Sydney Bus Privatisation

After hearing of the proposed privatisation of bus regions 7, 8 and 9, Abigail used Question Time to ask why this Government was continuing its obsession with privatising public assets.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:52:22): My question is directed to the Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs, and the Arts representing the Minister for Transport and Roads. Given that bus services in regions 7, 8 and 9 operated by the publicly owned State Transit Authority have, since 2017, seen a significant increase in on-time running compared to the privatised region 6 buses, with project upgrades to further improve on-time running, while still running at an operating profit to the Government, why would the Government seek to privatise regions 7, 8 and 9 buses against the interests and wishes of the community?

The Hon. DON HARWIN (Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs, and the Arts, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (16:52:59): The answer is complex but I am very happy to take the honourable member through it. Bus customers will receive additional services and innovative on-demand options under new contracts to lift the standard of transport across Sydney. Bus patronage has increased by more than 50 per cent over the past six years. This rate of growth outstrips that of all other forms of public transport and we need to address this increasing demand as a matter of urgency. The Government will invite the world's leading public transport operators, Australian and international, to bid for contracts for 13 of Sydney's bus contract regions between 2020 and 2022—over the next three years. A competitive tender of all Sydney metropolitan bus contracts will enable the Government to reinvest more into delivering better bus services to commuters.

The Government will engage with the private sector to transform the current one-size-fits-all model of service delivery to one with multiple service types, including high capacity routes and local and on-demand travel. The Government will continue to own State Transit buses and all other assets such as depots; regulate timetables, safety and service priorities; and set fares, as they are under the Opal system. The reform will also see Sydney's aging diesel fleet replaced by electric vehicles to reduce the impact of buses on the health and environment of our city. As part of this process we will challenge the industry to begin an ambitious transformation of our bus fleet from particulate-emitting diesel to zero emission buses. 

The honourable member asks why. Well, it is very clear the private sector has greater capacity for innovation to drive efficiencies and improvements in service delivery—and at a lower cost to taxpayers. Demand for bus services across metropolitan Sydney is growing, as I stated earlier in my answer, and the status quo is not an option if genuine service improvements are to be delivered to customers as our population grows. We need to address this increasing demand as a matter of urgency. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (16:55:57): I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister elucidate his answer in relation to privatisation being required to ensure service improvements? The Minister mentioned multiple types of routes, innovation and electric buses. However, it was not clear from his answer as to why privatisation of bus services is required to achieve those things or why it is asserted that the private sector has a better ability to deliver those things despite all evidence to the contrary.

The Hon. DON HARWIN (Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs, and the Arts, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (16:56:35): The honourable member might have that world view about evidence to the contrary but it flies in the face of the reality of the way this Government is transforming this State, in partnership with the private sector, over the past eight years. We make absolutely no apology for running an effective and efficient Government and working with the private sector to innovate. We would not have made the extraordinary progress that we have on a wide range of fronts if we had been trapped in the sort of ideological rut—

The PRESIDENT: Order! The Clerk will stop the clock. That is the third interjection by the Hon. Shaoquett Moselmane. I will call him to order if he interjects again.

The Hon. DON HARWIN: As I was saying, we would not have made the progress we have if we had been trapped in the sort of ideological rut that The Greens would have us fall into. I need to remind the House that Labor left us with a $35 billion infrastructure black hole. We have transformed that with a range of projects in partnership with the private sector. Now we have the capacity through the reforms we have made, and by working with the private sector, to further transform the State with a $90 billion infrastructure spend over the next four years, much of which is going into public transport. The Greens, who have been going on about public transport for years, have finally got a government that is making a real difference to public transport. We are not going to listen to them about how to deliver it because if it had not been for this Government there would not have been the enhancement to the capacity of public transport in this city and State.

Read the full transcript on Hansard here.

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