Doorstop Interview: Infrastructure NSW Report

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CHRIS MINNS MPNSW LABOR LEADER JOHN GRAHAM MLCNSW SHADOW MINISTER FOR ROADS JO HAYLEN MPNSW SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT

CHRIS MINNS, NSW LABOR LEADER: Chris Minns, NSW Labor Leader here and I’m with Jo Haylen and John Graham and we’re obviously speaking about the Infrastructure NSW Report. Look, I think many people that live in Western Sydney would be furious today knowing that now the music has stopped the people of the west miss out yet again. This Infrastructure Report indicates what people have known for a long time – that many projects that are essential for the infrastructure of this state will be put on hold or delayed or cancelled, or all three as a result of the NSW government’s decision.Clearly the timing of this report and the government’s response to it was designed to be just after the Federal Election so as not to affect the voting intentions of millions of people that live in NSW. I want to make this important point, Western Sydney will grow from 2.8 million to 4.1 million in the coming decade and a half, a massive increase in the population density, the fastest growing part of the entire country. More people will move into Western Sydney than any part of NSW combined. It doesn’t have the infrastructure to keep pace with the population as it is today, it doesn’t have anywhere near enough infrastructure to keep pace with the population projections of the NSW Government.I want to make something really clear, at the 2019 state election the Liberals and Nationals told the people of this state that they could have it all. All the infrastructure projects that were under consideration, everything that had begun, everything that was planned would be done on time and on budget. They also said that privatisation was a thing of the past and that there’d be no asset sales in this term. This report indicates that both those things are in jeopardy. Major projects will be delayed or cancelled and asset sales to pay for infrastructure or the debt that the state has racked up is on the table. Asset sales in this state have led to a user pays culture in the NSW economy, it’s hampered economic growth, it’s put an enormous burden on motorists and taxpayers and consumers in this state. It’s declined our revenue base, and it’s meant that the NSW Government has racked up enormous amounts of net debt as well as having to find alternative sources of revenue leading to potential tax increases on the people of the state. Asset sales are not a solution to the infrastructure challenges facing this state.The pressure is now on Dominic Perrottet to explain what the government’s intentions and priorities are over the next 10 years. Be straight with the people of NSW, don’t make the same mistakes that the government has made heading into the last state election whereby they told the people of the state that they could have it all, knowing that it was very difficult to deliver on that promise and effectively misleading millions of people and taxpayers that live in the state of NSW.

JOHN GRAHAM, SHADOW MINISTER FOR ROADS: Thanks Chris. John Graham, Shadow Minister for Roads. The government at the last election did tell the people you can have it all and now Infrastructure NSW is saying that’s just not true. Of course, that was always the case with these large mega projects that the government’s really struggled to deliver. In relation to roads projects, three major roads projects here, including the Beaches Link, including the 11km tunnel that Paul Toole has been spruiking just weeks ago for the Great Western Highway and the M6 Stage Two. These major projects that the government has been out talking about, now Infrastructure NSW is pouring cold water over them given the trouble that the government’s had delivering them.  Ministers, not just in relation to other projects, have been repeatedly defending these projects, as recently as a week ago, now the public learns that the government’s over promised and is likely to under deliver.I do want to speak specifically just about the Beaches Link project. The Opposition has been upfront that we would not proceed with this project and it’s been based on the Parliamentary Inquiry into that project, it’s been based on looking at what Infrastructure Australia has said about this project. Now, the government advised by Infrastructure NSW is faced with that same choice, and we encourage them to do what the Opposition has done, take a responsible approach to infrastructure building rather than simply promising you can have it all.

JO HAYLEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT: Thanks, John. Jo Haylen, Shadow Minister for Transport. Well, the Liberals at the last election said to the people of NSW that they can have it all and yet today, they are delaying or cancelling vital public transport services that they promised to the people of Western Sydney. Now, families and businesses in Western Sydney are currently forced onto congested toll roads paying ever increasing tolls. These public transport solutions that the government promised them over many, many years is supposed to combat that inequity. We know in Western Sydney, it’s harder to catch public transport than in other parts of Sydney and when you eventually get to the bus stop or the train station, there are fewer services available to you, and it gets harder and harder to get to where you need to go.The government cancelling or delaying vital public transport connections like the Parramatta Light Rail Stage Two will be devastating, particularly for the people of Wentworth Point and the businesses of Olympic Park that are relying on those connections. People have made investments, they’ve made investments in their homes and their businesses relying on the fact that the government said that you can have it all. Cancelling rail connections between the future Western Sydney Airport and Western Sydney CBDs like Parramatta and Liverpool will again devastate these families and businesses that are relying on those future connections and also the government’s flagship West Metro project, supposedly to deliver fast services between Sydney CBD and Parramatta. Again, the government is pulling the rug out from underneath families and businesses that have made decisions based on these promises. As recently as last week, ministers responsible for the future transport needs of our global city, were saying that these connections would be built. This report today represents a series of broken promises to the people of Western Sydney.

