This week I spoke in the Parliament about the WestConnex project, calling on the Baird Government to release the business case.
I told Parliament:
On Thursday of last week Labor’s leader, Bill Shorten, outlined our plan for infrastructure in Australia.
In his speech the Leader of the Opposition recognised that in order to generate economic growth, in order to generate more jobs and in order to generate more liveable cities and regions that are connected we need more infrastructure.
In spending taxpayers’ money on infrastructure we need to do it in a transparent and responsible way.
That is why we established Infrastructure Australia, making sure that projects stacked up in a transparent way and that those projects were funded that would produce the greatest return to the national economy and to the improvement of the living standards of the Australian people.
That is why we have been very critical that projects that had been through the Infrastructure Australia process, including the Melbourne Metro, the Cross River Rail project and the Managed Motorways program, were all cut, as well as projects that had not had published business cases funded, including the East-West Road project in Melbourne, the Perth Freight Link and WestConnex in Sydney.
The WestConnex project, of course, is connected to my electorate. I am in favour of roads. I do not believe that you can have just public transport. But I am also in favour of public transport, because I do not believe you can just have roads. You need to have an integrated transport system in order for cities to function properly.
In relation to WestConnex I agree that people travelling from Western Sydney need an improved M4, that the current circumstances whereby it just stops at the T-junction and traffic is funnelled onto Parramatta Road is not acceptable.
I also agree that there needs to be much better access for freight on the M5 to and from the port of Botany. As I said in a speech to the Bus Industry Confederation on 24 March 2015:
For as long as this project has been discussed, its object has been to take cars from Sydney’s west to the CBD and freight to Port Botany.
As it is currently proposed, WestConnex does neither.
I’m all for a solution to ease traffic congestion in Sydney.
But this project will not meet its objective, and I am concerned that it could add significant congestion where WestConnex meets the local street network.
What concerns me is that it is unclear where the traffic will go once it reaches the St Peters Interchange.
There are also concerns for the residents of Haberfield, Rozelle and Annandale about the traffic implications of the extended M4. We do not know where the exhaust stacks will be, and we do not really know the impact the project will have on these suburbs.
The other thing that concerns me is that governments are investing millions of taxpayer dollars on this infrastructure but the decisions have not been transparent and we do not know whether they are based on a business case that stands up to scrutiny.
In fact, when in government Labor funded $25 million for a study to ensure that the business case into any improvements on Sydney’s road network, particularly getting freight to and from the port, was complete and transparent. We are yet to see the result of that study.
In May 2014 I wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph in which I said:
Investing in new roads or new rail can be a very effective way to reduce congestion and boost economic productivity …
But that when governments spend scarce dollars they ought to be certain up-front that they get it right and that the investment delivers on the desired outcome.
I wrote that under the current design WestConnex was ‘a road to a traffic jam’.
That was nearly 1½ years ago, and we still do not know whether they have it right, and it still looks like being a road to a traffic jam.
With the WestConnex project we are told that the business case has been done, but I call on the Baird government to release the business case to public scrutiny.
In December 2014 I called on the premier, Mike Baird, to release the full business case after the Audit Office of New South Wales report identified serious deficiencies in the planning and quality assurance processes surrounding the project.
The audit report stated that the preliminary business case:
… fell well short of the standard required for such a document.
While the New South Wales audit did not address the issue of value for public money, it identified serious deficiencies in the project planning and evaluation.
The plan that has been done to date does not demonstrate the benefit to the public.
I am concerned about where the cars that travel to the end of the interchange are going to go and the impact that will have on our local community.
Cars will be transferred onto local streets that are already congested.
They will impact on the traffic on the exciting main street of Newtown.
We are told that there will be no clearways in King Street, and I have spoken to the New South Wales minister, Duncan Gay, and got an assurance that that will be the case.
But we need to make sure that that is made absolutely certain, otherwise the Newtown CBD will be impacted adversely—with consequences for jobs and for economic activity.
The Newtown shopping area is the most-visited shopping, food and entertainment area outside the CBD. This is an interesting, active and energetic area, and it has a great sense of community.
This has partly built up by people using the main street and walking around the area.
They see their neighbours, talk to each other and the community is built.
While we have been told that there will be no clearways, WestConnex is not in control of what happens in the local streets.
So we need to make sure that it occurs, because the RMS is not part of this project.
The WestConnex project stops and the RMS takes over.
I have not seen—and the local people have not seen—any plan from the RMS to show that it has the flow-on traffic organised.
That is a concern.
Likewise, traffic could be channelled onto Campbell Street in St Peters.
Anyone who has a look at that street and then into Edgeware Road in Enmore knows that the consequences of this are quite bizarre—to suggest that this will be a major thoroughfare that will then just stop at that intersection. No wonder the local community is concerned.
The other thing which appears not to have been considered by either the RMS or the WestConnex Delivery Authority is the integration of roads and public transport.
The former prime minister, we know, had no interest in public transport.
However, when planning major infrastructure road projects it is incumbent on the planners to ensure that, where possible, roads and public transport are integrated.
In a city of the size of Sydney, which is continuing to grow, we must plan to ensure that we are not continually putting more cars onto our roads.
It just leads to further congestion.
We need to plan to enable the use of public transport and active transport to promote sustainability and liveability in our cities.
There is no evidence to date that these issues have been considered or planned for in any serious way by any of the relevant authorities.
Part of the problem, of course, is that there are so many different authorities; it is very hard for the local community to be able to engage in proper community processes.
The WestConnex Delivery Authority website shows cute little icons that tell us of the jobs to be created, the apprentices who will be trained, that drivers will save 40 minutes from Parramatta to the airport, that urban renewal will occur and that traffic will be removed from local roads.
But it does not pass proper scrutiny.
Anyone who goes to that area around the St Peters interchange knows that it is already a massive struggle to get from there either to the airport or to the port.
Increased traffic flow into this area, where you have the largest residential growth occurring anywhere in Australia—around that South Sydney area—means gridlock.
The New South Wales government really needs to explain far better what will happen to the traffic once it leaves that interchange.
While traffic will be removed from local roads in some areas, it will be transferred onto the narrow streets of the inner West and the inner city.
Of course, as we know, the greatest way to have urban renewal is public transport.
Have a look at projects like the Regional Rail Link in Victoria and you can see how successful urban renewal projects can be.
This is, of course, a state government project.
It is partly funded by the federal coalition government, but it is managed and operated by the state government.
It has a responsibility to give the community information, to give assurances that they can rely upon, to show the community the plan for dealing with the traffic that arrives at the end of the WestConnex route and, importantly, to show the business case.
I think communities are prepared to accept some disruption for infrastructure development.
What they will not accept is that disruption when you have no business case and no transparency in the process, and providing those things is what the New South Wales government must do when it comes to this project.
(Hansard, Monday, 12 October 2015)
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.