Transport Administration Amendment (closure of railway line at Newcastle) 2015
My contribution to the debate on the closing of the railway line into Newcastle in which I describe the Government as doing everything it can to bully and bluster its way through this issue. I make special mention of Joan Dawson and Kim Cross of Save Our Rail who have agitated for the Government to be honest and clear with the community on this issue.
As someone who has worked in transport and logistics for more than half of my working life I cannot believe the actions of this Government in relation to the rail line. The Transport Administration (Closure of Railway Line at Newcastle) Bill 2015, a ridiculous bill which has been a long time coming, shows that this Government has no idea what is going on in transport. At the eleventh hour, the third planning Minister in the Liberal-Nationals Coalition is attempting to legalise this dodgy deal. He has been talking to the transport Minister to push this legislation through before the Supreme Court appeal case shows, once again, that this Government is trying to do something that it should not be doing. In the past five years this shoddy deal has been dealt with by two Premiers, three planning Ministers and two transport Ministers. There have been four by-elections—Newcastle, Charlestown, the mayoralty of Newcastle and ward 3—and two elections in 2011 and 2015. We have witnessed the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry, an upper House inquiry, the Supreme Court case and an appeal which this Government will lose. When will the Baird Government understand that no means no? Just like a sad Christmas carol, Government members have been pulling partridges out of the pear tree and singing the same tired old lines. Government members have no conviction, no understanding and no interest in the people of Newcastle or the wider Hunter region. This Government has done everything it can to bully and bluster its way through this issue since its most spectacular backflip back in 2012. I am told that prior to 2011 Barry O'Farrell and Robyn Parker rode on the train from Newcastle to Maitland and said what a wonderful piece of infrastructure it was. On the day Barry even wore a Save Our Rail badge. I make special mention of Joan Dawson and Kim Cross of Save Our Rail—the major drivers of this campaign over the past four years or more. They have agitated for the Government to be honest and clear with the community on this issue. When they could not get clarity they took the Government to court and the Government lost. The Government appealed the decision and continued to plan for the rail truncation. This Government has been living in fantasy land. It believes that just because it wants to sell off the corridor it should be able to do so. It does not matter what the law of the land provides or what communities in the Hunter say; the Government believes it can sell off the corridor without our consent. And there is no consent from Hunter residents. Only one person in this place from the Hunter has ever supported this; that is, the member for Upper Hunter. To be clear, he suffered a swing against him of more than 21 per cent. He should have followed the advice of the former member for Upper Hunter, who joined the former member for Maitland. Both of them, as Ministers, were reported to be against the truncation in May 2012, based on the potential impacts on rail users in their electorates. In fact, according to the Newcastle Herald on 2 May 2012, the former member for Maitland told Michelle Harris that Maitland's roads were under pressure from commuter traffic and that the Government should be encouraging public transport use rather than removing infrastructure. Ms Parker said that the city could still be revitalised with the rail line in place, as it could help move students into the proposed city centre university campus. Even when the former member finally lost the fight in Cabinet in November 2012, according to the Maitland Mercury she reiterated her previous commitment to fight for the efficient and streamlined public transport system that Maitland people deserved. Let us forget about politics and broken promises and look at planning aspects for a moment. Is it a coincidence that at the recent budget estimates hearings the current planning Minister—the third Minister on the job—was asked why the Government was considering development on the line, which it had no right to do. A couple of weeks later the second transport Minister obviously had a chat with the planning Minister, had a rethink and said, "Mate, I think we need to fix this up." The Government is now attempting to ram this legislation through without any negotiation and without giving the Opposition notice of its intentions, which is ridiculous. These are the Government's typical bullying tactics. I am advised—I do not know the exact wording—that the Minister for Transport told 2HD this morning that the Government wants to be able to close railways without the need for an Act of Parliament. So what are we all doing here? Government members are using their numbers in this place—people who do not represent the views of anyone in Newcastle or the Hunter—to remove vital infrastructure. The Government keeps referring to Karen Howard—the twice-failed candidate for Newcastle. She is seated in the gallery and the member for Newcastle is sitting on the opposition benches because Karen Howard does not represent the views of the majority of Newcastle residents. The Government is using its numbers in this place. It has unlawfully ripped up essential rail infrastructure and no alternative infrastructure is in place. For all his talk of mandates, the Premier has been silent since announcing that this election would be a mandate for the people of Newcastle. How much more of a mandate does he need? Even the member for Lake Macquarie who spoke in this place recently—he is not a member of the Labor Party—does not agree with it. This Government is trampling over the governance and democracy of our regions, which should be a warning to every person in New South Wales. This Government has consistently and repeatedly rejected the views of residents about some stupid scheme that will benefit a minority. If 204 people can sign a document and give it to that random guy from Guyra in the other place, Mr Scot MacDonald, the Government will use its numbers in this place to go against the wishes of the community. This is not just an issue for the Hunter; it is an issue of governance and democracy for our whole community. Where is the member for Upper Hunter? He should be representing the people of his electorate in this place. People from Muswellbrook were outside the Chamber yesterday. Is he going to be