MINNS: All three of us are happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Chris, Graham Bradley from Infrastructure NSW held a press conference about an hour ago and he said we have not recommended the cancellation of any projects. Are you jumping the gun here a bit by saying these projects are going to be cancelled?

MINNS: No, I mean, we’ve made that point that this is in effect recommendations, delays for many people equal cancellations because they’ve made investment decisions about their homes, their families, the communities that they want to live in. It’s an old trick from governments to announce that a major capital project will be delayed beyond the forward estimates for example, but we will get there and it will just simply begin in 2035 or 2040. Well I mean, for many families, it’s well beyond the horizon by which they have to raise their families and make investment decisions for themselves and it means a cancellation as far as they’re concerned. So this is an old trick being used by governments of both political persuasions, the Labor Party as well going back decades. But it does mean that the promises that have been entered into by the NSW Government won’t be delivered. Now I understand the challenges that will be faced by both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party and National Party as we head into the next state election but the difference is they’ve made repeated promises in the lead up to these elections that you can have it all, knowing that the budget situation was changing, that the investment mix and the infrastructure – the ability to deliver that infrastructure was moving rapidly, and yet they persisted with that line, that you can have it all right through the state election and the federal election. And so both those things had been cleared out of the way and now they come clean, at least part of their government does and suggests that there’ll be significant delays for infrastructure projects in Sydney.

JOURNALIST: On the point of them saying you can have it all, I mean in 2019, that was pre black summer, that was pre-COVID, that was pre the flooding disaster – billions have gone towards those emergencies. Shouldn’t there be some benefit of the doubt given the government coffers have come such a way?

MINNS: Well look, I thought it was strange at the time that the Premier and the government would claim after eight years in power that the NSW public could have it all. I mean at the end of the day there are constraints on revenue projections, the amount of capital that the government’s going to collect, as well as changed circumstances but that was the commitment that they made. Labor at the last election was more circumspect and we will be to, we’ll understand the constraints on the budget heading into the 2023 election. I want to make a few points however. The first one is these projects were under significant pressure well before COVID and the bushfires and the floods. Most of the major capital infrastructure projects that government has undertaken have had significant budget blowouts, so they were in trouble before COVID reared its head. The second point here is up until two weeks ago, they were ridiculing the Opposition about major projects that we now know are either in doubt, will be delayed or could potentially be cancelled. Now, I think that’s cynical, in the run up to a federal election, trying to keep hope alive about major infrastructure projects, while knowing in the back of your mind these could well be pushed off into the never never. It’s not just politics, it’s not just moving budget numbers around, we’re talking about millions of people that have made life changing decisions about their own circumstances based on government promises that may well not be worth the paper they’re written on.

JOURNALIST: You said the pressure is now on Dominic Perrottet to come clean to the people of NSW. I asked the Infrastructure Minister yesterday about how these new deadlines, if there are new deadlines are going to be communicated. It doesn’t sound like they’ll be in the June 21 [22] Budget. How do you think the public should be notified if there are changes in deadlines or potential cancellations, when has that got to happen?

MINNS: The first thing is a change in deadline effectively means in many cases, a cancellation because it gets pushed out beyond the four year time period in which budgets are measured and as a result, no money is attached to it. So Dominic Perrottet, the Treasurer Matt Kean, the  Infrastructure Minister, the Planning Minister will no doubt say yes, we’re going to go ahead with these projects, it’s just that the conclusion and construction dates have been pushed out years into the future. For many families, that effectively means a cancellation, that’s the first point. The second point here is they can’t run to another election promising that the people in NSW can have it all. You have to be realistic about the challenges facing the NSW Government and don’t make empty promises and empty gestures to the taxpayers of the state. After all, the stakes are high for millions of families in the state that want some certainty from their own government.

JOURNALIST: John, if I could ask you, the Beaches Link inclusion in this report. Does that justify Labor’s position that this project doesn’t stack up and shouldn’t be a priority?

GRAHAM: Infrastructure NSW has come to relatively the same conclusions as the Opposition came to and that’s no surprise. This project has had serious questions over its benefit cost ratio. That’s the reason as we’ve looked at the business case, as we’ve looked at the advice from Infrastructure Australia, now the advice from Infrastructure NSW – this project isn’t as urgent, as many of the other pressing infrastructure concerns across the state.

JOURNALIST: Jo, could I ask you about Parramatta Light Rail Stage Two. You mentioned Wentworth Point, when asked why these six projects were identified, Infrastructure NSW said they are the most costly, but also these are the ones that haven’t had significant planning work done. We’ve been talking about stage two for years, is that an indictment on the fact that the government has dragged this out for so long that now it’s on the chopping block potentially?

HAYLEN: Delaying these projects effectively means cancelling for these families, particularly in those in Wentworth Point. I mean, those families moved there, they thought they were going to raise their kids there with new schools with new public transport, but instead they’re stuck on a ever increasingly dense peninsula, with one road in and one road out. This government promised Parramatta Light Rail Stage Two back in 2017. They said planning was going to be done by 2018 and construction would start in 2020. Well now in 2022 this project appears to be delayed into the never never, while they have abandoned the families of Wentworth Point and of Western Sydney in the process. 

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