Government Information Public Access Bill

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I support the Government Information (Public Access) Amendment (Sydney Motorway Corporation) Bill 2016, which was introduced by the member for Strathfield, because, as is the case for many in this Chamber, my community relies on the M4—and because we believe in public scrutiny. The M4 is a road that is central to the lives of so many of our constituents. Moreover, the WestConnex project is large and costly and will have wide-ranging and long-lasting impacts throughout Sydney—not all of them positive. It is therefore bewildering to me that the Government has chosen to be so wilfully obstructive and deceptive about the Sydney Motorway Corporation and its plans for the M4 and WestConnex once roadworks are completed.

 

I have lodged questions on notice in Parliament about the future of the Sydney Motorway Corporation. I have asked the Minister to be up-front about whether he—or his Premier, if such decisions are not within his remit—is readying the Sydney Motorway Corporation, and our roads, for eventual sale to the private sector. The response to that question was: "There are no current plans." This is the refrain of conservative Ministers in all portfolios in this Government. "There are no current plans" is the spin you give when you know that, if you were honest about your ambitions, you would attract the opprobrium of the public.

This is a Government that knows that, if it were honest with people, it would expend significant reserves of political capital. That is why this Government is so tricky and deceptive. That is why this Government lies. That is why this Government has set up the Sydney Motorway Corporation as a so-called "private company"—so that it can escape the scrutiny of the Opposition and so that journalists or ordinary members of the public cannot lodge freedom of information requests and see for themselves what this tricky, deceptive Government is up to. The Government is doing everything in its power to escape scrutiny over the WestConnex project. It is increasingly clear to me that WestConnex is an awful project.

This being budget week in Federal Parliament, we have a sharpened focus on the opportunity cost of government spending decisions. The Turnbull Government has made some interesting decisions this week that highlight opportunity cost. While it has set aside just $100 million for domestic violence prevention, it is wasting $160 million on a pointless marriage equality plebiscite—an exercise of appeasement to the Cory Bernardi faction of the Liberal Party. The opportunity cost of running a Cory Bernardi plebiscite is that we could have more than doubled our commitment to tackling domestic violence. The parallel question of opportunity cost in New South Wales is brought into stark focus when we consider the Baird Government's WestConnex project. Our roads are choked with gridlocked traffic every morning. Trains are breaking down, signals are failing throughout the railway network and people in my electorate are being forced to stand for more than an hour every morning and evening as they get to and from work on underfunded, understaffed trains.

The WestConnex project is costing the New South Wales taxpayers $1.8 billion. That is a staggering amount of money. It is a staggering amount of money to spend on duplicating and widening a motorway when all available evidence tells us that, when it comes to road congestion, demand almost always increases to meet supply. That means that if your roads are gridlocked now, and if you then add additional road capacity, the newly widened road will quickly become gridlocked as well. This Government would rather chase its tail, pursuing an unattainable dream of free-flowing motorways, than invest its money in publicly owned, public transport. Efficient, reliable and accessible public transport is the only way to get a critical mass of people to and from work every day.

So the opportunity cost of the WestConnex project is considerable, and the Opposition should not have to do daily battle with the Minister and the Government in order to shine a light on the inner workings of this project. If the Government is going to spend taxpayers' money in one way or another, it must do so with transparency and with honesty. This has been lacking from the Government's efforts so far. So far, this Government has been anything but transparent and anything but honest. This is why it is critical that Parliament passes the bill introduced by the member for Strathfield.

We need more transparency because, left to its own devices, the Baird Government will obstruct, obfuscate and obscure its activities whenever it can. For example, the Government is not being honest about the purpose of reintroducing tolls to the M4. Its argument in favour of new tolls on this old road is that it is widening it. Under that argument, the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight would be camped out beneath the Leura flyover trying to flag down motorists travelling to Katoomba. He is not doing that, because tolling a publicly owned road that has long been toll free is an absurd proposal. When governments pursue plainly absurd policies you have to ask yourself why. You have to ask yourself why, because there is no point asking the Government or the Sydney Motorway Corporation—they will not tell you.

One of the reasons the Government is pursuing this absurd proposal to reintroduce tolls to the M4 is that it needs the cash to fund the other sections of the project. The only way it can afford to build the tunnels and extensions elsewhere in the WestConnex project is if it levies a toll on the old M4 section. This is the most heavily trafficked section of the WestConnex project. We know from recent road projects that traffic modelling and projections are often woefully inaccurate. But what is well known is the reliance upon the M4 by residents of Western Sydney. It is a constant. Rather than producing a plan or building a project that is affordable, sensible and sustainable in its own right, this Government is going to go out and shake down Western Sydney residents for another $2,000 each per annum.

It will cost the average commuter $2,000 per annum to get to and from work along the M4. This will happen at the same time as public transport fares are jacked up by up to 30 per cent across the network. One way or the other, under the Baird Government, if you live in Western Sydney you will pay more. You will pay more to get to work in the morning and you will pay more to get home. You will pay more to go shopping in the city or to visit friends and family on the weekend. You will pay more every day under this Government, because as far as Mike Baird is concerned you are the cash cows that this Government must milk in order to make the budgets balance on the pointless projects the Government has committed to.

In concert with the shadow Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, the member for Londonderry, the member for Blacktown, the member for Granville and other Labor colleagues, I have circulated a petition against the new M4 tolls throughout my electorate. We are being inundated by people wanting to sign this petition. Thousands of residents are up in arms about this proposal. But I will convert that anger into a currency that Mike Baird understands: These are thousands of voters. It is clear that the Government does not care about communities, about society or about people—but it does care about votes.

This issue is red hot in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains. Questions arising about tolling, funding, financing, commercial partnerships and the like must be answered by this Government. We need to be able to follow the money. We need to be able to understand just where the money goes, and to whom it is going. The Government needs to lift the lid on the Sydney Motorway Corporation. It needs to stop obfuscating and covering its tracks. It needs to stop hiding the truth and avoiding scrutiny. Premier Mike Baird and the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Duncan Gay, need to come clean with taxpayers about the waste and mismanagement they are presiding over within the Sydney Motorway Corporation and the WestConnex project so that voters can make an informed decision about whether the New South Wales Liberals are governing in the interests of the community, or governing in their own self-interest and the commercial interest of their mates in big business. I commend the bill to the House.

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