SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS AND GOULBURN PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Ms PRU GOWARD
(Goulburn) [11.45 a.m.]: I move:
(1) notes the lack of local bus transport in the Southern Highlands and Goulburn areas;
(2) notes the isolation suffered by young people, the poor and the elderly as a result;
(3) condemns the Government for its failure to support local public transport; and
(4) supports a review of country bus service provision in the Goulburn electorate.
I move this motion to highlight once again the urgent need for adequate local bus transport in the Southern Highlands and Goulburn areas. It has been nearly a year to the day since I sang in this Chamber the all-too-familiar refrain about the State Labor Government's neglect of rural and regional communities. On 23 October 2008 in a private member's statement I called on the Government to support the pressing and real need for investment in public transport for the electorate of Goulburn. But, as we have come to expect from this self-obsessed, recalcitrant, out-of-touch Labor Government, the concerns of rural and regional communities have fallen on deaf ears.
I am saddened and deeply disappointed to report that to date no Government action has been taken to address this growing need since I raised the lack of local bus transport in the Southern Highlands and Goulburn areas nearly a year ago. We have continuing population pressures in the Southern Highlands and local rail transport continues to hang by a thread, but there has been no increase in rail services. For those living in rural communities without cars—ironically, in many cases not more than a few minutes from the major freight and transport road freeway in the country—if they are not part of that road network they might as well live 100 kilometres away from the road network. This means that the poor, the elderly, in many cases the disabled, and the young live in extraordinary isolation, particularly given their proximity to two major cities—Canberra and Sydney—and their proximity to the major road network in the country. The abject failure of this Labor State Government to seriously invest in local bus transport only entrenches the sense of desperate isolation and neglect that these people cope with on a daily basis.
For elderly patients needing medical assistance it means using an expensive ambulance service to Goulburn, or even to Canberra, if no family member is available to help them, at tremendous cost to the New South Wales taxpayer. For others it means social isolation, and relying on friends or local services to take them shopping or to social events. It is little wonder our elderly spend so much time watching television. The lack of regular local bus services that connect communities in the Southern Highlands, particularly on weekends, has precipitated a flow of young people leaving their communities and heading to centres with much better public transport links, such as Campbelltown and Liverpool, for recreation and amusement.
There is still no daily service from Goulburn to Canberra. Local bus routes are very limited, with virtually no bus services on weekends in either of the two centres of those electorates. The people of the Goulburn electorate are understandably fed up. While this Government has ignored their needs as it lurches from one internal fiasco to the next, local communities have worked together to fill the public transport vacuum. Take the example of Colo Vale, a village at the northern end of the Southern Highlands. At last count 1,200 people live in the area, 37.5 per cent of whom are under the age of 24 and a good 15 per cent of whom are retired. In a private members' statement a year ago I said that there were only three buses a day from Colo Vale to Bowral and none after 2.30 p.m., Mittagong was not much better—although these two towns are where most Colo Vale residents transact their local business—and buses on the weekends were out of the question.
I am delighted and immensely proud to have lobbied Berrima Buslines on behalf of residents, along with the Wingecarribee Shire Transport Forum, to provide two weekend services between Hilltop, Colo Vale and Mittagong. The service began on 21 October 2009. Berrima Buslines is a pretty good local company and it has taken on the commitment knowing it will receive no additional Government assistance. The service will enable residents, including teenagers, to get into Mittagong on Saturday and Sunday mornings or afternoons, and to get home again mid-afternoon. The service will help to reduce the isolation of villages and open the door to greater opportunities for residents in what we call our northern villages, to be part of the Southern Highlands community on weekends. The new weekend bus service is a very good example of local communities coming up with local solutions to local challenges but, sadly, without any assistance from the State Labor Government.
This is the first step on the long route towards improving local bus services, and it is really time for the New South Wales Government to get on board. The Government has now had the opportunity to support a review of the provision of bus services in the Goulburn electorate. Companies such as Berrima Buslines and community groups such as the Wingecarribee Shire Transport Forum have proven that bus services to local communities are both necessary and financially viable. The increase in the movement of people between and within communities can only encourage economic growth, improve social connectedness and enrich the lives of people in regional areas such as Goulburn and the Southern Highlands. In particular that means the elderly, the disadvantaged and the young—that is what the Opposition means by "social inclusion".
