Bold plans for NSW
Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell talks to PAWAN LUTHRA on his visions for NSW and for the Indian community here
The pundits have all but given the elections to the Coalition in NSW. It is predicted that Barry O’Farrell’s coalition of the Liberal and Nationals will romp into power when the NSW State Elections are held on 26th March. While there is a lot of admiration for the style and spirit of the current NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, it seems that people have had enough of NSW Labor after 15 years and it is a safe bet that Barry O’Farrell will be the next Premier of the state.
Barry O’Farrell, on his part, is certainly not taking this for granted. Even as I prepare for our scheduled meeting, he is at Strathfield station in Sydney’s inner west, presenting his party’s credentials to morning rush-hour commuters. He rushes in to his Parliament House office, looking every bit like a man in a hurry. He settles in, amidst all the sporting memorabilia that decorates the room, but only briefly – he’s going to be out there again shortly, talking to more people.
Here are excerpts from our conversation.
“Value of education is
something which the
Australians can learn
from the local Indian
Indian Link: The NSW State elections are only a few weeks away and the pre-polls are predicting a landslide victory for you. Have you booked the removalists for the 27th of March?
Barry O’Farrell: No, all we have booked are the TV, radio and print ads! What we see are the state-wide polls which do not reflect what is happening in marginal seats, and marginal seats win elections. So we are going to be working hard till the polls close at 6 pm on 26 March. We are taking nothing for granted, and are taking every opportunity to outline our policies for the people of NSW.
IL: Assuming the pundits are correct, what will your priorities be for the first few days in the office as the Premier of NSW?
BO’F: Our first priority is to get the economy moving. We want it to be the first place in Australia for people to do business. We want to improve our state’s investments and trade relationships in the region as a place to do business and we want local businesses to get a fairer deal from the government so that they can grow their business. In order to do this, we need to get revenue and the best way to get revenue is not to put up taxes and charges, but by growing business investment, and that is why strong economic growth is our number one goal. We plan to lighten the tax burden, regulatory reform, introduce a jobs action plan, establish a small business commissioner so that we are working inside the bureaucracy, cut red tape and encourage small business.
“I’d be very happy to review a proposal for help in starting an India House now that it has been brought to my attention.
IL: Over the past few months we’ve noticed your increased presence at local Indian gatherings. Tell us about your engagement with the Indian community.
BO’F: Well, I have always enjoyed attending Indian events. Over the past decade it’s usually been the annual Republic Day dinner. But in the past four years, being the Leader of the Opposition has meant that the number of invitations coming in have increased. I am happy to attend any community event, but I am conscious of the great contributions that the Indian Australians have made to our nation, state and city. The Indian community is industrious and peaceful; they focus on issues similar to those the Liberals-Nationals focus on, namely enterprise, opportunity and ensuring a better future for all.
I also feel that value of education is something which Australians can learn from the local Indian community. We, who have been here for generations can lose sight of it. I think education is the key which can unlock the future and Indian parents make all efforts to educate their children.
IL: In the last 18 months, Indian student numbers have been on the decline. While managing the student relationship is a Federal responsibility, the fact is that NSW businesses are feeling the crunch. Do you think the Rees-Keneally Government handled the students’ crisis of 2009 appropriately? What would you do to re-start the flow of students to NSW?
BO’F: First, the Rees-Keneally government failed to ensure that the state government agencies who were responsible for doing proper checks on the colleges, did their jobs. When these colleges failed, it sent a terrible message to those back in India about the quality of education here. We know that we had incidents involving violence towards Indian students and though these were not as bad as those happening in Victoria they were nevertheless handled almost as badly. We need to send a strong message that overseas students are more than welcome in this city and we need to be out there in India highlighting the value which we place on multiculturalism in this state and in this nation.
IL: A big NSW, or a sustainable NSW?
BO’F: Both. The Federal government controls the immigration intake. What the State government needs to do is to match the infrastructure requirements. We are committed to an infrastructure overhaul. We cannot stop people coming in. I do not want to stop people coming in, but what we can do is to highlight the advantages and opportunities which exist all over NSW, rather than just in Sydney alone. This way we would be seeking a balanced growth all over the State.
IL: The Indian community has grown substantially over the past few years. An ‘India House’ is desperately required. State government help in providing a subsidised building will go a long way to benefit the community. If you are voted in as the NSW Premier, will you assist in getting a venue?
BO’F: That issue has never been raised with me before and I am happy to have a look at it. But the Indian community has been incredibly industrious and successful without government assistance. I do believe government assistance can be useful but I also worry that when government gets involved with any association, even community, it brings with it their rules and regulations that interferes with its core purpose. But, I’d be very happy to review a proposal for help in starting an India House now that it has been brought to my attention.
IL: Over the past four years, there have been a number of activities which the NSW Government has instigated for the Indian community, such as Diwali celebrations at Parliament House, Parramasala, and the Indian Sub-continent Community Awards. Will you continue with these? Would you initiate other such activities that involve the local community?
BO’F: We are very keen to keep the involvement between the government of this state and the local Indian community progressing. We have a bipartisan approach to this. I do believe that there are other ways in which we can engage the local Indian community but forgive me if I keep our powder dry during the election campaign. There are Indian events which can and should form part of our major events strategy. There are ways in which we can better the interaction between the two countries – I believe the G’Day USA style of publicity is very good. I do not see why that cannot work with states of or with the nation of India.
IL: How can the local Indian community contribute better to NSW?
BO’F: They do contribute through their efforts and enterprise and I encourage them to do so. One message I do have for them is that a sign of their maturity will be an increasing involvement with politics and I am not being partisan here. Party membership of various language groups is one way of ensuring that we end up with a Parliament that mirrors the community at large.
IL: An Indian personality that inspires you?
BO’F: I am inspired by the quotes of Gandhi. I am inspired by the energy, efforts and the words used by your local Consul General Amit Dasgupta who I think is doing a great job for the Indian community.