Doorstop Interview Transcript: Transport infrastructure in Western Sydney; David Elliott  

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DONNA DAVIS: I’d like to acknowledge the Burramattagal people of the Dharug nation, and pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging. And welcome here today to the City of Parramatta, NSW Leader of the Opposition Chris Minns and Jo Haylen, Shadow Minister for Transport. This morning there’s been yet another announcement about Parramatta light rail 2. But it’s not the announcement that our city needs and the people or Parramatta need. It’s an announcement to say that this government is not committed to supporting the residents that live here now and that are moving to our city. By 2036, there’ll be 29,000 new homes on the Parramatta light rail stage 2 route. 25,000 – 29,000 new homes that need public transport and they need that commitment now. There’s no use building that public transport once the people are already living here and struggling to get to work, to school, and to any other endeavours. We need that investment now. And it’s time that the state government actually stopped making announcements in the negative and support the people of Parramatta.

CHRIS MINNS: Thanks Donna, Chris Minns NSW Labor Leader. It’s great to be here with the Lord Mayor of Parramatta Donna Davis and Shadow Minister for Transport Jo Haylen to talk about Western Sydney in the heart of Western Sydney. Now it appears that the government’s infrastructure bonanza is coming to a standstill, right when Western Sydney needs its fair share of infrastructure spending. The merry go round of infrastructure spending is about to stop. Why is it that the people of Western Sydney always seem to miss out. The announcement in relation to the Northern Beaches tunnel is good if the money was to be redirected to Western Sydney infrastructure. But it appears to be matched with the decision by the NSW Government to not go ahead with the second stage at the Parramatta light rail, which is an essential piece of infrastructure, where tens of thousands of people have already moved in on the line expecting much needed critical infrastructure will be built. Why do they believe that’s to be the case, because their own government has repeatedly promised that that would be the situation in New South Wales. It’s incumbent upon the NSW Premier to explain to the voters of this state, what projects will go ahead, what projects will be cancelled. The last 10 years all we’ve heard from the NSW Libs and Nats is that you can believe that when they say the transport infrastructure would be built. Now it appears that is not the case. So I would call rather than to have months of indecision, and to be completely unclear what transport and infrastructure projects will be going ahead, I call on the Treasurer and Premier to stand up today before the New South Wales budget and explain clearly to the taxpayers of this state, what they can expect to see built, and in what timeframe those projects will go ahead. At the end of the day, we’re faced with a situation where Blacktown local government area will have an increase in population of 200,000 extra people in the next 20 years; 190,000 extra for Liverpool; 180,000 extra for Camden; 140,000 extra for the CBD of Parramatta while at the same time Northern Beaches Council over the same period of time, will only have 30,000 extra residents and Mosman council will simply have 999 increase over a 20 year period. We know who’s taking the vast majority of population growth. And we also know who’s missing out on critical infrastructure. It’s not hard for anyone to see the people of Western Sydney pay their taxes; they deserve their fair share of services. It’s up to the NSW Government to explain why that’s not the case. Jo?

JO HAYLEN: Thanks Chris, Jo Haylen Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, well after 11 years, it’s very clear that the government has completely lost control of the transport portfolio. Their infrastructure projects are blowing out and now they’re making cancellations. Their procurement policies are a complete mess, with cracked trams and failed ferries. And every single day passengers across Sydney face more cancellations and cancellations and delays on our train network. And the Minister responsible for ensuring that people can get to work and get their kids to school on time, is now running off to Canberra while he’s colleague has decided to cancel key transport projects for Western Sydney. Today’s report shows that the people of Western Sydney have it hardest when it comes to accessing public transit. And when they finally get to their bus stop or their train station, there are – there are fewer buses and trains for them and their families. That’s not fair. The government needs to focus on delivering the public transport that the people of Western Sydney need not their own political self interest. Under a Minns future Labor Government we’ll be investing to make sure that people of Western Sydney are not forced into their cars again and again to pay ever increasing tolls; that have the public transport that they need.

MINNS: We’re all happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just that last point from Jo there, if the decision hasn’t been made about stage two by the time 2023 rolls around, and you are successful, will Labor build stage two?

MINNS: Yeah, we’re looking at stage two Parramatta light rail very, very closely, we’ll be making our decisions in relation to what projects will be prioritised and the timeframe for them in the run up to the election, certainly after the New South Wales State budget, but critical infrastructure for Western Sydney that has previously been promised needs to be delivered. At the end of the day, you’re talking about investment decisions that tens of thousands of people have made. They’ve moved their families; they’ve put their life savings into property and development. And infrastructure hasn’t arrived. If you speak to people in Wentworth Point overwhelmingly the message from them is, we were told this infrastructure will be built. It hasn’t been. And now, as far as the Liberals and Nationals are concerned, all hope is lost.

JOURNALIST: Chris, to be clear, you did just call on the government to be crystal clear about what projects will be built and when. But you yourself are not saying if you’ll build them.

MINNS: I think that taxpayers would understand that the NSW Government is subject to and has access to the latest infrastructure report, the size and scale of the deficit, the position of the net debt position, as far as the budget to be handed down in a number of months is concerned. They’d also expect us to be reasonable and prudent in relation to our investment decisions about where infrastructure would be built. Certainly, we’ll announce that before the next election. But we’re not privy to the information that the Treasurer and the Premier, do have access to. They can make the call about when they’re going to build infrastructure, they can also be honest with the taxpayers of the state about what projects will not go ahead.

JOURNALIST: We have just heard from Minister Stokes about the impact of covid and the way in which that has caused costs rise. And that’s why there are these delays. Do you buy that explanation?

