It’s great to be here tonight in Western Sydney – the aspirational heart of NSW. More than two million people make their homes here – over a quarter of our state’s population. It’s where more than 160,000 businesses are driving our economy forward. It’s a region synonymous with hard work, and hope for a better future.
Western Sydney is the fastest growing region in our entire nation. And here, more than anywhere else, neighbourhoods are feeling the effects of a booming population. It’s no secret our road, rail, school and hospital infrastructure is under pressure.
NSW Labor’s decades of neglect left our state with a $30 billion infrastructure backlog. Today our Government has found the funds and the fortitude to rebuild NSW. But even with our record infrastructure pipeline, the pressure being felt by communities is real. That’s why today our Premier has called for a sensible pause on immigration – to give our growing state some breathing space.
She is dead right.
As Treasurer, I understand the important role population plays in economic growth. But when it comes to our economy, I am less focused on simply adding more people – And more focused on opening up new opportunities for jobs and industry, and lowering the tax and regulatory burden for the ones that are already thriving.
The fact is, even with a significant cut in immigration Sydney will continue to grow. And our Government has the foresight to deal with that growth. Our Three Cities Vision has put future planning for Western Sydney at the top of the priority list.
It means for the first time in our state’s history we are planning and building the infrastructure ahead of time – rather than as an afterthought. The bottom line is – whether it’s economic growth or population growth – it can’t come at the expense of quality of life for the people who already live here.
This is a sentiment felt deeply in the living rooms and around the dinner tables of working families across NSW
But it’s not unique to Australia.
And I believe it is one of the central issues driving a global backlash against policies that fail to put working families first.
For example, just a few weeks ago, I was in London on a trade mission, accompanied by the NSW Treasury Secretary. Over five days, we met with government officials, ratings agencies, hedge fund managers, leading economists and prominent bankers. The one topic that came up in nearly every discussion was Brexit. Almost without exception, every person we met thought Brexit was a bad idea.
In fact, out of the many meetings we had, I can recall only one person who was in favour of Brexit – and he was an Australian.
Now in some sense I can understand the pessimism from an economic perspective. There are no doubt economic and trade benefits from Britain being in the EU – and some of that may be affected.
But it was the singular focus on the economic consequences – above all else – that surprised me.
Now don’t get me wrong – as Treasurer of NSW, I have two abiding passions – strong economies and healthy budgets. But they are not the goals. They are only means to an end – and that end is a society that is strong, free and fair.
Many Brexit voters would no doubt be feeling they have missed out on the opportunities provided by a globalised world. But my take is that for the ordinary Brit, Brexit had less to do with the economy and more to do with sovereignty, identity, fairness and freedom.
This populist rejection of establishment politics seems to be sweeping the West – whether it’s in the US, Italy, Sweden, Germany or France. And in some ways it’s a rebellion of the working and middle class against the political establishment.
We’re seeing it here in Australia too, with the vote for minor parties on the rise.
I believe one of the major factors at play here has been the complete transformation of the Labor party over the past 30 years. This was an organisation founded for the express purpose of advancing the interests of the working class. But that old Labor is long gone.
Just last week I was reading a study from the Menzies Research Centre. It showed a complete collapse in union membership – which is now less than ten percent in the private sector. Of those remaining, less than 18% were labourers and machine operators. But over 40% were professionals and managers – mostly in the public sector, wealthy and well educated.
As the research concludes – unions have gone from blue collar to big government – and now are nothing more than a very well funded minority special interest group.
New Labor has thoroughly abandoned its working class roots. It now cares more about your identity than your ability. This shows in their policy positions – more in tune with the cafes of Surry Hills than the suburban streets of Seven Hills.
But while many of these working and middle class voters have turned to minor parties and independents, it is the Liberal party that is their natural home.
We too have an enduring mission – that Menzies began – to represent the interests of the Forgotten People. Today the Forgotten People are not just the middle class – but much of the working class too – Middle Australia.
Unlike others, Middle Australia has no lobby group. There are no rallies. There is no political grandstanding. They have no media spokesperson. They are not protesting at the Opera House on a Tuesday evening. They’re too busy just getting on with the job. Running businesses. Raising families. And contributing to their communities.
