All eyes were on the NSW state election over the weekend, with the NSW Coalition swiftly retaining power for another four-year term.
In our feature article today our experts put the policies of the winning side under the microscope, outlining what we can expect now in the areas of:
- Construction & Infrastructure
- Corporate & Commercial
- Property & Real Estate
- Transport, Shipping & Logistics
- Workplace Relations & Safety.
Construction & Infrastructure
Construction issues were a significant talking point in the lead up to the NSW state election, and will continue to attract much attention and debate.
We break-down the key election promises and reforms that we can expect from the returning government.
Metro West and Regional Roads
A major project featuring in the election campaign was Metro West, an underground metro railway aimed at connecting the key precincts of Greater Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, the Bays Precinct and the Sydney CBD. The NSW Coalition government had announced funding of $6.4 billion in 2016 and construction is set to commence in 2020.
Funding of $1.54 billion was also allocated towards fixing local roads and bridges in regional NSW. This election funding promise was intended to help ease the burden on local ratepayers. In addition, an independent expert panel will assist regional council to ensure sufficient process, cost and timeline is met.
The construction industry had already started to feel a decline with almost 40,000 construction jobs lost (more here), but the NSW Coalition’s commitment to both the Metro West and Regional Roads is set to help boost construction jobs in the state.
The controversial demolition and construction of Sydney Football Stadium and refurbishments to the Sydney Olympic Stadium were under the spotlight in the lead up to the election, particularly in light of the failed legal challenge to the Sydney Football Stadium demolition.
With caretaker mode over, we await commencement of the reforms to the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act 1999 (NSW) (SOPA) following the passing of the Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Amendment Bill 2018 in November 2018. The amendments will prove to be significant as a claimant corporation in liquidation will be unable to take steps under the SOPA and incentives to challenge adjudication determinations containing minor errors will be removed.
The NSW Government announced prior to the election that they will support a majority of the recommendations from the Shergold Weir Report and Opal Tower Report (more here). Again, with caretaker mode over, we await the details and structure of the reform package which may include the creation of the office of Building Commissioner, empowered to conduct inspections of buildings and undertake compliance audits at random, as well as increased regulation of building practitioners.
Corporate & Commercial
The 2019 election campaign saw a continued focus by the NSW Coalition on small and medium enterprises, together with new incentives for private sector investment in renewables.
Assistance package for small to medium size businesses
Following on from increases to payroll tax thresholds announced in the 2018-2019 NSW Budget, the Government has now proposed to reduce the workers compensation insurance premiums paid by businesses by $100 million per year ($300 million over the forward estimates). In a bid to encourage safe work practices, the changes are targeted at businesses with a safe work history.
The Government has also committed to amending its approach to procurement, requiring all NSW Government agencies to consider small business suppliers for everything that the agencies purchase.
These changes are intended to provide encouragement to small business in NSW.
New co-working start-up hub in Western Sydney
In a new initiative designed to support start-ups in Western Sydney, an existing government building in Parramatta North will be renovated into a co-working start-up hub, with subsidised affordable work spaces and programs to support new businesses. With operations proposed to commence on 1 July 2020, at least 1,500 m2 will be available to rent by start-ups and small businesses. The programs will be funded by the Department of Industry.
Consistent with the NSW Government’s ongoing focus and investment in Western Sydney, the start-up hub should provide improved opportunities for growth in the local economy. The efforts to facilitate and encourage new start-ups and SME’s are consistent with changes at the Commonwealth level, such as last year’s changes to allow crowd-sourced funding.
Agribusiness - Establishment of an Agricultural Commissioner
The NSW Government has committed to the July 2019 establishment of a new statutory authority of the NSW Agricultural Commissioner, to support the Office of the Small Business Commissioner in advancing policies in support of lawful agricultural practices.
The proposal for a NSW Agricultural Commissioner was a politically contentious issue in the lead up to the election and reflects a push by the NSW Nationals to create this role. Further changes to agribusiness regulation seems a likely result of the Commissioner’s entrance to the scene, noting the new Commissioner will collaborate with local government to give effect to legislative and regulatory reforms.
Incentives for private sector investment in renewables
Additional funding has been announced for large-scale, on-demand clean energy projects in collaboration with the private sector via the Emerging Energy Program. Funding will increase from $55 million in 2019–20 to $75 million in 2020–21. The funding represents part of the NSW Governments “renewable” initiatives, designed to incentivise private investment in sustainable power solutions.
