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TDA’s chat with NSW Labor Leader Chris Minns

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Billi FitzSimons: Chris Minns, thank you so much for joining The Daily Aus.

Chris Minns: Thanks, Billi.

Billi FitzSimons: To start, I want to know, what do you think is the biggest issue facing young people today?

Chris Minns: I think for young people, it’s certainly housing, making sure that they’ve got a place to live and that they can contribute in an expensive city like Sydney, but increasingly in the regions as well. We’re seeing rents spike and go up higher and faster in regional New South Wales and in the city. So we want young people in particular to stick around and put down roots in this place.

Chris Minns: And if they can’t do that because it’s too expensive, that’s a big problem.

Billi FitzSimons: When we polled our audience this morning, the big thing that they said was inflation, which, you know, is incredibly high. As you said, young people are finding it incredibly tough. What policies are you proposing to ease the cost of living?

Chris Minns: Yeah, look, a few. So we think Sydney has been really gripped by toll roads, particularly over the last few years, and the government at the last election said we’re not going to privatise anything more. That’s straight out of the polling. They sold off the rest of WestConnex, which is the toll road network. Sydney’s the most tolled city on the face of the earth.

Chris Minns: We’re number one. So we’re putting in a total cap of $60 a week. If you use toll roads in Sydney, you’re not going to pay more than 60 bucks racked up as you move around the city, and the reason for that is if the families that live in western Sydney and on the Central Coast, for example, young people in particular, if you don’t have access to good public transport, you need to use your car and you shouldn’t be penalised as a result.

Chris Minns: We’re also knocking down the stamp duty for first home buyers by lifting the threshold from 650000 to 800000. So 95% of first home buyers will pay no stamp duty or a reduced amount on that. Labor’s policy and just yesterday we released an energy rebate for families and individuals and young people right across New South Wales with $250.

Chris Minns: Put that on top of the $250 from the Commonwealth Government and it will reduce bills by 500 bucks for those on income support across the state.

Billi FitzSimons: I want to talk about housing. Most of our audience are renters. What would your government do to ease the rent crisis?

Chris Minns: Well, I mean, first of all, you’re right. It is a crisis. There’s 2 million renters in New South Wales, and more often than not, they’re the great forgotten people of every election campaign. People do speak about other parts and aspects of the community, but rarely has there been a lot of policy development in relation to renters. So we’re going to establish a rental commissioner in the state to make sure that someone’s fighting on behalf of renters and there’s an advocate on behalf of renters.

Chris Minns: We’re introducing a portable bond scheme. So if you do have to move from one residence to the next, you don’t have to dip into your pocket to find the capital, the cash to put on a bond you can transfer from one title to the next. We’re going to make moves on no fault evictions so that you’ve got a system in place to give renters more rights.

Chris Minns: We’re going to make it easier or easier to have a pet in a rental. At the moment, it’s effectively very difficult for somebody that wants to have a pet in the policy that we’re bringing in, which has been replicated in Queensland and Victoria. You can put in an application if you don’t hear back within 30 days, it’s deemed approved, so you can keep the family pet.

Chris Minns: So look, a lot of initiatives, a big one is supply. And it’s important to know that over the last eight years, apartment approvals are at their lowest point since 2014. So supply is a big part of this, too. We need to make sure that there’s places for people, particularly young people, to live in Sydney. That’s a long answer, I know, but we’ve really thought deeply about renters and we think that if we’re going to make sure that young people get opportunities to put down roots in Sydney, then we have to make sure that there’s a place for them to live on supply.

Billi FitzSimons: What are the specific policies that you’re proposing about supply?

Chris Minns: A couple of things. Firstly, on government land that we do develop and believe that needs to be developed, we will ensure that 30% of it is social, affordable or inclusive housing. And that’s important because there’s not enough social housing in Sydney. And we know that people are in the most extreme cases becoming homeless as a result of that, that problem.

