Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns are making their final bids to woo the people of NSW in the last days before the election on March 25.
Facing off at the Sky News / The Daily Telegraph People’s Forum, the leaders were grilled on the rising cost of living among other issues by audience members.
Mr Perrottet rattled off a list of benefits he would provide to families if the Liberal Party were elected for a fourth term on Saturday, including dropping the cap on public transport costs from $50 a week to $40 a week, and a $250 reduction on “every energy bill in NSW”.
The Labor leader reminded voters of his promised $60 tolls cost cap, stamp duty threshold increase and energy rebate to small businesses – but said it was his party’s commitment to stopping the sell off of public assets that would make the biggest difference.
“I think the best thing we can do for the long term future of cost of living in New South Wales is stop the madness of privatisation,” he said.
MINNS CLAPPED ON HEALTHCARE
With both leaders invited to ask each other a question, Mr Minns asked if the Premier “regretted” his decision to freeze wages for essential workers, like nurses and paramedics.
Mr Perrottet said it was a “difficult” decision, which was required during the pandemic.
“That’s why our state was able to navigate through the year,” he said.
Mr Minns refuted his answer and blamed Mr Perrottet’s decision for an exodus of healthcare workers.
“It was wrong. Now he’s doubled down on it,” he said.
The answer appeared to resonate with the audience, with some clapping.
Premier Dominic Perrottet was grilled by an audience member in the first moments of Wednesday’s debate. Picture: Sky News
PREMIER GRILLED IN FIRST MOMENTS
In the first question of Wednesday night’s Sky News / The Daily Telegraph People’s Forum, Mr Perrottet was grilled by a member of the public on privatisation.
Audience member Kim asked the Premier whether he would buy back the state’s assets that had been sold off to private companies.
“You keep selling our assets. Clearly you keep spending money which worries me that you guys don’t know how to budget properly,” Kim asked.
While Mr Perrottet assured the audience the government had no plans to sell any more assets and highlighted the government’s AAA credit rating, the answer was not good enough for Kim.
Unsatisfied with Mr Perrottet’s answer, Kim bought up tolls.
Mr Perrottet defended selling the state’s tollways, like WestConnex, and said the “motorways had made a real difference”.
”WestConnex ensures people can get to work and upon faster, spending more time with their families,” he said.
The Premier was given no help from his adversary, who has spent much of his campaign pointing out the Liberal Party’s poor record on privatisation.
Opposition leader Chris Minns told the crowd tolls were crippling families, especially those who didn’t have access to public transport.
“It’s important to note that the entire M8 could be paid off eight times over, as a result of the revenue coming into the privatised toll company,” he said.
Mr Perrottet was asked about privatisation, before the same audience member hit back with a second question on tolls. Picture: Sky News
MINNS SLAMMED ON WAGE CAP VOW
The first two questions – on privatisation and NSW’s public healthcare system – have leaned in Labor’s favour.
A maternity ward nurse asked what each leader would do to help the state’s public hospitals, noting she had seen overcrowding in maternity wards and claiming “every woman” to give birth in the last five years had “a horror story”.
Mr Minns’ was reiterated his pledge to scrap the wages cap for public service workers in response.
However, the debate quickly shifted onto the budgetary cost of lifting the cap.
On Monday, the Parliamentary Budgetary Office (PBO) found a 1 per cent increase to the current 3 per cent cap could lead to a $2.6b cost to the state’s budget if the measure could not be offset through other savings as Labor had pledged – something Mr Perrottet was quick to remind the audience of.
“When you have a major budget cost that you can’t claim, that’s going to cost the taxpayers of NSW,” said Mr Perrottet.
”What Chris has done is increase wages for public servants without telling anybody how much this would cost.”
The second audience member to ask a question, a maternity ward nurse, sparked a second argument over Labor’s controversial pledge to scrap the wage cap for public service workers. Picture: Sky NewsChris Minns had an early lucky break in the People’s Forum Leaders Debate. Picture: Sky News
Wednesday night’s debate is the final time Mr Perrottet and Mr Minns will go head-to-head before the all-important polling day on March 25.
During the debate, both leaders will answer questions from 100 undecided voters.
Mr Perrottet and Mr Minns both wore dark suits with a white shirt and light blue tie. Before the debate started they spent time shaking hands and meeting the audience.
Mr Minns started his election pitch with a promise to fix the state’s education and hospital systems and scrap the public service wages cap.
Mr Perrottet highlighted the Coalition’s infrastructure achievements and the government’s Kid’s Future Fund.
At the same debate before the 2019 state election, the lacklustre performance of then-Opposition Leader Michael Daley was blamed for Labor’s downfall at the polling booths.
Asked about the Opposition’s education and Tafe funding policies, he stumbled over the figures promised by his party.
Days later, then-Premier Gladys Berejiklian took the Coalition to their third term in government.
Sky News Australia Chief News Anchor Kieran Gilbert will moderate the forum on Wednesday night, in the key marginal seat of Penrith, held by Liberal MP Stuart Ayres and challenged by Labor candidate Karen McKeown.
As of 12pm Wednesday, the NSW Electoral Commission says 638,484 votes have been cast in pre-poll booths, plus 28,788 returned postal votes.
5,521,688 voters are expected to cast their ballots this election.
Read related topics:Dominic PerrottetNSW State Election 2023