The easiest thing for a government to do is nothing. That way you can avoid rocking the boat – that is until things start falling apart.
Ten years ago, NSW was falling apart and people were fed up. Job growth was sluggish and the economy was in the slow lane. Desperately needed projects were announced, then scrapped, as communities choked and the infrastructure backlog swelled to an estimated $30 billion.
When the Liberals and Nationals won the 2011 election, it was on a mandate to get things done. Ten years and two more elections on, I don’t view this milestone as a time to put our feet up.
Rather, it’s a time for reflection on what has gone well, what hasn’t and what is next. What is beyond doubt is that our government has refused to take the easy option and do nothing.
A long list of projects has been delivered and more are in the pipeline – bringing rail to Sydney’s north-west, metros, motorways, light rails, new schools and hospitals across the state and massive regional projects such as the Pacific Highway upgrade up north, the Princess Highway down south. Museums, galleries, precinct renewals, a new airport – all of this action is evident in the cranes in the sky and the boring machines under the ground.
No one is complaining about inaction any more and our state will reap the rewards for decades to come. At the same time, we have made NSW the standard for government service delivery, pioneering the Service NSW model that has proved so successful during the pandemic.
The old RTA model has happily faded to a distant memory, and more services – even digital driver’s licences – are available at the click of a button.
We have increased the frontline public service workforce by more than 20,000 and, when put to the ultimate test in the pandemic, our public services have been a pillar of support for our people.
All of this has been underpinned by our trademark fiscal responsibility. Strong surpluses in the past were criticised but, in our state’s time of greatest need, strong finances set NSW apart, while asset recycling has allowed us to unlock capital to invest in new community assets such as schools and hospitals.
Some well-intended initiatives have not entirely worked as they should have in practice. Infrastructure project costs, council amalgamations, and – on a personal level – the transition to the new workers’ compensation scheme icare, all come to mind
The fact there is room for improvement is something we must face up to honestly, and it is a source of great motivation to me and my colleagues to do better.
Most disappointing have been revelations of totally unacceptable behaviour by a few members of Parliament and the 10-year mark should serve as a reminder that serving the people of our state leaves no room for complacency. If you can’t face up to that responsibility, you don’t deserve to be here.
For all the challenges, it is my firm belief that the people of NSW have continued to support our government because we refuse to take the easy option and coast.
We have kept building, kept reforming, kept searching for new and better ways for government to serve the people and we would rather be criticised for getting things done and making mistakes along the way than letting NSW stagnate.
In 10 years, we have achieved a great deal, but strong finances and great infrastructure are not ends in themselves.
We will continue to focus on these areas as we look ahead to the next phase: honing and reforming the services we deliver and the economic framework in NSW, so they are better geared to propel the people of our state to success.