They have no special demands – only ordinary concerns. To live their lives in safety and security, the way they want. To have opportunities to get ahead and do better. To provide a better future for their children. And take pride in their community and country.
If you were to distill the driving force of Middle Australia down to three words, they’d be: freedom, prosperity, opportunity. These are the values of the Liberal party too, and we are delivering on them.
Tonight I want to talk about how we are doing it – and why our opponents never can.
Let me start with freedom – because I believe it’s the bedrock value upon which everything else is built.
And there is a direct correlation between societies that are free and societies that are prosperous. But there is no doubt: the classical liberal consensus that has governed western societies is under tremendous pressure. We see this with laws to restrict free speech, government bureaucracies to police what we say and the ever growing censorship on social media platforms.
And we see this with the rise of political correctness.
We are constantly lectured by our moral betters that our flag needs to be redesigned, our Constitution rewritten, our statues torn down, and Australia Day scrapped as well.
But here’s the thing.
The vast majority of Australians love their country – and are proud of it.
So the Liberal party should be an unashamed defender of our history and our heritage – it has made us who we are. As Stan Grant has pointed out, Australia is made up of three unique strands – our indigenous heritage, our British past and our immigrant cultures. All should be recognised and celebrated equally – not one at the expense of another. And that’s why – rather than tearing statues down – we are raising them up – just like we’ve done with the statue of James Martin in Parramatta.
I know that the NSW Labor party are silent on many of these issues. That’s because they prefer to use the Greens as a stalking horse for what they know to be unpopular today. But make no mistake – where the Greens are today, Labor is tomorrow.
Political correctness takes other forms as well. It also explains the rise of ideological initiatives like the Safe Schools program. But we believe parents come before political correctness – that’s why our government axed Safe Schools last year.
And there is no doubt that if NSW Labor ever sat on the government benches again, they would bring it back. Just look at Victoria, where the Labor government has not only backed the program – but installed it in 98% of public high schools in the state.
A bias towards freedom of the individual is embedded in our party’s DNA – and it’s why only the Liberals can deliver it.
The same goes with prosperity.
In 2007, a number of leading Australian political figures on the left – including NSW Labor politicians – wrote a letter to a foreign President, urging him to visit Australia. The signatories said they had been impressed with this President’s efforts to “improve the living standards” of his citizens. And that his achievements would be a “source of inspiration and ideas for many in Australia”. The President was Hugo Chavez. The country – Venezuela.
The impact of this grand socialist experiment on one of the richest countries in South America is evident for all to see. Mass starvation, chronic shortages of medicine, and continual breaches of human rights – with over 2 million Venezuelans fleeing in the last 3 years
Ideology matters. Political philosophies are competing visions of what makes a good life – and a good state.
In that sense, NSW has been a testing ground for the economic policies of both major parties for the past 20 years. The evidence is there for all to see.
The NSW Liberals have taken our economy from last to first, with strong growth and record employment. Policy settings of free markets, lowering taxes, removing regulation, and partnering with the private sector have brought NSW back from the brink – and sent it powering ahead.
But this only matters because it means more opportunities for Middle Australia to prosper. A strong economy gives people the freedom to achieve. A strong budget means we can build record numbers of schools, hospitals – and yes, stadiums as well, including the spectacular new stadium we will soon have here in Western Sydney. All of this would be impossible with a high taxing, high regulation, anti-business Labor government.
To deliver prosperity, you have to get the basics right. Things like building infrastructure, providing energy and water security.
Now infrastructure is a boring word. But building transport infrastructure such as roads and rail gives people the gift of time. It enables people get to work faster, get home quicker – and spend more time where they want – And that is why we’re building it.
Right now the NSW Labor party is opposing WestConnex – a road that will change the lives of people in Western Sydney. But it’s good to remember the Labor party also opposed the M2 – calling it the Road to Nowhere. It’s now used by thousands of motorists each day and we can’t imagine life without it.
Right now our government is also copping some criticism because certain projects are running behind schedule. But I say these projects aren’t months behind – they’re years behind because they were never built by previous Labor governments. And they were never built because those Labor governments never had the money to fund them.
