Keep South-West Sydney's Rail Public

Today Abigail called on the Government to keep South-West Sydney's public transport how it is: in public hands. The Government's plan to replace the existing Sydenham to Bankstown T3 line with a privatised Metro Southwest will negatively impact communities in South-West Sydney. 

Abigail said: As Chair I call on the House to take note of the report of the inquiry into the conversion of the Sydenham to Bankstown T3 line to the proposed Sydney Metro Southwest. The inquiry was conducted by Portfolio Committee No. 6 – Transport and Customer Service. I acknowledge the contributions of my fellow committee members: deputy chair the Hon. Mark Banasiak, the Hon. Anthony D'Adam, the Hon. Daniel Mookhey, the Hon. Shayne Mallard, the Hon. Scott Farlow and the Hon. Wes Fang. I also acknowledge the hard work of the Legislative Council committee staff, who provided my team and me with such tremendous support throughout the entire process. It was my first inquiry as chair of the transport committee, and I thoroughly appreciated all of the assistance that the committee staff gave me to help us to see our way through that process. Their knowledge and expertise is deeply appreciated and is essential to the functioning of this Parliament and to the inquiries process. It would be much harder without their professional, diligent and talented hard work.

Finally, I thank the stakeholders, community groups, local residents, planning and transport experts and relevant organisations and government bodies that made submissions to and gave evidence before the inquiry last year. Their detailed submissions and participation in the inquiry provided a wealth of information to help shape the report and the associated recommendations. The report of this inquiry, which was tabled last year, made a number of recommendations in relation to the New South Wales Government's plan to rip up and sell off the existing Sydenham to Bankstown T3 line and replace it with the privately operated Metro Southwest. The core recommendation arising from the inquiry was:

That the NSW Government not proceed with the Metro Southwest project, leaving the Sydney Metro to terminate at Sydenham, and that project funds are instead spent on connecting new communities to rail services and improving existing rail services (for example, through digital signalling).

Throughout the inquiry, Transport for NSW failed to articulate why it was necessary to remove existing public transport infrastructure only to replace it with a service of a comparable or, in a number of metrics, lesser quality. There was also no satisfactory answer as to how forcing commuters west of Bankstown to catch not two, but three different train services simply to get into the Sydney CBD, when the current T3 line allows them to catch just one, was in the best interests of the communities affected by the proposed Metro Southwest project. Aside from recommending that the ripping up and selling off of the Sydenham to Bankstown T3 line not proceed, the committee made a number of other recommendations. These include:

That the NSW Government immediately publish the full Sydney Metro City & Southwest final business case, including the final financial model and benefit cost analysis for the Metro Southwest project.

That the NSW Government ensure that any future projects with private partners outline more explicitly the benefits that the government foresees from privatisation in comparison with a project which would result in the relevant public transport assets and services being held in public hands.

I was very disappointed to see the response from the Government to the latter recommendation in particular. The Government's response stated:

The committee has either fundamentally misunderstood or actively ignored the structure of the project, notwithstanding repeated attempts by the NSW Government and witnesses to clarify this point. It is not and has never been a privatisation.

I refer the Government and the Minister to the statement in the report that very clearly talks about the privatisation of the services as opposed to the assets involved in the project. The Government can call the project what it likes, but when it replaces services operated by a government entity with services operated by a non-government entity—that being a private entity—it is a privatisation of those services. I do not think one needs a dictionary to work that out. Another key recommendation stated:

That the NSW Government review its consultation processes and develop and implement a mandatory consultation strategy which is focused on genuine and meaningful community consultation.

These recommendations arose from a number of concerns that were brought to the committee's attention throughout the inquiry process. Particularly of note was that in failing to articulate the need to spend billions on an infrastructure project simply to replace a perfectly functional train line with a metro service of comparable status, the New South Wales Government refused and, to this day, continues to refuse to release the final financial model and benefit‑cost analysis for the Metro Southwest. The Government's response to the inquiry's recommendation that it release the full business case was that it had released the summary business case. That is not really a response to the recommendation at all. We look forward to seeing that full business case one day. One cannot help but wonder, if this project is really all that the Liberal-Nationals Government purports it to be, why is the Government so reluctant to publish that information and show us the basis on which it has decided to greenlight the project?