Chris Minns: Second thing we’re going to do is if you look at the way Sydney is growing and the current Liberal-National government has said that the vast majority of population growth has to occur west of Parramatta, so the Hills have to grow by 110,000, Parramatta by 120,000. If you come closer to the city, the numbers are half that, a third, a quarter of that.

Chris Minns: So we’re going to ask the Greater Sydney Commission to look on transport routes and rebalance populations along transport routes so that there’s opportunities for people to live closer to where they work.

Billi FitzSimons: I want to move to wages. One thing that we keep hearing about is a significant shortage of teachers and nurses, and a major issue for both of those professions is pay. Would teachers and nurses receive a pay rise in line with or above inflation under a government you lead?

Chris Minns: We can’t promise that and we’re not going to the election promising that. What we will say is that we will sit down with essential workers in the state to work out a fair bargain. I mean, at the moment you’re seeing a skills shortage right across the economy, but particularly in relation to essential services. And every other state is in a position where they can sit down and negotiate on wages and conditions for their employees and their workforce.

Chris Minns: Except in New South Wales, where we have a wages cap, now that wages cap means that it doesn’t matter what the Nurses Association or the Teachers Federation bring to the table, the answer will be no. From the Perrottet government, we want to just have a fair negotiation with the people. We need to run essential services in the state. Because you’re right.

Chris Minns: I mean, we haven’t spoken about it as much as we should have, but there’s been a 30% decline in the number of school leavers that are choosing to study education at university. And if that doesn’t radically improve soon, if we don’t get more teachers into the system, then the declining outcomes we’re seeing in education is just going to get worse, not better.

Billi FitzSimons: If you lift that cap, how would you fund that increase?

Chris Minns: Well, we’ve said a couple of things. We’ve made a whole bunch of decisions in the election campaign about savings. So we have a pool of funds that we need to run services in New South Wales. That’s everything from what we regard as a very bloated and top heavy public service in the state. Senior executive service levels grew by 34% in the last four years, but as you pointed out, the nurses and teachers and police officers, they’re leaving in droves.

Chris Minns: So it is about making choices so that you can make sure that resources are in the right place. And if we sit down with essential workers, we’ll go in with a really strict set of economic principles. Pay increases will have to be paid for by budget savings and productivity gains. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable if we’ve spoken obviously to worker representatives over the last few months and they just want to be able to sit down and have a proper negotiation.

Chris Minns: They do it everywhere else in Australia. Why can’t we do it here in New South Wales?

Billi FitzSimons: I want to move to pokies, which has turned out to be one of the biggest issues this election campaign. New South Wales has one of the world’s worst pokies problems. You’re against immediately implementing cashless gaming, which has been widely recommended. The New South Wales Liberal Party is for it. For people who do want to see serious reform for pokies.

Billi FitzSimons: Why would they vote for you?

Chris Minns: Yeah, look, I mean if you win from opposition and it’s a big if, we’ve still got two weeks to go, but it’s in effect inheriting a half done jigsaw puzzle. And in the last eight years or 12 years, I should say, gambling situation in New South Wales has gotten worse, not better. So problem gambling has doubled. We’ve got a second casino in New South Wales.

Chris Minns: The Government’s dismantled a lot of the oversight bodies that were responsible for enforcement. Losses for horses, greyhounds and trots have gone from $1 billion to $2 billion. So what I’m saying is that if you started from scratch, there’s no way that you’d deploy over 80,000 poker machines across New South Wales. And we do need a response to problem gaming because like a lot of people, I am concerned about the losses people incur.

Chris Minns: So we have released a ton of policies in relation to it, everything from banning clubs, from making political donations to banning signage and advertising out in front of pubs and clubs to a responsible gaming officer to.

Billi FitzSimons: But the one recommendation is cashless gaming, so why not that?

Chris Minns: Well, the main reason for that is because that policy has been implemented in only one country in the entire world, and that was in Norway. And in Norway there’s a $100 cap in place in New South Wales with the Territory Government’s proposed legislation. The gamble is it’s the cap. So the cap could be $1,000,000 a day or $2 million a day.