It’s why in his budget reply speech this year, the Opposition Leader began with a litany of projects he would cancel. As I said at the time, it’s the first time in political history that people left a budget reply speech with less than when they walked in.
The Liberal party is best equipped to deliver not just on infrastructure – but on energy as well. Let me first say this – as a conservative, I believe in protecting our environment for us and for future generations to enjoy. Like every Australian, I love the natural wonders we are blessed with in this nation. And I believe that one day, most of our energy will come from renewable sources. But right now, ham fisted big government intervention is doing nothing more than driving up prices and scaring away investors.
Ten years ago, then Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised that renewable energy targets would end up costing “$1 per person per year”. Today, Labor’s big lie is hurting the families of Middle Australia. As Scott Morrison said in response to this week’s IPCC report, what we really need is a sensible middle ground. Affordable energy, and sensible environmental policy are not mutually exclusive.
We need to preserve our environment – but that does not have to come at the expense of the people literally working at the coalface – in places like the Illawarra and the Hunter Valley. Or at the expense of family budgets and small businesses trying to make ends meet.
There is little doubt NSW Labor wants to impose the same 50% renewable energy target that their counterparts have in Victoria, SA and QLD – and drive up the price of energy even further. It’s time to the put the people of Penrith before the bureaucrats of Paris. NSW Labor should join with us and back in our miners and back in jobs here in NSW.
The Liberal party is also best placed to deliver opportunity.
Earlier, I mentioned the new statue of James Martin – which now proudly stands in the new Parramatta Square. If you haven’t seen it – it’s the statue of a 12 year old boy – a Parramatta lad. The son of a servant – striding off to school in 1832. That boy from Western Sydney would go on to become Premier and Chief Justice of NSW. His legacy of seizing opportunity against all odds is alive and well here in the West.
In our Government’s vision for three great cities in Greater Sydney, two of them are in the West. Parramatta is already thriving – and projects like WestConnex, Parramatta Light Rail – will turbocharge its future. Meanwhile the Western Parkland city is stirring to life.
Last time I spoke at the Menzies Research Centre it was in the Sydney CBD. Today I’m in our city’s geographic heart in Parramatta. Perhaps the next time it will be at Badgery’s Creek.
Because today the foundations for enormous opportunities are being laid before our eyes. The new Western Sydney airport will be a new gateway to the world. And a new gateway to the jobs and industries that our future economy will rely on.
This is the opportunity at the core of the Liberal philosophy. We know middle Australia wants opportunities to get ahead. To ease the pressure today, and aspire to a better future for their children. In fact aspiration is what the Liberal party is about.
Our Premier is a shining example – born to migrant parents, Gladys barely spoke English when she started school. Today she is Premier of Australia’s biggest, most populous state. That’s the kind of opportunity Liberals believe in.
Our strong financial position means we can offer better education, better healthcare and more nurses and teachers. It’s why we’ve also been able to create our state’s first ever sovereign wealth fund, ensuring that we think about the needs of future generations today.
When it comes to opportunity, the contrast between the Liberal and Labor parties is stark. Under the weight of Labor’s tax and spend philosophy, opportunity and aspiration shrink. Enabling opportunity also means taking the pressure off family budgets. Our recent budgets have seen tax cuts, stamp duty reductions to help people buy their first homes, free apprenticeships and also vouchers for kids sport and creative activities.
This is on top of reductions to green slips, rego relief for toll users and new energy rebates. Individually, these cost savings many not seem huge – but they all add up. And they come from a place of deep respect for working Australians who are at the front line of our state’s resurgence.
Let me conclude with this. In his Inaugural Address back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously said: Ask not what your country can do for you – but what you can do for your country.
And it is the men and women, families and businesses of middle Australia who answer that call every day.
Together, we are building a future that – I believe – will be grander than any of us can yet imagine. As we continue this great project, my message to middle Australia is this: the NSW Liberal Party stands for you, and stands with you. The values that you hold dear, are the same values we fight for every day. We will defend freedom. We will keep our economy strong and fair. And we will ensure that opportunity is available for all – paving pathways to prosperity for each of us today, and for our children tomorrow.