The NSW Government has further promised regulatory changes in support of its funding promises, to facilitate the installation of solar panels in apartments, batteries and other sustainable infrastructure. To date, the small-scale renewables sector has been the subject of criticism and accusations of poor practice and industry cowboys. Notwithstanding the ongoing concerns, these policies should make investment in renewables in the state more attractive. The NSW Government would certainly be crossing its fingers, given its target for NSW to reduce net emissions to zero by 2050.
Property & Real Estate
The NSW Coalition pleaded with voters, to ‘let them get it done’ in respect to the existing infrastructure projects. Accordingly, this term we can expect a number of infrastructure initiatives that were commenced in the previous term, including the light rail and the Sydney Metro, to be completed.
Both the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) and the Property Council of Australia issued press releases in the lead up to the election setting out the importance of these infrastructure projects to the property market and to their developer members.
Strata renewable energy
If elected, the NSW Coalition promised to reduce the type of resolution required to install solar panels in common property of strata schemes. Currently an owners corporation will need to pass a special resolution (meaning a resolution where not more than 25 per cent of owners vote against the motion). The Coalition intends to reduce this threshold to an ordinary resolution meaning that the majority of owners will be able to pass the resolution.
The NSW Coalition, who introduced foreign person surcharge duty in 2016, chose to increase the surcharge from four per cent to eight per cent in 2017. Given the deprecating market, it is unlikely that the Coalition will enact further increases to the existing eight per cent surcharge, at least until the property market begins to recover.
Community title reform
The NSW Coalition promised following the implementation of the 2016 strata reforms to review the existing Community Legislation and deliver on community reform. We are hopeful that the now re-elected Coalition will commence a review of the Community Legislation. Fair Trading’s website currently states that the government will be issuing draft legislation for circulation later this year.
Off the plan sales
On 22 November 2018, the Conveyancing Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 (NSW), received assent by both houses of the NSW Government. However the majority of the amendments, including those to the Conveyancing Act relating to off-the-plan sales will not commence until the new Conveyancing Regulation can be finalised. We are hopeful that now the Government has been re-elected the draft Conveyancing Regulation will be circulated in the next four to six weeks.
A link to our previous article on the off-the-plan sale changes can be found here.
Transport, Shipping and Logistics
The NSW state election saw both the major parties campaign on big spending promises for transport and infrastructure projects.
A few of the major talking points coming out of the election in relation to transport, shipping and logistics include:
- Road: The NSW Coalition has promised to spend about $70 billion in total on transport projects, including $14 billion on the Western Harbour Tunnel & Beaches Link, $2.6 billion to fund the first stage of the F6 extension from Arncliffe to Kogarah and $1 billion allocated for regional roads and bridges.
- Rail: The bulk of public transport spending will be on rail and nearly all of it in Sydney. The Metro West connecting Parramatta and the Sydney CBD is the major investment of $18 billion but significant amounts are also being pledged to establish a rail line to western Sydney airport and for line upgrades across Sydney. The NSW Coalition has also “planned to plan” for a fast rail network on four key routes being: the Northern Route including the Central Coast and Newcastle, the Southern Inland Route including Goulburn and Canberra, the Western Route including Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange / Parkes, and the Southern Coastal Route including Wollongong and Nowra.
- Ports: What seems to have been lost among the big spending promises during the campaign is the issue of the NSW Coalition government’s privatisation of the state’s ports four years ago. The ACCC has commenced legal action over the terms on which the Coalition government privatised Port Botany and Port Kembla and Labor wanted subject the privatisation deals to greater scrutiny by adding it to a judicial inquiry it had already committed to for Sydney's WestConnex motorway and light rail projects. However with the Coalition gaining a majority, that enquiry won’t happen. But the Coalition could still be up for a significant bill if the ACCC is successful in unwinding elements of the sale of Port Botany and Port Kembla.
- Terminal surcharges: The Victorian government has recently announced that it will conduct a review of port access terms, including terminal surcharges and there are calls for the same to occur in NSW. Prior to the election, NSW One Nation (led by Mark Latham) in a media release committed to doing “everything they can” to end what they view as unfair port charges and stop “multi-national stevedoring companies using Aussie truckies as ATMs”. With Mark Latham now back in parliament, time will tell if he attempts to exert some influence on the NSW Coalition government to follow Victoria’s lead.
Workplace Relations & Safety
Workplace relations and safety issues did not feature heavily in the Coalition’s re-election campaign in 2019, and as a result the 'status quo' is expected to remain for the main part with respect to government policy on employment and safety related issues.
While there is no indication that core government priorities in this space have changed, hot button areas continue to be gender equality in the public service (including in relation to pay equity and combatting unconscious bias) and enhancing mental health initiatives.