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The view from the command deck of the giant social machine known as New South Wales sweeps over Sydney Harbour from the 40th floor of Governor Macquarie Tower. It must have looked formidable to Barry O'Farrell when he took control on March 28: a $59 billion budget, 22 ministers, 300 government entities - from the Ambulance Service to Taronga Zoo - and more than 300,000 public sector workers.
The first thing O'Farrell did was turn away from the grand view and the soaring tower. He chose instead to work in the more modest, historic and comfortable Premier's quarters in Parliament House. As a symbol of greater financial discipline and efficiency he gave himself fewer personal staff. There were plenty of empty desks in the Premier's suite after he moved in.
He was determined to start fast, with 39 self-imposed commitments to be met during the first 100 days of government. They called it the action plan. With most of his ministers running a department for the first time, it would have been easy for them to be overwhelmed by process as they encountered the natural inertia and minutia of bureaucracy.
The clock did not wait. It started ticking on Sunday, April 4, the day the new cabinet was sworn in. It meant the first 100 days would tick over on July 12. Tuesday, next week.
So how did they go? Here are the highlights.
The most important reform was not on the action list, though it was obvious it had to be done to stop the budget blow-outs: cap public service wage increases at 2.5 per cent a year, with any additional increases to be justified by real productivity increases. Done.
The most important infrastructure project, which will be defining, was to fill the great gap in Sydney's transportation network, the North-West heavy rail link. Planning and tendering preparation for the multi-billion-dollar project had to begin within the first 100 days. Done. Repeal the powers granted under part 3A of the planning laws which allow a minister to over-ride decisions by local councils about major developments. Done.
Repeal the homebuyers' tax. Done.
Give police broader powers to respond to disorderly conduct. Done.
Set up Infrastructure NSW, which will decide which infrastructure projects take precedence. Done.
Establish an independent Public Service Commission to implement structural reform to the public sector. Done.
Dr Peter Shergold has been appointed chairman and staffing will begin soon.
End price discrimination against rail commuters by reducing the cost of the monthly, quarterly and annual rail passes. Done.
Axe the ''unattached list'' for public servants. The previous government spent millions paying wages to staff with no jobs because it would not allow forced redundancies. Done.
Sign an agreement with the operator of the M5 to expand this main artery linking Sydney with Campbelltown, the Southern Highlands and Canberra. Negotiations under way.
Introduce three-strike laws for pubs and clubs with a record of violence. Done. Increase penalties for graffiti. Done. Ban success fees for lobbyists. Done.
O'Farrell also made some key formative decisions in his ministry. The most important was placing his most seasoned and trusted minister, Brad Hazzard, into the most important portfolio, infrastructure.
He also folded responsibility for the Department of Environment into his own Premier's office, thus neutralising potential obstructionism from within the department. These two decisions should improve momentum in the government's entire planning process.
You can't win 'em all. Some major initiatives have been thwarted. The most notable failure was scaling back the Solar Bonus Scheme. The scheme required 90 per cent of electricity consumers to subsidise 10 per cent of solar power users. When the Legislative Council made clear it would not agree to roll the bonus back, the government caved, but at least sent a signal that it will no longer promote un-economic greenhouse abatement schemes.
The O'Farrell government has also tried, without success, to have the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, divert the $2.1 billion in federal funding promised for a rail link between Parramatta and Epping during last year's federal election campaign.
The NSW government wants it to go to the North-West rail link. Canberra has ignored this request, ignored the electoral mandate of the March 26 elections, and pretended its hands are tied.
The most noise has come from public sector unionists intermittently milling with placards and loudspeakers and class war rhetoric on Macquarie Street in protest against the cap on public sector wages.
The hypocrisy within this noise is self-evident. The 2.5 per cent cap was originally implemented by a Labor treasurer, Michael Costa, in Labor's 2008 budget. No noise came from the unions then. The new government has toughened the law to make this cap mandatory.
On June 16, the Labor Premier of Tasmania, Lara Giddings, introduced a budget with an identical 2.5 per cent cap for all new public sector wage agreements.
In Canberra, the Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, has railed repeatedly against the NSW legislation as an attack on the rights of public servants. When Labor introduced the same wage cap in Tasmania, not a peep came from Senator Evans.
Approaching his 100th day in office, Premier O'Farrell has begun well. The government's first three months have passed without scandal. No major blunder has come to light. It is early days, but a clean start.
Another 1368 days await this government before the people will have their say in 2015.
All in all, I think a dispassionate verdict on the government's first 100-day action plan could be summarised with one word: done.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/ofarrell-opens-with-a-classy-100-20110703-1gx62.html
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