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Chris Minns MP sits at a table
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

Who actually is Chris Minns? Time Out sat down with him to find out

The NSW Labor Party leader talks to us about his kids, Sydney and his big plans for NSW

Maya Skidmore
Written by
Maya Skidmore

Mar 27 update: NSW Labor Party leader Chris Minns is now officially the NSW premier, following a landslide victory in the State Election, placing Labor in the majority. We spoke to the premier while he was on the campaign trail, this is what he had to say then... 

For many of us in Sydney and NSW, the opposition leader has been somewhat of an enigma this election season. The MP for Kogarah is little known outside of his immediate circles, leading many people in NSW to ask one big question ahead of the state election on May 25, 2023. Who actually is Chris Minns? And why should we vote for him? 

Time Out sat down with Minns on a sunny Saturday in a pink-tiled Mexican joint called Fonda's in Surry Hills, and although he was cheerful, he was clearly tired after a gruelling campaign run across Sydney (he’d just come from a literal park run in Penrith). Wearing a red gingham shirt and a friendship band around his wrist, the opposition leader chatted to us over corn chips and grilled pork tacos about his family, his big plans for Sydney, and why he reckons that his government is exactly what New South Wales needs.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Penshurst, in the St George district. I've still got great friends from there. It's a great place to live because it's on a train line. And you’re roughly equal distance from Cronulla Beach and the city. My brother and sister and I were very mobile, we would be down to the Shire or in the city, and my parents were pretty cool about letting us explore, as long as it didn't mean they had to pick us up. But that was the advantage of living on public transport. We were encouraged to go do it. We live in Kogarah now, where we're lucky enough to be on public transport. We definitely give our kids a kick in the butt to jump on trains and see their friends.

Speaking of trains, Sydney transport has been a bit of a nightmare recently... 

I think this is a third day in a row where there's been transport chaos on the public transport network. But even the day before, on-time running was 74 per cent. So you're getting close to one in four trains being late. That number should be 90 per cent – that's the on-time running target. Basic maintenance has obviously not been keeping up the pace with the growing network. And secondly, I don’t think the leadership's in place in transport. The ministers are constantly turning over, and the current minister for transport isn't even re-contesting the next State Election. So there's no one with their eye on the ball who's managing these complicated transport issues and making sure people can get to and from work, and if people lose confidence in the public transport network, then they'll get in their cars, or find jobs away from public transport hubs. Sydney can't grow like that. 

What do you think are the people of NSW’s biggest issues with the government, and what will be the point of difference between you and Dominic Perrottet?

I think it's about essential services, and in many respects, saving them. You've got to look at the performance of our schools and our hospitals, and even public transport, and see that in many ways it’s comprehensively fallen down over the last two or three years. For example, in hospitals at the moment, one in ten people wait longer than 19 hours to get the help they need. There are 100,000 people on the elective surgery waiting list, including 4,000 children. That's the largest number ever recorded. Some of the stats in education aren't good either. There are 3,000 teacher vacancies, we used to be ranked third in the world when it comes to science, now we're 23rd. Reading: we were sixth in the world, now we're 23rd. I've been listening to premier Perrottet closely over this election campaign, and I can't really discern any change in their approach to the next four years, in terms of those basic services that the State Government supports. We need change in NSW.

There's also no substitute for a teacher at the front of the classroom – no app or computer or website that you can create that will take the place of a teacher seeing something in a student that perhaps they don't see in themselves. And public services run on essential workers. And we've got to encourage them to get involved and take up the vocation of serving the public. There's been a 30 per cent decline in the number of school leavers choosing to study education at university. If that trend continues, I don't know how you have a world-class education system in ten or 20 years time.

Another big issue for people in NSW is the cost of living crisis... 

I'm really concerned about power prices going up. But this is where I'd say that a decade's worth of privatisation has really hurt families and businesses. When you sell off so much essential infrastructure, you're putting it in the hands of a private firm, and the government can't control it any longer. This government sold off ports, energy companies, as well as toll roads. [The NSW Liberal Party] went to the last election in 2019, saying "no more privatisations" – straight after the polls closed, they sold off the bus network and they sold off toll roads. And I think that, after up to $90 billion worth of assets have been sold off, the cost that you transfer on to consumers and businesses is just too high. 

What is your government planning to do to address the housing crisis?

We've announced tax cuts to first home buyers, so we’ve lifted the threshold from $650,000 to $800,000, where you don't pay any stamp duty, and then a reduced amount to a million, which I think is going to make a difference. Ninety five per cent of first home buyers pay no tax, no stamp duty, or a reduced amount.

We’ve also got to focus on renters, and I think that renters are the big forgotten people in NSW politics. There are 2 million of them in NSW. Rents in the country actually have a steeper increase than those in the city

We've got a portable bond scheme, so that if you move from one property to the next, you don't have to put your hands in your back pocket while you're waiting for your bond to be returned.

We've got a rental commissioner, which is designed to step in and be on the side of renters to redraw and rebalance how they deal with it. We're introducing reasons for evictions, and no-fault eviction.

We are going to introduce stricter rules around allowing renters to have pets in rental properties – making it easier for people to have a pet in a rental property.

We also have to look at supply, and if you look at how Sydney is growing, you've got 100,000 people moving into the Hills, 110,000 into Blacktown, 125,000 into Parramatta, 80,000 into Camden, 80,000 going into the Liverpool area. The vast majority of Sydney's population growth is going west of Parramatta. So we're asking the Greater Sydney Commission to look at where people will live. And supply is a big part of this. So apartment approvals are at their lowest point since 2014. This is important for young people so they can have access to either buying a property or renting a property. It's also really important for business because if the next generation of Australians are like, “I can't live here anymore”, and there's great opportunities in Brisbane or Melbourne or Perth, or increasingly overseas, then they'll go.

