The New South Wales opposition is pushing for the state government’s procurement process to be overhauled to better support local communities.
If passed, the NSW Jobs First Bill 2020 would prioritise the awarding of government contracts to local businesses and industry.
NSW Labor deputy leader Yasmin Catley, who plans to introduce the bill to parliament next week, told The Mandarin the one major lever the NSW government has to create jobs is procurement. She noted the state spends more than $3o billion a year on goods and services, and should be injecting those funds back into communities.
“It’s been a long held view of NSW Labor that government procurement creates jobs, supports industry and supply chains, and there’s never been a time that we need all of those things more than now,” she said.
The initiative would also urge public service employees to “be thinking local at every turn”.
“So every time they’re building a new school or a new hospital, or purchasing trains or ferries or buses for the NSW fleet, we want them to be thinking local, and to do that work and research to encourage local supply chains,” Catley said.
“I think that it’s really important that we make sure our public sector workers are also encouraged by their ministers and their ministers’ offices to be purchasing locally.”
The state government has purchased its new intercity train fleet from South Korea, as well as Metros from India, light rail carriages from France and Spain, and buses from Germany and Malaysia.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently came under fire from the opposition and unions after stating Australia and NSW were “not good at building trains”.
Transport minister Andrew Constance was also recently criticised over the purchase of ferries from Indonesia, after it was found the boats would not fit under the Camellia Railway Bridge and Gasworks Bridge on the Parramatta River unless passengers moved to the lower deck. Asbestos was also found on four of the boats when they were tested in Newcastle.
Catley argued that the government’s decision to purchase the fleets from overseas and ignore local train and boat builders in the Hunter was “disgusting”.
“They bought an off-the-shelf train which [Berejiklian] said they would reconfigure for use here in NSW. Well, we know what happened there. Those trains did not fit the track … the rectification work that was required didn’t save any money at all,” she said.
“It’s one thing to purchase these off-the-shelf products, but we actually do build things very well here in NSW and have a very proud history of manufacturing and of building things. To think that we have a government who has no confidence in that skill and in that craft, I quite frankly find that attitude despicable.”
Catley has spoken to the local manufacturers in the Hunter. She said they were unable to apply for such contracts because they couldn’t meet the criteria that the government had set.
A key aspect of the Jobs First Bill would be the establishment of a NSW Jobs First Advocate, who would work with businesses, industry and government to help secure more work for locals. The advocate would advise the government on where capacity constraints exist within the local industry, and how to address those constraints.
The bill would also promote investment in education to address skills and training needs, and would push for the use of local apprentices, trainees and cadets on local projects.
“We are losing a lot of these skills because we’re not making these things here in NSW anymore. Lots of courses have been removed from TAFE because of numbers, but that’s because we’re not providing the opportunities,” Catley said.
She began talking to industry about creating this policy after taking on the portfolio of rural and regional jobs in 2019. While she already believed that “procurement is a lever that we could use to create jobs”, PPE shortages during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted NSW’s reliance on imported goods.
While purchasing from overseas can cut costs, Catley argued that supporting regional and rural manufacturing precincts would provide a greater benefit to the community as a whole.
“Yes, price should be a factor, there’s no doubt about that, however, there are so many other benefits from providing good jobs for people in the state,” she said.