If the Government were sincere in its wish to take the pressure off Sydney, to enable people to live richer lives in regional New South Wales, and to improve the favoured notion of social inclusion, then one would think it might start with the provision of a very basic service that links people: decent local bus services. Berrima Buslines will try to run these extended services in the Southern Highlands without any assistance from the Government, but whether that service survives is a commercial risk, given the isolation and population density in some of these areas. If the Government were committed and recognised the importance of life in regional New South Wales it could in the first instance, even if it were unwilling to provide financial assistance to companies such as Berrima Buslines, conduct a proper survey of transport needs in the Goulburn electorate so that we can all—private providers, public providers and local community services—appreciate the problems and needs and determine the most effective means of providing that connectedness and transport that is so urgently needed.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN
(Camden) [11.53 p.m.]: The Government opposes the motion. The Rees Government is committed to providing public transport that meets the needs of rural and regional New South Wales. Unlike some other members, I have a fair knowledge of the Goulburn electorate, particularly around the areas of Bowral and Hilltop. I know plenty of people who live there. I appreciate the concerns raised by the member for Goulburn. We have 737 operators providing bus services under 754 contracts in rural and regional New South Wales, which is worth $353 million in 2008-09.
Order! Members will come to order.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
Bus operators provide services under the terms and conditions of contracts entered into with the Department of Transport and Infrastructure.
Order! The member for Cessnock will come to order.
Mr GEOFF CORRIGAN:
Berrima Buslines entered into a new rural and regional bus service contract with the Department of Transport and Infrastructure on 1 January 2009 for the provision of both school and route services in the Southern Highlands, which incorporates the areas from Hilltop in the north to Tallong in the south, and includes the towns of Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale. I am advised that a review of services is to be conducted by Berrima Buslines within three years of commencement of the contract.
The contract allows Berrima Buslines to continue to operate services at the same level that was provided under the company's previous contract, until a service review is conducted. Berrima Buslines is currently in the process of reviewing its timetable. I note the comments of the member for Goulburn that she made submissions to Berrima Buslines to get additional services on weekends, and I congratulate her on that. Under its contract Berrima Buslines must design bus routes so that 95 per cent of residents in the contract area are within 800 metres of the primary route and 400 metres of a secondary route. Berrima Buslines is currently complying with the terms of its contract.
I understand from the Department of Transport and Infrastructure that Berrima Buslines also currently operates a loopline bus service between Picton and Bowral on behalf of CityRail, which services the towns of Hilltop and Colo Vale. It operates six return services per day over all, or part, of the route, including two services that would provide afternoon and evening access for passengers travelling from Bowral to Hilltop via Colo Vale. In 2006 a trial bus service was introduced with community transport funding to take people from Hilltop and Colo Vale into Bowral. Unfortunately, the service could not be continued due to the lack of patronage on the services supplied.
The new rural and regional bus service contracts allow for greater flexibility when planning transport services and give the Government tight control on service standards. Any changes to bus networks will be undertaken in consultation with the community and will need the prior approval of the Department of Transport and Infrastructure before implementation. The Rees Government will continue to deliver public transport to all communities in New South Wales—metropolitan, rural and regional. The Government opposes the motion.
Ms LYLEA McMAHON
(Shellharbour—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.57 a.m.]: The Government is committed to delivering better services for all residents of New South Wales, whether they are living in the Southern Highlands or elsewhere. Since 1 July 2009 the $10, or 15 per cent, CountryLink pensioner booking fee was removed on economy services, which means that pensioners may now travel completely free of charge on CountryLink economy class services using their four, free yearly entitlements. At the same time the $1 fare for children travelling with adults on CountryLink services has been extended to a year-round offer, making travel to country New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory cheaper for families.
The Government has also expanded concession arrangements on regular route bus services in rural and regional areas to include the introduction of the Regional Excursion Daily, or RED ticket, enabling pensioners, seniors and war widows or widowers in rural and regional areas to travel as many times as they like on their local regular route bus service in the one day for the flat rate of $2.50; the introduction of half fare concessions for apprentices and trainees; and the ability of senior secondary and tertiary students to obtain concession fares for all their travel, not just for travel to and from home and their place of study in specified hours.
Order! The member for Murray-Darling will come to order. If the member wished to contribute to the debate he should have sought the call. The member for Shellharbour has the call.
