In an exclusive interview with Tharunka, Marjorie O’Neill discussed privatisation of public assets, climate action, public transport and housing.
Marjorie O’Neill, current Coogee MP in the NSW Legislative Assembly, spoke exclusively to Tharunka on February 27th. The Labor politician presented her re-election pitch, while talking about privatisation of public assets, climate action, public transport and housing.
Daughter of a former NSW Industrial Relations Commissioner, O’Neill gained her first elected position in 2017, when she became local councillor for Waverly Ward. In the 2019 state election, she unseated Liberal Bruce Notley-Smith in Coogee, one of the only two seats Labor managed to pick that year. Her re-election in this marginal electorate is essential to help make Chris Minns the next NSW Premier.
Privatisation of public assets
O’Neill defended the anti-privatisation rhetoric that has defined Labor’s campaign. In its 2023 platform, the party has promised to “halt privatisation of state assets” and “change the law to stop future privatisations”
“Not everything exists so it needs to make money,” said O’Neill as she condemned the NSW Coalition government for privatising bus services in Sydney and the state’s electricity assets. “To say that privatisation has been better for our community, if the Liberals think that they can do that, good on them. But it’s not what we are hearing,” she told Tharunka.
The Coogee MP also criticised the “short-termism” of a fiscal policy reliant on the sale of public assets. According to her, “when you privatise an asset, it’s a short little sugar kick. But it’s not a long term solution”.
However, NSW Labor has a long record of its own in privatising public assets. It was Labor premier Kristina Keneally who initiated the privatisation process of state electricity in 2010, raising $5.3 billion with this sale at that time.
O’Neill repeated her party’s claim that the Coalition is planning to sell Sydney Water, which has been denied by Dominic Perrotet. The Liberal leader has labelled this accusation a “Labor lie” and a “scare campaign”.
On the topic of climate change and green energy transition, the Coogee MP took the opportunity to criticise the Coalition’s environmental policies. According to her, “[at both state and federal level] we have had now a decade of liberal governments that have done nothing, which means that as a country we are completely lagging”.
O’Neill also reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to achieve net zero gas emissions in NSW by 2050. She defended the party’s plan to establish an independent net zero commission that would “hold our politicians to account over making sure that we meet these targets”.
Additionally, O’Neill mentioned her proposal to install community batteries across NSW, including Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. These shared batteries would allow residents to store excess energy from their solar panels, which could help to cut electricity bills while encouraging renewable sources.
O’Neill has been a staunch opponent of cuts to bus routes in East Sydney under the current Coalition government. She has organised a public campaign that succeeded in preserving the 373 line as well as securing an Upper House inquiry into bus privatisation.
The Coogee MP has recently raised the possibility of a future Labor government reversing the privatisation of bus services once contracts expire. She claimed that “privatisation has been an abject failure in our community. Less services, less routes, less bus drivers. There’s less places you can go now”.
When asked about the Greens’ proposal to make all public transport free in NSW, O’Neill said it “sounds like a lovely idea”. However, she explained that “we need to explore it and see how that would be financially viable”.
O’Neill has also committed herself to making international students eligible to concession Opal cards, which are currently only available to their domestic counterparts.
Housing and overdevelopment
One of the most contentious issues in O’Neill’s affluent electorate is affordable housing and overdevelopment. The Labor MP called development in the Eastern Suburbs “to be done sensibly”. According to her, “we can’t just be building all these giant blocks of apartments in places and not having public transport”.
On the topic of increasing access to housing, O’Neill mentioned Labor’s plan to require all new developments to allocate 30% of the building to affordable housing. She stated that “the need for greater amounts of social and affordable housing is huge. Sadly, under the New South Wales Liberals, they’ve been selling off our social housing”.
O’Neill also defended the party’s proposals to strengthen tenants’ rights, which would include protections from “unfair” evictions and a streamlined application for renters with pets. “We need to ensure that renters are treated fairly and equitably,” she told Tharunka.
When asked why she deserves to be re-elected in Coogee, O’Neill emphasised her long experience in working with the local community. She cited the campaign to save bus routes, the establishment of community gardens and efforts to clean up beaches as examples of her commitment to the electorate.
“What I think makes me different from the other candidates is my track record in standing up and fighting for our community. And the thing is, this stuff I was doing long before I was a member of parliament,” O’Neill claimed.