invisible, like the former member for Maitland was, when she finally lost it? Is he at the barbecue to which reference was made earlier so he is not grilled on this? Mr Andrew Constance: Point of order: There have been ongoing attacks against the member for Upper Hunter. I point out that he is attending a function for the Childhood Cancer Research Foundation. The member is making snide remarks about him in the House, but she should carefully consider what she is saying. Ms JENNY AITCHISON: I would like to be at the barbecue too, but I am debating this ridiculous bill that was introduced by the Minister. We would all like to be supporting childhood cancer fundraisers, as I did last week, and which I will continue to do for Endeavour. We want proper public transport. We want to reach our regional central business district [CBD]. The Government went to the 2011 election on a platform of not removing that rail line. Recently the Opposition received a briefing from UrbanGrowth, and I said then that on 26 December the Government made a forced and rushed attempt to rip up this rail line before prorogation so that it could get the redevelopment underway. Basically the Government said, "We won the election. We have done the backflip. We are going to rip it up." The Government wrecked it. This Government is a total wrecker. Nine months later we have nothing to show for the election commitments. The three train stops have become three bus stops, but without signage, and there are no additional stops. I suggested to UrbanGrowth, "If you're real about this light rail, why don't you put the extra stops in place that you promised?" Has UrbanGrowth done that? No! People who catch the bus past Civic station can get off and on near Scratchleys, but there is no signage advising that that can be done and there is no timetable. There has been no investment in this decision by this Government. Public transport is vitally important to the socioeconomic strength, development and resilience of every community. It is a major social determinant of health. Distinguished transport and sociology academics, such as Janet and John Stanley from Monash University and David Hensher from the University of Sydney's Institute of Transport and Logistics, have been working on these issues for many years. They can draw maps showing that communities with strong, reliable and frequent public transport services fare best. The Hunter region has the highest unemployment rate in the State, yet this Government has just ripped the guts out of our public transport system. The result has been that Maitland people cannot get to Newcastle or easily get to Sydney to secure jobs. It is a disgrace. To be clear, Labor started the revitalisation of Newcastle with the law courts and university facilities being relocated close to Civic station. The new Museum of Newcastle is located near Civic station. I have seen preschoolers get on that train who could not afford to get on a bus to go on an excursion to see the new museum. Those little four- and five-year-olds were taking the opportunity to travel from Maitland, but they will not be able to do that now because the new and renamed museum station has been closed. Many restaurants along the foreshore are within a five-minute walk of Civic station. The major shopping and residential developments slated for the area will not be serviced by rail. That is foolish. Having the rail line is about giving people in Maitland and beyond in the Upper Hunter the opportunity to connect directly with the major CBD in our region and then on to Sydney. It is about connectivity, transport and, ultimately, people. I could tell the House hundreds of stories and bore members to tears. I can see the Minister is bored because he does not give a hoot about people in the Hunter region electorates. The Minister will be held responsible for this. Some of my constituents have broken feet and have not been able to keep vital doctors' appointments. They have missed out on jobs and have not been able to meet university commitments because of the actions this Government has taken. [Extension of time agreed to.] As I said, I could make another 10 speeches filled with stories of people who have been adversely affected by the Government's decision, but I will leave that full debate for another day. I simply say that the Government has shown no vision for public transport in the Maitland community. For the $400 million that will be spent on the rail line, my electorate could have had a hospital or a fast train to Sydney with commuter carriages, wi-fi, phone chargers and tables. That money could have been spent on something that increases the efficiency and effectiveness of our community or on a visionary plan to provide a direct connection between Newcastle and our State capital, Sydney, which is within an hour's travelling time. This Government just does not care. The money could have been better spent on building more stations to cope with growth in Maitland's western areas or to provide the long-promised mobility access for stations such as Victoria Street station. Since the Liberals were elected, the Government has been long on promises and short on delivery. This is a government without a vision for Newcastle. This Government is still bowing to property developers who want that land because it is the only property in the CBD that is not undermined. Even after the Premier promised to grout large sections of the CBD during the last election campaign, that has not been enough. Property developers always want more. This silly project will take light rail down Hunter Street at great expense—$100 million—to businesses that have existed along the line for many years. What a waste! The project does not even address the major issue and major justification that has been raised in every discussion about the rail line—good old Stewart Avenue. We saw the Minister unveiling his so-called wonderful modern interchange, which has no facilities. If the Government kept even one of its promises on transport—just one promise—perhaps the 10 minute frequency in peak hours for light rail, that is what would happen in Stewart Avenue. There would be a light rail train going past every 10 minutes. How does the Minister think commuters from Port Stephens, Maitland and the Upper Hunter will feel about that? They will all think hard about that. This bill is a disgrace. I want young people in the Hunter to be able to get jobs. Good transport builds economic resilience. With the Hunter region having the highest unemployment rates in the State, we need transport between Maitland and Newcastle and between Newcastle and Sydney. However, yet again, this Government has demonstrated that it has no ideas and no vision. That is a disgrace.