It also became apparent as the committee heard from residents that the consultation with impacted communities had been lacking. As such, we made a clear recommendation that the New South Wales Government consider and review its consultation processes going forward. It is vital that communities are adequately informed about the impacts that any proposed infrastructure projects will have on their livelihoods, and also that they be given the chance for that feedback to be considered by the Government when designing projects of this kind. Again, arrogance was shown in the Government's response to this particular recommendation, saying that it categorically rejects the finding that there was not genuine and meaningful community consultation. We heard evidence of Opal data being used as a form of consultation. That is not consultation. Consultation is actually hearing the views of community and perhaps adjusting one's own views accordingly and making amendments to the project.

That arrogance is on full display in the background statement to the Government's response, where it responded to the entire report by picking up on the dissenting report and saying that this is all just political. The committee held three days of hearings, we trawled through thousands of pages of submissions and we made very detailed, considered findings. Yet the response from the Government to that level of consultation is that this was a coordinated political campaign to put in place some kind of Labor election promise. I am not part of the Labor Party and that is certainly not why The Greens listened to the community and established the inquiry in the first place.

In addition, two other sets of recommendations were made. The first was that the New South Wales Government restore regular, direct services to the city via Lidcombe for those stations west of Bankstown affected by the conversion. I am happy to report that this recommendation has been adopted and implemented by the New South Wales Government. The inquiry heard from many residents about the difficulties that they faced when the former Inner West line was decommissioned. To have the line reinstated has been life changing for the many commuters who depend on these services. We made one last set of recommendations: If the New South Wales Government were to proceed with the proposed Metro Southwest project, certain steps should be taken to minimise its impact on heritage, local amenity and biodiversity.

These steps included that the Government ensure that all heritage aspects of the Sydenham‑to‑Bankstown corridor, including train stations themselves, are retained and protected for future generations; that Sydney Metro and Transport for NSW review the design for the Bankstown interchange in collaboration with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the Canterbury‑Bankstown Council; that the Government provide additional resources to the Inner West Council and Canterbury-Bankstown Council for the purposes of collaborating on the Metro Southwest project to ensure optimal project outcomes can be achieved; and that the Government review the biodiversity management strategy of Metro Southwest, including vegetation and fencing requirements to ensure that all wildlife and vegetation in the affected rail corridor experience minimal project impacts and are adequately protected and supported in recovery.

Debate resumed from 16 February 2021.

Abigail said: I resume the mid-furious rant of the Government's response to the recommendations of this report. The report made nine recommendations as a result of a thorough inquiry process that made sure it heard from all affected parties and stakeholders, which makes the Government's response all the more disappointing. The Government not only refuses to address the core concerns raised by residents and community groups around service capacity, commuter journey times and the privatisation of their public transport services but it also has tried to pin the blame on others. It has refused to publish the final business case, including the final financial model and benefit-cost analysis. It has refused to acknowledge the community's concerns about the consultation process. The Government has also refused to articulate the purported benefits of the so-called public-private partnership model and how privatising and selling off our public transport services has concrete benefits for commuters and our communities.

If the Government were so confident in this project it would stop hiding behind unreleased documents and the absence of a meaningful consultation process, and be transparent and honest with residents. The truth is that this project does not stack up and it will not benefit communities in Sydney's south-west. It is true that there has been decades of neglect when it comes to funding public transport infrastructure in New South Wales. Sydney has continued to boom without adequate infrastructure to support its growing population. That fault can be laid on both the Liberal-Nationals and Labor governments over the past 20 years. But that is no excuse for this Government to continue to focus on doing deals with businesses to privatise and run down our valued public transport while hiding behind big flashy projects that give the Minister another chance to cut a ceremonial ribbon that will ultimately deliver little to no benefit for commuters and communities across Sydney.

This tit for tat that Labor and the Government play on transport projects is unhelpful. I do not care, and the public do not care, who started wrecking our public transport system first, we just want the Government to fix it. The public does not care who failed first to put necessary public transport infrastructure in place, they just want it put in place now. I commend the report to the House.

 

For the full transcript see Hansard here and here.

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