Oct 31, 2018

Speech to The Western Metro Forum – Meeting the Transport Challenges of a Growing Sydney – NSW Parliament House, Sydney – Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Thanks for the invitation to make a contribution to today’s important Forum on the Western Metro.

I am pleased to have worked with Jodi McKay to bring stakeholders together.

Federal Labor has committed to partner with a Foley Labor Government to deliver this vital project.

At this moment in the history of Australia our cities are in a state of transition.

There was a time in Australia when you could live close to an Australian capital city CBD in a house on a quarter acre.

But in 2018, strong population growth is taking us into a new era featuring higher population densities and a mix of detached housing, apartments and town houses.

While that transition is manageable, the impediment we face is that in many respects our transport infrastructure is designed for the old Australia, not the nation we inhabit in the 21st century.

That is why traffic congestion is emerging as one of the great economic and quality-of-life issue of our times.

We know, for example that the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics puts the annual cost of congestion in terms of lost productivity at $16 billion.

That’s a lot of money.

But for millions of Australians, the macro-economic element is not the issue.

For them, traffic congestion is a ball and chain that is ruining their lives and forcing them to take long daily commutes, often on expensive toll roads.

Many have no access to public transport as an alternative and, increasingly, have to pay considerable tolls, just to get on with their daily activities.

It is a tragedy that many Australian commuters spend more time travelling to and from work in their cars than they spend at home playing with their children.

That’s not what Australians expect out of life.

And it’s not what they deserve in a nation like ours.

It is time for governments to work together to confront this serious problem in the national interest.

In the past, too many leaders have chosen to turn away.

For example, when Tony Abbott took office in 2013, he immediately cancelled billions of dollars’ worth of public transport investment that had been put in the Federal Budget by the previous Labor Government.

That included removing funding for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Line that would have been opening soon. That project would have opened up access for Western Sydney to the high-value jobs around Macquarie Park and taken pressure off the Western Line.

Mr Abbott’s reason, as he outlined in his 2009 book Battlelines, was that he believes Australians don’t want to use public transport and enjoy the freedom that comes with being what Mr Abbott called “kings in their cars’’.

To Mr Abbott, the car represents individual freedom, whereas public transport represents collectivism.

This is perhaps the starkest example of the hard right of the Liberal Party’s ideological antipathy towards anything public – public transport, public education, public health, even public broadcasters – and, of course, public servants.

It is regrettable that Mr Abbott’s two prime ministerial successors have failed to reverse Mr Abbott’s cuts.

The practical result of this ideological position has distorted the infrastructure priorities in Sydney away from public transport, towards toll roads.

And that has meant a rush in planning so that the Westconnex project no longer resembles the priority identified by Infrastructure NSW to improve freight movements around the Port. Indeed it has become a road to more roads under the NSW Liberal Government.

Westconnex has been poorly planned, is massively over-budget and has been imposed upon communities with inadequate consultation.

One day it will appear in planning textbooks as an example of how not to deliver a major project. It is perhaps the only project in the world where they began tunneling, without knowing where the tunnels would exit.

But putting that aside, the problem for Sydney is that there has not been sufficient investment in rail.

Major global cities need public transport to function.

That’s where the Western Metro can help.

The proposal is for a 25km underground rail line with new stations, linking the Sydney CBD to Parramatta via the Bays Precinct and Sydney Olympic Park.

This is an important project that would be a game changer for Parramatta and the jobs hubs around Olympic Park and the Bays Precinct.

It would not only make it easier for commuters to get to and from work, but would also strengthen links between the Sydney CBD and the Parramatta CBD.

This project can be a genuine catalyst for the creation of more jobs closer to where people live, which is a critical requirement to deal with the demographic pressures we are facing.

In recent years most of the jobs growth in our capital cities has been in our CBDs.

That’s part of the reason for the traffic congestion.

Where we can, we need to encourage strong jobs growth in secondary CBDs because that will mean fewer people will have to travel into the City.

It is a good thing that the NSW Government is working on planning for the Western Metro and that it has indicated it will provide funding.

Luke Foley understands the extent of Sydney’s traffic congestion crisis.

And he understands that we won’t solve it without genuine collaboration from all levels of government.

As for Federal Labor, our intentions are clear.

At this year’s NSW ALP Conference in April, Labor Leader Bill Shorten committed $3 billion to the Western Metro.

Bill also committed a further $3 billion for the Western Sydney Rail Line, a north-south link through Western Sydney which will connect the new Western Sydney Airport to the Sydney passenger network.

These projects will make a real difference to Sydney.

They will help ease congestion.

They will also boost productivity.

If delivered properly, they will stimulate economic and jobs growth and help to transform the way this city works.

The Federal Government has yet to match Federal Labor’s commitment.

It should do so now.

If there is one thing that has gone wrong in this country in the past decade it has been the rise of the politics of division.

When it comes to infrastructure, partisan politics has been allowed to trump common sense and prevent progress on issues that actually matter, such as Australians being able to get to and from work in a reasonable time.

The bipartisan support for Western Sydney Airport is providing the confidence for a massive investment pipeline in the Aerotropolis and along the north south corridor that will provide high value jobs in the region.

This is Government working as it should.

Dealing with urban congestion requires a similar commitment to outcomes rather than politics as usual.

We all know that both the Western Metro and Western Sydney Rail are required.

So we should work together to get on with the job.