‘Our Glad’, otherwise known as New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, has produced what looks like an election-winning budget.
There’s another rude surplus, this time $3.9 billion coming off the back of the now-cooling property market and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $4.2 billion cheque for the state’s share of the Snowy Hydro scheme.
The state’s treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, has scattered largesse to help Our Glad win the next state election already scheduled under NSW’s fixed four-year terms for March 23 next year.
Mr Perrottet has cleverly targeted voters from a raft of marginal metropolitan seats to ease their costs of living.
There are energy rebates for low-income earners and from next month car registration for regular toll users will be free, saving some $700 a year.
Greater Sydney is believed to have the most expensively tolled roadway network in western civilisation, so this kickback to car commuters is a first. Meanwhile, caravan registration for grey nomads will be cut by 40 per cent.
Last year’s $100 voucher for kids’ sport, Active Kids, will be extended. Called Creative Kids, the $100 voucher will defray costs of music lessons, drama, arts, coding and second-language courses. There is no means test.
The Berejiklian government will also create 4800 new subsidised community pre-school places in suburban Sydney, said to save families on average $825 a year.
And there’s 100,000 fee-free apprenticeships to address the state’s skills shortage.
While claiming record spending on health and education in both capital works and increased staffing levels, the state’s cap of 2.5 per cent on any wage increases for its 300,000 nurses, teachers, police and public servants will remain.
This is in spite of Treasury papers indicating wages growth remains a big structural problem for the Australian economy.
But while all hand-outs and kickbacks will go down well with voters, the Coalition government – in power since its landslide defeat of a then discredited Labor party in 2011 – still faces a survival challenge.
While the government has “recycled” public assets like the electricity poles and wires, the land titles office and government-owned CBD property to invest in road projects like WestConnex and a new metro rapid transit system, the ribbon-cutting ceremonies on these massive projects are some time away.
Recently the Premier was so concerned her government was perceived to be all talk and no delivery, she appealed to the public to give her 18 more months.
Complicating the negative perception is an ugly dispute with the contractors of the Sydney CBD light rail project, which has disrupted the heart of the city for three years.
The dispute is before the courts with claim and counter-claim still to be resolved.
Ms Berejiklian needs to fix this negative perception and is now highly sensitive to any reports or leaks about budget blowouts and delays on some of the biggest infrastructure projects in Australia’s history.
While the government enjoys a solid working majority in the NSW “bear-pit” with 53 Coalition seats compared to Labor’s 34 seats, it will only take the loss of about six seats to place the government in minority and dependant on compatible crossbenchers. She needs 47 seats to form government.
Labor’s Luke Foley, catapulted to Opposition Leader only two months before the last state election, is still an unknown quantity.
While a change of government seems unlikely, Ms Berejiklian must be hoping the budget handouts will do the trick while she asks voters to trust her on project delivery to end the bane of their current existence: traffic gridlock.
Both she and Mr Perrottet have complained that NSW does not control population growth. Like all state governments, they just have to deal with it.