mandating a Marxist indoctrination program for children in schools across the state against the will of parents.
These problems could be our problems here in NSW, but they are not even on the radar, because we have a Government with the likes of Mike Baird at the helm, a genuine leader who is not afraid to back his instincts and lead.
Those instincts and a determination to put in the hard yards have meant in just 5 years, the Liberal-National Government has been able to clean up a decades-old mess, and take NSW from the basket case of Australia to the number one economy in the nation, with daylight second.
The best place in the country to get a job and to do business.
The best place in Australia to live, work and play.
No government is perfect. For this Government, the greyhounds issue has been a deeply instructive experience. We have listened. We have learned.
But we are here to continue to serve the people of NSW with the same drive, determination and decisiveness that have defined our term so far.
Our eye is on the big picture, and from where I sit, the future of NSW is brighter than ever.