Ms LYLEA McMAHON:
People holding a vision-impaired person's pass now can travel free on rural and regional regular route bus services for the first time. CountryLink's business improvement strategies, together with new marketing initiatives, have resulted in an increase in patronage by 8 per cent to 1.6 million passenger journeys in the 2008-09 financial year. The Government has allocated $323.3 million in this financial year for school bus services for country kids and regular route services in country towns and regional centres, including the provision of transport concessions for students, pensioners and others. New contracts for the delivery of bus services in rural and regional New South Wales commenced rollout in July 2008 and are now all in place. This ensures more sustainable services, improved accountability and greater certainty for communities and operators.
In regional New South Wales 28 secure taxi ranks staffed by licensed security guards are operating on weekends and during holiday times, or they have CCTV monitoring instead of security guards. The Government has provided financial support to eligible rural and regional taxi operators to install their mandatory security cameras. This is an important initiative for the safety of drivers and passengers. We also provide incentives for taxi drivers to undertake more wheelchair accessible taxi journeys, especially in country areas. Interest free loans of up to $30,000 are available to country taxi operators for the purchase of a new accessible taxi or the modification of an existing vehicle and short-term licences are issued free of charge. The Rees Government remains committed to providing public transport for all communities across regional and rural New South Wales. The Government does not support the motion.
Mr KERRY HICKEY
(Cessnock) [12.01 p.m.]: I speak to the motion moved by the member for Goulburn in relation to public transport. The Rees Government is committed to meeting the public transport needs of rural and regional New South Wales. At present we have 737 operators providing bus services under 754 contracts in rural and regional New South Wales at a cost of $353 million in the 2008-09 budget. This is a huge investment by the Rees Government in rural and regional public transport across New South Wales. To improve public transport to these communities new arrangements for the delivery of bus services in rural and regional New South Wales were approved by the Government in April 2008. The progressive implementation of new contracts across rural and regional New South Wales commenced in July 2008 and is now complete. These new contracts ensure sustainable services and certainty for communities and operators, with more equitable and transparent funding arrangements. It also means that operators have stricter standards to adhere to around reporting performance, community consultation and working with neighbouring operators. Ultimately, the new contracts require operators to consider the needs of the local community and to consult with them in planning their services.
In my electorate we now have tighter integration with Newcastle and services from the Cameron Park area and with Cessnock and the train service at Maitland, providing a better outcome for our regional community. A further significant benefit of the reforms for rural and regional communities is the availability of the $2.50 regional excursion daily ticket, which enables all-day travel within and to regional centres and country towns where regular route services are provided. In the Cessnock community many pensioner groups use that $2.50 regional excursion daily ticket to travel to Sydney, catch a ferry and have a wonderful day out. They then travel back by train to Maitland and by bus to Cessnock. This great service is well utilised. A new service from Cessnock to Morisset eliminates a three-hour turnaround to and from Sydney in a day. This service has great support from the Cessnock community. The Government is providing good transport links in many regional communities, particularly in my regional community of Cessnock. I encourage the member for Goulburn to consult with the community about their needs and put forward proposals to the Minister. It is no good just bagging the Government time and time again.
Mr Thomas George:
You will not even let people get on CountryLink buses.
Order! The member for Lismore will come to order.
Mr KERRY HICKEY:
We would expect that from the member for Lismore.
Mr Steve Whan:
Standing in the aisles in a disorderly way.
Mr KERRY HICKEY:
It is unbelievable. The New South Wales Government has expanded concession arrangements across rural and regional New South Wales to make them consistent with those that apply in the metropolitan and outer metropolitan areas of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. These new fare arrangements have been available on regular bus services contracted to New South Wales Transport and Infrastructure in rural and regional areas since 1 January 2009. The Rees Government will continue to investigate ways to improve services to the people of rural and regional New South Wales. I encourage the member for Goulburn to talk with the Minister and his staff about how to better implement these services in her electorate. The Nationals have not supported the member for Goulburn on this issue, which relates to rural and regional New South Wales. They are too keen pushing city issues rather than supporting country areas. The member for Murray-Darling has not spoken to this motion. Their attitude is appalling.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [12.05 p.m.]: I support the motion moved by the member for Goulburn and shadow Minister for Community Services. I fully understand her frustration about the lack of transport services in country and regional areas.