Chris Minns at a table
Photograph: Cassandra Hannagan

We know you're a fan of music and you play guitar – and your government has said they will be investing big-time in live music venues. What will you be doing?

It's a $100 million package. We're going to create 'Sound NSW' [like Screen NSW] to be an advocate for live music. We’ve met nearly all the promoters in the live venues over the last fortnight. Usually they're in tough competition with each other, but they're pretty united about what needs to happen. [We have] less than 170 venues in Sydney in particular, because of the lockout laws, and Covid. And now you're seeing a lot of councils and the state government making it almost impossible for live venues to exist. But it's crucial for a few things. If I could just speak economically – it's really important for our nighttime economy. It's really important to make sure that the skilled young people of tomorrow have got places to socialise and live in a vibrant city. Some cities have got extremely vibrant, active, exciting, nighttime venues, and others have atrophied. And we don't want to be in the latter. I think there's a chance for NSW to be the live music capital. 

What will your government be doing to protect the environment and combat climate change? 

We will legislate for net zero by 2050 in New South Wales. At the moment, it’s an ambitious goal by the government, but they haven't done anything about it. We will create the Great Koala National Park, which is north of metropolitan Sydney – that's about working with the councils up there to ensure that there are protection zones in place for populations of koalas that aren’t currently protected. The population of koalas has reduced by [an] astronomical figure. Their habitats have been wrecked. A lot of that has to do with the bushfires. But unless we act, they'll be extinct in a few decades time. That's not being matched by the government, but it probably should be.

Another element which is important is that we think the decision by the Perrottet government to go ahead with raising the Warragamba Dam wall will inundate – this has been proven – the Blue Mountains National Park. There are over a thousand Indigenous cultural sites within that inundation zone.

It's obviously a World Heritage protected piece of wilderness that Labor will protect, and Dominic Perrottet said he is going to build this 2.5 to 3 billion dollar wall

If you look at the flood zones in Sydney's western suburbs, 40 per cent of flood waters come from the Colo, South Creek and the Nepean. They don't come over the top of Warragamba. So you spend billions of dollars, inundate the National Park and not solve the problem. 

Will you be putting in specific policies to try and protect our existing natural environment within Sydney and wider NSW? 

Yeah, we will. I’ve got more to say about that in the coming [days]. There are exciting things you can do, particularly in relation to new industries, particularly in relation to carbon capture, because those forests in those native wilderness that we have across NSW, there are a lot of private companies that have committed enormous amounts of resources into going carbon neutral. 

I'm talking about airlines and banks and insurance companies, as part of their corporate responsibility. They're going to have to make investments in the natural environment in order to have those offsets. And there are big opportunities for a place like Australia and a state like New South Wales, which has a vast wilderness and lots of open tracks. And it's a funny kind of economic question that we think we can solve and have a major benefit for the state. It’s like an unintended positive economic benefit. 

Speaking of the natural environment, do you like getting out in nature?

We try to take the kids bushwalking once [every school] holidays. We live in Southern Sydney, so normally in the Royal National Park. We might head down to Garie over the headland, and to the beach, or we might start in Bundeena and do the walk south. I try and go surfing as much as I can with with my oldest son, but that's that's getting a bit harder with the campaign. But normally when when we weren't in the middle of the campaign, we'd go super early. Normally we go to Wanda Beach, which is just north of Cronulla. And if that's not good, we might head down to the Wall. If that's not good, we just go for a swim.

You have mentioned working your way towards a Treaty for NSW. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yeah, there are a few permutations. So for example, South Australia's heading towards a Voice recognition in their parliament, but most other states have got a treaty process begun. Now I've got to say it's very complex, because a treaty may involve an agreement between the government and literally hundreds of First Nation communities. But we've got to start. So we’ve allocated money to begin the treaty process to start that dialogue and communication about that interaction between First Nations and the NSW Government. I want to make sure that national recognition of the Voice takes precedence, because I do think it's important that we don't have confusion about what's on the table, given that the Commonwealth Government is committed to a referendum this year. So we're not waiting forever, but as soon as that's over, we'll begin the process. 

What is your dream vision for Sydney’s future? 

I see Sydney as this wonderful working experiment. People come from all over the world and start and grow businesses, put down roots in this place. And it's a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-faith community. And not only do we all live side by side with each other, and tolerate one another, but we’re thriving. It has so much potential in terms of its geographic location, its links with Asia, using its multi-ethnic, multicultural communities to create connections with potential opportunities for future economic growth.

So I see New South Wales as a high-growth, high-skill, high-wage economy that gives opportunities to everybody

And what role does the government have in that? In my view, the big role the government has is education. Education is the key investment that means that there's no potential to what you can achieve. We've got all the building blocks for that in Australia. We're extremely egalitarian. We're not a snobby nation. There are wonderful opportunities with this vibrant market. But we need to make sure that young people, in particular, can meet their potential. So my vision is for, particularly, young people to stay and live in New South Wales, not to leave. We’ll step up with wonderful public transport links and an investment in education. So they get their best start in life. 

If time, space and money were no object, what would your dream day in Sydney look like? 

Dream day? It would be a bushwalk with my boys, and then a quick surf – but all before it gets too hot. It would definitely be an offshore wind, and the waves aren’t gigantic but they're not super small either. And then we make it back and watch a movie, or catch up with friends for a barbecue in the afternoon at home. After having done something productive in the morning.  

Keen to do your civic duty? Find out everything you need to know about the NSW state election right here. 

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