Transport Minister Given Unchecked Powers to Close Down Public Transport

Today the NSW Liberal Government granted the Transport Minister unchecked powers to close down public transport. The Greens will always stand up for effective and accessible public transport. 


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [11.51 a.m.]: On behalf of The Greens I address the Transport Administration Amendment (Authority to Close Railway Lines) Bill 2016 as I have carriage of transport issues in this place for The Greens. As The Greens transport spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, made very clear in the other place, The Greens strongly oppose the bill. The introduction of the bill in the other place by the Minister for Roads, rather than in this place by the Minister for Transport, makes the Government's agenda pretty clear. The bill reflects an agenda that seeks to prioritise 1950s roads, and shut down effective public transport and heavy rail solutions in our State.

The bill seeks to give an expansion of powers to the Minister for Transport by providing the Minister with unchecked power to close any railway line in the greater Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong regions, from Port Stephens to Kiama, and in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury regions, for the purposes of or in connection with development declared to be State significant infrastructure. This order would simply need to be published in the Government Gazette to take full effect and would not be reviewable in this House or in the other place, as is currently the case. There is nothing in the bill to permit a disallowance by the Parliament of any decisions in that regard.

Section 99A of the Transport Administration Act requires the government of the day to explicitly pass an Act of Parliament to authorise a rail infrastructure owner to close a rail line. It seems that the Government is simply trying to remove any involvement of the community or any local say in what happens because the Government is frustrated that the community is opposed to the closure of railway lines. This side of the House says that people having a say over what happens in this State is called democracy; the Government calls what it is doing "progress".

Mr Greg Piper: It is antiquated; democracy is old.

Ms JENNY LEONG: I note that the member for Lake Macquarie says democracy is antiquated. In the other place the Minister for Roads referred to it as "archaic". Apparently, the concept of a community having a say in what happens to their rail line is archaic. The Government says that, instead, we need progress, and by "progress" it appears that this Government means cutting out the community. We have seen the community cut out of State significant infrastructure development plans and now this is a further attempt to cut the community out in relation to the closure of railway lines.

I know that the Opposition will oppose the bill, but it is important to point out that back in 2009 and 2010 it was the former Labor Government that attempted to introduce these reforms. While The Greens are pleased to see that Labor seems to have changed its tune in opposition—we often see Labor changing its mind on things it attempted to do when it was in government—I am pleased to note that Labor was not successful at the time and thankfully was defeated through community opposition and the strong work done by a former member of the other place and now Greens Senator, Lee Rhiannon, working with the community and the Liberals and Nationals to eventually defeat the Labor Government's attempt to introduce this amendment.

Let us look at the reason behind the legislation. It appears to stem from the Government's frustration at the community being able to have a say and at local members being able to do their job in this place in representing the interests of their community. The Government no longer wants to put up with this. But we should look at the reality of what is happening. In recent years we have seen the fight to save and then reopen the Casino to Murwillumbah train line in northern New South Wales. Community groups united in a fight to retain the invaluable rail service in that area. The member for Ballina is acutely aware of the negative impact of top-down decisions on Northern Rivers communities that have also faced the impact of rail closures and she has asked me to mention specifically that she is opposed to this bill. She is very concerned about the Liberal-Nationals Government's power grab in cutting and closing rail lines throughout the State.

It is very clear that this legislation will also have an impact on WestConnex. Already this arrogant Minister for Roads has said that he is committed to building a polluting tollway that is now at a cost blowout of something in the order of $16.8 billion. We also know that, under this bill, a heavy rail line is being slated for closure—the inner-city rail line that runs from Balmain Road, Lilyfield, to Victoria Road, Rozelle, including the Rozelle rail yards. At this point it appears that this is, allegedly, for the construction period of stage 3 of WestConnex. I remind the House that stage 3 of WestConnex is yet to be funded; it is unclear where the money is coming from. However, I am concerned about an increase in the amount of freight that would be travelling on heavy rail in our inner-city communities.

The Government is attempting to close rail lines and public transport options, and it is putting billions of dollars into a polluting 1950s-style motorway. That is the type of progress we are seeing from the New South Wales Government—1950s-style polluting roads, and the closure of functional transport and rail lines. We must question why this Government is doing it and what is its agenda. We need only look as far as the Minister for Roads, who is of the view that people participating in democracy and communities having a say over what happens in their areas is "archaic". I have news for the Minister for Roads: That is not archaic; that is how democracy works. By attempting to undermine the community's say over this, by attempting to bypass the Parliament in this decision-making, the Government is undermining democracy and attempting a further removal of transparency that would allow the community to have a say in decisions that affect them.

The bill will have devastating impacts on residents across the New South Wales community, whether it is residents in Rozelle or further afield. Giving unfettered power to the Minister for Roads and this Government to close rail lines is yet another attempt to silence and shut down the community. It is utterly wrong to introduce a process that provides for unilateral power to close and dismantle essential rail infrastructure. Even if we are not in a position to make certain rail links commercially viable now, they will be essential to meet the future public transport needs of our city.

As we move away from a fossil fuel based economy dominated by private motor vehicles, this will be even more essential. It is crucial that we protect our rails lines and it is essential that transport corridors are utilised and protected for future use. We know all too well from past experience in New South Wales that once infrastructure is closed and sold off it disappears forever. This bill gives the Government what it wants: more freedom to push through its own agenda regardless of the will of the community. That is the reason The Greens oppose the bill. The bill itself is not what is archaic; what is archaic is the view of how transport should be dealt with in this State, which is driven by the archaic roads Minister, Duncan Gay. We should see a holistic approach to public transport in our State.

The question is why we even need a roads Minister when we should be taking an integrated approach to transport that recognises the need for no competition between private roads and public transport interests. That continues to remain a serious question. The Greens strongly oppose the bill. We will continue to stand for the community's interest to have a say through representation in this place. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that is being undermined yet again by the New South Wales Baird Liberal Government.


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