Coalition Government must provide greater toll transparency

Abigail spoke in parliament on toll transparency, calling for a reduction of toll costs to no more than $2.20. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (17:22): I contribute to the debate on the Roads Amendment (Tolling Transparency) Bill 2022. I assure the House I will not speak for an hour. Wow, the contribution I just heard from the Minister pretty much sums up why the people of this State are so fed up with politics. Here we have a bill from the Opposition trying to get a little bit more transparency in relation to tolling, to which—surprise, surprise—the Government is opposed because, as we know, it opposes transparency. It is just one week after the upper House committee tabled itsRoad Tolling Regimes report. That report shone a light on the individuals across this State who are suffering from the burden of tolls, who are spending $10,000 more per family to travel on toll roads for the pleasure of being able to get to work on time, because the State's public transport is so bad.

The committee heard of the tragic circumstances that people found themselves in. Day after day of hearings we heard from people about the out‑of‑control tolling in this State. We came to understand very clearly from that inquiry how opaque the Government's arrangements are with tolling giants like Transurban, how secretive the Government has become when it comes to these tolling contracts, rather than letting the public decide on the basis of real and accurate information whether or not the toll pricing is fair. This Government prefers to tell the people of New South Wales what is good for them and to shield them from the glaring failures of its tolling policy by not letting them in on what the tolling contracts actually say.

We have had to fight and struggle to be able to see those tolling contracts. We now know that there are restrictions in those contracts that stop this Government from building competing public transport projects. We now know from those tolling contracts that Transurban could be negotiating with the Government to reduce the outrageous administration fees—up to $20 per toll. The Government could have reduced that at any time in the past 11 years so that Transurban was not taking massive amounts of administration fees. These are all things that this Government could have done, but no‑one knew that it had the power to do it because it would not let us see the contracts.

Here we have this incredibly sensible bill. To my mind, it does not go nearly far enough to unpick the mess that this Government has got itself into by selling off almost every single toll road in the city. There is an absolute mess of contractual arrangements that have tied this Government in knots and have meant that now when it provides any sort of relief to drivers, it is actually lining the pockets of Transurban. Transurban is doing incredibly well; its profits are soaring. The little revolving door Transurban has got going with the Liberal Party is also working incredibly well. Everybody in Transurban and the Liberal Party is very happy with themselves when it comes to the toll roads that have been built and the toll contracts that have been put in place. They are patting themselves on the back. But what the committee heard from individual drivers, the motorists across the State, from every side of politics, was that people were suffering from the burden of having to pay massive amounts in tolls just to pick their kids up from school on time, to get to a medical appointment, to see an elderly relative or to get to work in a time frame that does not result in them missing out on massive amounts of time with their family. In response, the Minister just gave a speech that shows how out of touch not only she is but also her Government is with what the average person in our State is feeling at the moment. To point to something Labor did 11 years ago, as though that is an excuse for the continuation and amplification of such behaviour by this Government over the past 11 years, is shocking.

The Minister talks about Labor's lack of policy. Yet what is the Government's policy, other than to continually take money out of the pockets of individuals who are least able to afford it and to put it into the pockets of Transurban? That is the effect of the Government's toll contracts over the past 11 years. Yes, absolutely, the committee says in its report that Labor did do some toll road stuff. That is true. But the vast majority of the current tolls are either new tolls introduced by this Government or toll extensions put on old toll roads. The vast majority of the tolls that are currently being levied in the network are as a result of decisions of this Government.

To be honest, I do not care which government—Labor, Liberal or The Nationals—is apportioned the blame. We now have a complicated system of contractual arrangements that are nearly impossible for this Government to wriggle out of. The Minister is absolutely right when she says, "There is now a risk that when we try to unpick those contracts, we may have to pay to get ourselves out of the mistakes that we have made." That is absolutely correct. But when we look at who should be paying for the mistakes of this Government, it is not the people across western Sydney, who cannot afford it. The people who are least able to afford these tolls should not have to continue to pay for this Government's mistakes year after year. It is for the Government to own up to its mistakes. Yes, spread that cost and admit that it is now going to create some sort of budgetary stress. That is its mistake and it needs to be responsible for it. That is the way it will have to be.

We completely support the tolling transparency bill. It is an attempt by the Opposition to unpick some of those complex and restrictive contractual arrangements that the Government has got itself into. If the Opposition wins government, I wish it the best of luck because it will have to try very hard to unpick a lot of this stuff. The Minister alluded to a toll review. It is notable that the toll review is being undertaken with the Treasurer and subject matter experts. That review is worth nothing unless they speak to individual people, like we did in our inquiry, to understand the actual impact of what the Government has done by tying itself in knots with Transurban.

We propose to move one amendment to the bill. It comes directly out of our road-tolling regimes inquiry and seeks to enact one of the recommendations, which is that we take urgent action to remove the administration fees that Transurban has been logging people with. We have suggested an amendment that would, if passed by both Houses of Parliament, immediately reduce the administration fees so that the most anyone could be charged is $2.20 for one toll, as opposed to $20. We hope that we have support for that eminently sensible amendment, which carries into practice something that we all agreed on during the inquiry. I wish that the Government would do better on this. I am heartened that the Opposition is trying to unpick this mess, and I wish Opposition members luck in trying to create a much fairer pricing structure for our toll roads.

 

The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

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