Chris Minns: My concern is that I don’t want to pursue a policy that, despite the best intentions in the world, ends up making the problem worse or making a serious situation even worse. So I’m not saying no. I am saying that I do think we need to have a trial. I can quickly roll out 500 machines across the state.

Chris Minns: We can assess what it does and what it means in terms of curbing both problem gamblers and also illicit behaviour, criminal behaviour inside pubs and clubs. And then an independent panel will make a recommendation to the government. I saw this with the lockout laws and greyhound racing where there was a drum bay in favour of reform and then several years later, the policy one to implement it had to be reversed.

Chris Minns: I don’t want to see that when it comes to problem gaming.

Billi FitzSimons: Sounds like what you’re saying is that you want more evidence, but we know that the evidence on the harm it causes is crystal clear. We know that it destroys lives. That’s why it was the first recommendation, as I said, from the New South Wales Crime Commission. What are you waiting for?

Chris Minns: Well, a couple of things. Firstly, the crime Commission recommendations was not in relation to problem gambling, it was in relation to illegal behaviour inside pubs.

Billi FitzSimons: But it wasn’t number one.

Chris Minns: That’s true. But I mean, the question from you to me was the harm that gambling does presumably in relation to losses for individual gamblers. So obviously I looked at that recommendation, but I want to make sure that reform, when it’s pursued, in fact works. And I do have an independent report from the Victorian Anti-gambling Association that said, once you divorce cash being fed into a machine and it’s a cashless card instead of cash, there’s a disassociation for the gambler because they don’t notice potentially how much they’re losing through the machine.

Chris Minns: And that’s my concern. That’s my, I guess, my reluctance to immediately endorse a policy that I’m not I’m not sure about the long term effects. It is in one jurisdiction only in the world, in Norway. But did they have a $100 cap on the amount that you can gamble?

Billi FitzSimons: Are you acting in the best interests of the people of New South Wales or in the best interests of the gambling industry?

Chris Minns: Well, absolutely not in the best interests of the gambling industry. And if you look at our comprehensive plan in relation to this, I don’t think it’s outrageous for us to say this is a policy that we need to get right and we want to make sure it’s evidence based and given many parts of the policy that we released several months ago were in fact adopted by the New South Wales Government and made bipartisan.

Chris Minns: I think that each shows that we’re prepared to make decisions in relation to gambling and gambling reform in the state of New South Wales that will in fact work. And a lot of people that are listening or watching this program will say, I remember when the government introduced the lockout laws and I remember when they introduced the Greyhound bans and everybody believed that it was the right policy to pursue.

Chris Minns: But there were unintended consequences that ended up making a bad situation even worse. I don’t want to repeat that here in New South Wales with gaming reform.

Billi FitzSimons: I want to move to climate change. Our audience said that one of their biggest concerns is climate change. What is your climate change policy?

Chris Minns: So we will legislate for net zero by 2050, The New South Wales Government said it as a target but haven’t implemented a policy. We’re also committed to ensuring that we pursue the renewable energy revolution in the state of New South Wales as wonderful opportunities for economic growth and opportunity for young people. But we need to make sure that we’ve got enough dispatchable power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind is blowing.

Chris Minns: So we’ve set up the Energy Security Corporation, which is about long term renewable energy projects, mainly around storage, so that we can supplement the private capital that’s going into renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, and make sure that we’ve got enough dispatchable power right throughout New South Wales.

Billi FitzSimons: You talk about renewable energy, but you have said that you would be open to buying back the state’s largest coal fired power station, which was set to close in 2025. Will your government be putting more money into the fossil fuel industry?

Chris Minns: Well, it’s really important to note that we have not committed to that. But we could be in a commercial negotiation with the owners of that in a few years time if we win the election on the 25th of March. The government has not detailed how we will deal with our loss of 25% of the energy supply on the eastern seaboard in New South Wales and if it was switched off in 2025 and you don’t have enough dispatchable power for the state of New South Wales.

Chris Minns: Well, I’m concerned about not keeping the lights on. It’s really important to note that the bipartisan renewable energy zones and the renewable energy roadmap, which was moved by the New South Wales Government and I give them credit for that. We supported it. All of that was predicated on the closure of Harare and other power stations in New South Wales on a certain timetable.