Order! The member for Cessnock will come to order. He has had his opportunity to contribute to the debate.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
I point out to the member for Cessnock that the members on this side of the House fought the cutbacks announced in the Government's mini-budget to the student support scheme, which would have affected country and regional students, as well as city students. The members on this side of the House forced the Government's hand to reconsider those cutbacks. The member for Goulburn has moved this motion because in country and regional areas public transport means school bus services. People who live out of town and want to travel to Goulburn, Lismore, Kyogle or Broken Hill have to get up early and catch the school bus at 7 o'clock. When people in Mt Druitt miss a bus, they catch the next bus in 10 or 15 minutes time—that is, if the buses are running on time. But people in country and regional areas do not have that privilege. I have made representations to this lazy Government on a number of occasions to allow people to ride on CountryLink bus services.
Mr Steve Whan:
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
The Minister for Emergency Services says that they can. But if there are competing bus companies in the area, they cannot get on a CountryLink bus. The CountryLink bus travels up and down with only two or three passengers and has a more convenient timetable than the school bus service. But because there are competing bus companies in the area, people cannot get on the CountryLink bus and travel from A to B. They can only get on as a CountryLink passenger. We have made representations to change this situation and we will continue to do so. It is much more sensible to have the bus companies working together rather than competing with each other.
I call on the Minister for Transport to arrange for the contractors—and in this case it is CountryLink, a government contractor—to work together and provide an opportunity for country and regional people to hop on a CountryLink bus where they want and get off where they want—that is, those lucky people who have a bus service. In relation to the isolation suffered by young people, the poor and the elderly, the bus contracts for country and regional areas have finally been renewed. There were concerns they may not be renewed. The buses are servicing the town needs, but not the outlying areas between centres.
Order! The members who wish to have private conversations will do so outside the Chamber.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
There are places between main centres that are still not being serviced by any bus service at a reasonable time. Unless you travel on a school bus you have no other alternative. I do not know if any member has had to get on the bus to go from A to B with a whole lot of schoolchildren. If you are sitting in their seat they quietly let you know in some circumstances.
Ms Pru Goward:
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
I just want to be respectful to the young people. But you are encroaching on their area—you are travelling on their school bus—and you might be a bit out of place. Travelling to school would be no different to travelling to this place, but I understand the frustration of not only the member for Goulburn but I am sure every member on this side of the House who represents country and regional areas. All we ask is for people to have the opportunity to go to a bus stop, get onto a bus at a reasonable hour of the day, go and do their shopping or go to doctors' appointments and then be able to return home at a reasonable hour and not be confined to school buses.
Mr RICHARD AMERY (Mount Druitt) [12.10 p.m.]: I support the member for Camden and the member for Cessnock in opposing the motion of the member for Goulburn. Although we oppose the motion we certainly do not oppose everything that the member for Goulburn said about the need for public transport.
Getting interjections from The Nationals and members of the Coalition about country transport services is a bit rich. Ask the people of Griffith who lost their train service because of the Greiner-Fahey Government. Ask the people of Broken Hill who lost the Silver City Comet because of the Greiner-Fahey Government. What about the Minister for Transport, who bulldozed the beautiful railway station at Darnick? That mob has ripped up more railway stations than General Paton did in the Second World War, and they come into this House and tell us what is going to happen in public transport.
The member for Goulburn raised some issues about which I have a particular interest. Whilst the member for Lismore might say something about Mount Druitt, I have family who live in Tarago, which is just off the Southern Highlands and is a part of the member for Goulburn's electorate. In opposing the motion we should not accept the fact that the Southern Highlands has a bad transport service. There are many people in rural New South Wales who, for example, would love to have the two-carriage motor rail that goes from the metropolitan area to Goulburn on a sort of yo-yo service quite a few times every day. The Southern Highlands also has the Explorer train that goes from Sydney right through Goulburn and on to Canberra, a service that I understand is well patronised. On my last trip down that way I was told that that service has been expanded to take on more passengers.
The member for Goulburn is on the money when she talks about trying to improve services through the Southern Highlands and Goulburn to places like Canberra. I believe she has been working positively on some transport issues there, and getting a good bus service off the school bus timetable to link places like Canberra and Queanbeyan right through to Goulburn and so on would be a positive step. I am sure if she worked with the bus companies and came up with a business plan that would make those particular bus routes viable, the various country towns along the way between Canberra and Goulburn would support it.
