Greens Oppose Closure of Newcastle Rail Line

The Greens are disturbed by the fact that while cities around the world appear to be closing motorways and investing in public transport, the New South Wales Government appears to be doing the exact opposite. The Greens will always support investment in public transport. 


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [12.48 p.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I address the Transport Administration Amendment (Closure of Railway Line at Newcastle) Bill 2015 because I have carriage of transport issues in this place for The Greens. The Greens Transport spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, has made it very clear in the other place that The Greens strongly oppose the closure of this rail line. Dr Faruqi has campaigned hard with the community and Save Our Rail. We are disturbed by the fact that while cities around the world appear to be closing motorways and investing in public transport, the New South Wales Government appears to be doing the exact opposite. It is time for us to realise that the Tony Abbott era of roads obsession is over and there should be more investment in public transport, not closing rail lines and building more polluting motorways.

We know the Government has introduced this bill because an Act of Parliament is required to remove the rail line. It should be noted that the battle over the Newcastle rail line has been raging for decades, with both Labor and Liberal governments attempting to remove it. It is clear that closing the rail line is in the interests of Hunter developers because it occupies prime foreshore land. Opposing the closure of this rail line is something that the constituents of Newtown, my electorate, share with the constituents of Newcastle, because it threatens urban growth while favouring developers' interests over community interests.

Answers to questions that my colleague in the other place Dr Mehreen Faruqi tabled in Parliament indicate that public transport patronage has collapsed since the closure of the rail line. People are now unfortunately getting back into their cars because the bus network is not providing an alternative solution. Residents are reporting that much of Newcastle is drained of life and traffic, and that parking is worse. Many of those who need to get to the inner city and to the beach by public transport are finding it much more difficult. The recent Legislative Council Select Committee on the Planning Process in Newcastle and the Broader Hunter Region strongly advocated for the reinstatement of rail services.

This could be the first time that a government has planned to rip up a rail line that connects two of the biggest cities in its jurisdiction. The closure of the rail line would hamper public transport patronage in the Hunter and do nothing to revitalise the city. The Government's 2014 traffic assessment for the Wickham Transport Interchange predicted a huge public transport patronage loss if the heavy rail was to be stopped at Wickham and any future replacement light rail installed. This Government is spending $460 million to rip up a public rail network and to hand over the rail corridor to developers. Let me repeat that: The Government is not investing $460 million in new public transport; it is spending $460 million to rip up an existing rail network and to hand over the corridor to developers.

It is unbelievable that at time when we need to be addressing pollution caused by motorways and tollways, this Government is investing in ripping up a rail line and not delivering public transport for New South Wales. The Greens stand strong with the community in opposing this legislation. Save Our Rail has defended this matter in the courts and the Government has finally admitted that it needs to apply some scrutiny to this decision by introducing this bill. The Baird Government has never been transparent about decisions relating to funding polluting tollways or spending money on ripping up rail lines.

It has always been reluctant to give the reasons behind these decisions. It has been reluctant to reveal to the communities using this rail line how ripping it up will benefit them. Instead, there is a commitment to benefiting the developers in the area through the UrbanGrowth process. It is hard to see how anyone in the community—including parents with prams, older people, people with disabilities, businesses that are suffering as a result of people commuting by car or shopping in Sydney rather than in Newcastle—will benefit as a result of this Government spending $460 million to rip up a rail line rather than investing that money in public transport.

It is clear that many residents of the Hunter area rely on rail to get to Newcastle for work, for shopping and for entertainment. The closure of this rail line will make it harder and the congestion problems worse. Even if any light rail replacement is built, forcing people to change modes of public transport will cripple public transport patronage. This will be likely to force people back into their cars and onto the roads. The time and financial penalty of forcing people onto the roads and dealing with separate services is a huge concern and will worsen the congestion in Newcastle without delivering for the community safe, effective, accessible and efficient integrated public transport solutions.

This legislation is a clear and unambiguous anti-public transport land grab. It is disappointing to see money from the Transport budget being spent to rip up a rail line rather than on delivering public transport for the community. The Greens have stood strong with the Save Our Rail campaign. Save Our Rail is a strong community campaign group standing up to the Government's cuts to rail services and its complete disregard for community concerns about access to public transport. I was pleased to join them briefly outside this Parliament yesterday. The Newcastle Greens are standing strong with community activists and people across the area. The Newcastle University Students Association came out in support of this rally and the Save Our Rail campaign. I salute the tireless work of public transport advocates like Gavin Gatenby and those involved in EcoTransit Sydney. This important campaign has been mounted to ensure that we save Newcastle's rail.

We need to take a step back and look at transport and roads in this State. This Government is spending $460 million from the Transport budget to rip up a rail line and $15.4 billion in public money on a 33-kilometre polluting tollway in the middle of the city. The Greens and the people of Sydney and across this State stand with the people of Newcastle in their campaign to get the Government to invest in public transport and rail infrastructure and not in polluting tollways and motorways. We want to have world-class public transport, not the closure of the Newcastle rail line.


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