Chris Minns: Now the private owners of those generators have brought those dates forward and as a result, everybody has to make sure that we’ve got policies in place to keep the lights on. That’s important in terms of keeping community support for climate change and renewable energy. I’m convinced we can get there. But part of that is making sure that we’ve got dispatchable power for millions of people.

Billi FitzSimons: But so the answer is yes, that you would consider putting more money into the fossil fuel industry. Well.

Chris Minns: It would be a private negotiation between I’m sorry, a public negotiation, but between the government and a private company. And I’m just not prepared to enter into speculation in relation to that. If I become premier of New South Wales, I’ve got an obligation on behalf of taxpayers in the state to get that right.

Billi FitzSimons: I want to move to vaping. What are you proposing to do to tackle the state rise in vaping?

Chris Minns: Yeah, the Opposition supported the Government’s proposals to move vaping to a prescription based model. I have seen in my own life friends of mine that had to die. Two packets and three packets a day. Habits move to vaping and they are saying or suggesting to me that it’s working for them now. It’s not been independently peer reviewed and obviously it’s emerging technology, so we need to make sure we get it right.

Chris Minns: I thought the government’s decision to move to a prescription based model where you have to get a prescription from a doctor in order to access vaping was the right decision and we supported it in the Parliament. There’s also a problem with enforcement, however, because I don’t vape, but a lot of people tell me that they’re freely available without a prescription right across New South Wales.

Chris Minns: So it’s important that if we do pass laws in the New South Wales Parliament, they in fact work in the rollout.

Billi FitzSimons: You talk about the fact that a lot of people use it to get off smoking, but a lot of young people use it aren’t prior smokers at all and it is widely available, as you say. What can you actually do to enforce the fact that it is only meant to be available if you have a prescription?

Chris Minns: Yeah, I mean, I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s what we need to focus on. You know, it’s difficult to do that from our position. We did support the legislation to move it to a prescription based model, because I did recognise that for some people that are getting off smoking, it’s a good halfway house.

Chris Minns: But there’s obviously unintended but serious consequences for young people who’ve been introduced to vaping and therefore nicotine when they’re too young. And it could have serious long term effects on their health. Enforcement’s going to be part of that. Also education so that young people know that this isn’t a harmless activity. It could have long term effects on health.

Billi FitzSimons: I actually had to talk about this topic twice last week, and I was interested in your answers because one time you said that it was a little bit of an issue and the other time you said that it’s lethal. Which one is it? And do you change your answer depending on the audience that you’re speaking to?

Chris Minns: I think that would be a really unfair characterisation of the questions that I get as part of my job as laid out. I mean, I’ve always been transparent about the problems that the people of New South Wales face, and I try to be honest about the solutions.

Billi FitzSimons: So it is a little bit of an issue or a big issue.

Chris Minns: Well, I mean, the statistics in relation to school children indicate that it’s a growing issue. I think there’s an increase of 700% in terms of reporting of vaping in school schoolyards and education facilities right across New South Wales. So that would indicate that it’s a bigger issue, a big issue.

Billi FitzSimons: The leadership challenge for a lot of opposition leaders is that voters inevitably don’t know you as well as they know the Premier. I’m interested in what is the most important quality in a leader?

Chris Minns: I think empathy and the ability to listen is really important. As a leader, you need to make sure that you craft policies that help people that make the state better. And that’s what New South Wales Labor’s done. And I think that’s the leadership quality that I brought to the job. We recognize that there’s big challenges in the state of New South Wales, particularly in relation to schools and hospitals.

Chris Minns: But our message is we can rebuild essential services without privatising essential assets.

Billi FitzSimons: And so as a mark out of ten, how would you rate your. I’m not going.

Chris Minns: To leave that up to the voters. They’ve got to wait to make up their decision.

Billi FitzSimons: Fair enough. Thank you so much, Chris Minns.

Chris Minns: Thank you so much.

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