As the member for Camden pointed out, some bus services were trialled in the Southern Highlands area and the Hill Top service commenced but failed because of low patronage. One of the great challenges for transport in rural and regional New South Wales is to make those particular bus routes viable. One can fight tooth and nail for a bus service but if nobody uses it those bus companies will not run the service. Some of the bus services proposed by the member for Goulburn have merit but the bus companies will not provide the services on a full 100 per cent government subsidy unless they are supported by rural towns. In fairness to the member for Goulburn, let us bring in some business plans for these bus routes. Let us link places like Goulburn and Canberra and some of the other Southern Highlands towns, because they may need it.
Let us not hide from the fact that most of those Southern Highlands towns are linked by two types of train services every day that are well patronised. If bus services can be implemented to complement the excellent rail service provided by CountryLink—brought in by the Labor Government—then the proposal will have some merit. But members of the Opposition should not stand in the House and say that the Southern Highlands area has a bad transport service; it does not. It has a very good CountryLink service and I understand that bus companies, such as the Berrima bus company, are working with many communities to come up with some complementary projects.
Sometimes it is hard to come into this Parliament on a Thursday morning and listen to Coalition members, who primarily represent country electorates, bleat about the Labor Government's attacks on country services. When they get onto the Treasury benches—which happens about every half a century—they do more damage than General Paton did in Europe in the few weeks after D-Day in 1944. There is some merit in what the member for Goulburn said about some of the services, but she should get the blue ribbon award for hypocrisy at the next rural show. We definitely oppose the resolution even though it may contain some positive comments.
Ms PRU GOWARD
(Goulburn) [12.15 p.m.], in reply: I will address a couple of points made by members on the opposite side of the House, who basically confused the idea of subsidised fares with the availability of a service. We heard a lot about what they had done to subsidise fares, mostly to the benefit of people in metropolitan Sydney. But there is no point in subsidising a fare if there is no service to go with it, and that is the problem. We are talking about very isolated rural communities that cannot be serviced. I invite the member for Mt Druitt to come to my electorate so that he can see—
Mr Steve Whan:
He regularly does.
Ms PRU GOWARD:
Clearly not, because if the member for Mt Druitt had been to my electorate he would understand how impossible it would be to weave a rail service through the very, very many villages of the electorate. That is why, despite the fact that rail services have been cut over the years, the answer is local bus services, and that is not possible simply because there is no decent government subsidisation of them. The Government introduced the CountryLink pensioner booking fee and now has the hide to tell this place how wonderful it is for removing it. That will stick in the craw of every person in the Goulburn electorate who has paid that booking fee in the intervening period.
The other issue about local bus transport is that there are many forms of subsidy. It is ironic that we do not have even a minibus service to connect some communities, yet the State Government is prepared to spend, effectively, millions of dollars on ambulance services to take one or two people to doctors' appointments. What I am talking about is an integrated public transport plan that will require a review to look at things like that. Is it worth spending all that money on ambulance services to transport people to doctors' appointments when it could be done more effectively by the provision of an integrated bus-rail transport service in the area? That is why it is not a matter of going away and negotiating a service with the local bus company.
As I said, this is something that will require the engagement of State Government and its services, including its health providers, who are quite significant transport providers in regional Australia. They will need to work with the private sector and with the community sector to see how we can better develop a local public transport plan that services the needs of communities that are inevitably small and for whom it would be an impossible task to establish and support a fully commercialised service.
We all know that. However, as members on this side of the House often say, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. There is no such thing as unsubsidised public transport in New South Wales, particularly in metropolitan Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle. The point of public transport is that it receives subsidies in recognition that there is a public good in providing transport to people who do not have cars, getting cars off the road and reducing pollution and congestion. That is why we subsidise public transport. If it is appropriate to do that in metropolitan Sydney, it is appropriate to do it in regional New South Wales.
If we are serious about reducing the pressure on Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle and relieving congestion, integrated local transport plans need to be implemented in areas like Goulburn. It is in the Government's own interests to pursue such a program. Marginal seats such as Cessnock could be given special services. Subsidies are necessary to support public transport and it is in the Government's interests to support this motion for a comprehensive review. If it does not, the congestion and overloading of Sydney will continue.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr J. D. Williams
Mr R. C. Williams
Question resolved in the negative.
|Ms Hodgkinson||Mr Campbell|
|Mr Kerr||Ms Burton|
|Mr Page||Mrs Perry|