MINNS: Look, I do. I understand that the input costs for major infrastructure projects have increased, but we’ve seen this as a tale when it comes to major infrastructure projects across New South Wales. All but one of the infrastructure projects stretches back 10 years have been massively over budget. The most conspicuous example is the increase in the CBD light rail, which doubled in cost – a blowout of $1.7 billion. The entire project was estimated to cost $1.6 billion. So yes, input costs are part of the reason. But it’s – it’s also poor planning, poor budgeting, and inability to task manage these projects, even when interest rates were low. And there wasn’t a net debt position for the state and labour input costs weren’t as high as they are today. I don’t think that’s the whole story. And the NSW Government at the end of day needs to be upfront with the taxpayers. They’re the ones paying the bill. Where’s the projects? Where are the projects up to what’s going to go ahead?

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister was in Western Sydney today some $3 billion for infrastructure projects are into the budget for New South Wales, have you had a chance to look through those projects and I guess what you make of that spending?

MINNS: I haven’t seen that list, I’m curious to see the federal government turn up literally, on the eve of a federal election, and promise infrastructure for the Central Coast, Newcastle and Western Sydney. Where have they been for the last eight years? If you believe these infrastructure projects will go ahead. I’ll see you the clock on top of the town hall. It’s very late in the game. I think the people who live in Western Sydney will be rightly sceptical about whether these projects at the end will be fully funded and fully built.

JOURNALIST: Can I just talk about this report that you’ve helped launch today, ‘Funding the Infrastructure of Tomorrow’, the McKell institute does promote superannuation funds as a source of capital investment, infrastructure investment and talks about public private partnerships and long term leases. You said about two weeks ago, you won’t privatise any roads, what do you make of the idea of more investment from superannuation funds as part of the infrastructure funding?

MINNS: Yeah, I mean, the repeated call from investment funds and superannuation funds, particular retail superannuation funds and also industry superannuation funds, they need the investments that deliver long term returns, that in some ways are protected. So in many ways, they are looking at infrastructure as a key investment pipeline, for their mix, their infrastructure mix, their portfolio mix I should say. So we’re open to that. One of the things the report says, and this is important when you look at the mix of how to build infrastructure going forward is that privatisation isn’t the only answer to how to build infrastructure in a big city like Sydney. You can have public private partnerships. You can have lease and build; you can have a project that is managed by private sector,  but paid for by New South Wales taxpayers. There’s a big mix of projects and the ability to pay for it. And the way or the mechanics for how these are funded is obviously part of that process. But one of the points I make is that at the end of the day, you do need, there’s no magic bullet, you do need to have an infrastructure pipeline. And you do have to explain how the capital side of the budget will be rolled out over the next 20, 30, 40 years. And while industry super funds and their involvement in capital infrastructure in New South Wales is welcome. It’s a complicated mix. And it’s not a silver bullet.

JOURNALIST: When you say no privatisation, are you talking about sales and long term leases? Are these other things you will consider?

MINNS: Certainly we won’t be privatising NSW Government assets. And the key ones that we’ve gone back to again and again is the Transport Asset Holding Entity, the remaining electricity infrastructure in the state; monopoly assets that are owned by the people of New South Wales that if they’re privatised and held by private interest there’s a cost pressure for the average consumer. That’s one of the leading reasons that the ACCC for many years supporting, I guess, asset sales on the government balance sheet now believe that it’s a poor return for New South Wales investors, sorry, New South Wales taxpayers and other state governments. One of the leading reasons for that is when you privatise a NSW Government asset, you get upfront capital in the New South Wales budget, but you lose forever, that dividend that would pay into the NSW Government coffers. For example, when it comes to dividends, tax equivalent payments, and access to the state governments debt sheet, that’s a big – that’s a lot of money. Electricity itself generated more than a billion dollars a year in dividends to the New South Wales budget. When you sell off those companies, the government must find ways of finding that revenue from other sources. Now, the NSW Government hasn’t bothered finding that revenue. That’s one of the reasons we’ve got a hundred billion dollars’ worth of net debt. I’m not pretending that these are easy issues to solve. Financing of infrastructure is difficult. But we’re in a very difficult situation, the largest net debt figure in the state’s history, both in absolute terms and in percentage terms.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] David Elliot would make a [inaudible] federal MP for Parramatta?

MINNS: Look, I’d say to David Elliot focus on your day job. At the end of the day, when he’s fixed the transport system in New South Wales, then you can go gallivanting around on other seats. Transport in this state is a mess. We’ve got trains that don’t run on time, you’ve got millions of people that have been inconvenienced by his management of Transport for NSW. And I’d say to him, don’t do to Australia, what you’ve done to this state, focus on your day job, at the end of the day, it’s an absolute mess.

JOURNALIST: Jo, can I just get your reaction, you made the point the Government has lost control. We’ve done press conferences talking about blowouts particularly on the M6. Now they’re saying, hang on we’re gonna look at this because we don’t want to have more blowout, isn’t that a good step from Minister Stokes?

MINNS: Well of course we need cool heads to look at the information here and act accordingly. But to abandon the people of Western Sydney; to abandon the people who require that infrastructure shown very clearly in the report today is not fair. It’s also misleading when it comes to 11 years in government, and they have had more than enough time to plan these projects effectively. The fact is, mismanagement and waste has led to cost blowout. And now they’re looking to not only to exit from those projects, but abandon the people who need them most. In Western Sydney, it is harder to access public transport. Those families need that support because otherwise they’re forced onto already congested roads with ever increasing tolls.

JOURNALIST: Donna, can I ask you about the light rail, are you going to be badgering Chris and Jo to make sure that they build it if they win next year?

DAVIS: I will be badgering anyone in state government to ensure that we get Parramatta light rail two delivered for the residents of Wentworth Point that are already there. And for all the future residents of Parramatta. We are going to be doubling our population in the next 20 to 30 years. And we need that infrastructure to support those people.

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