INNER WEST LIGHT RAIL EXTENSION
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville) [12.17 p.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(1) notes the strong community support for the light rail expansion in Sydney's inner west and CBD including the GreenWay, a walking and cycling track with bushcare sites;
(2) notes that substantial preconstruction work has commenced on the inner west extension and planning approval has been granted;
(3) calls on the Government to commit to ongoing community involvement in the further design and construction phases; and
(4) calls on the Government to ensure that construction occurs on time so that the inner west light rail extension is operational by 2012.
The inner west light rail extension from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill and the accompanying GreenWay walking and cycling shared path and bushcare sites are significant initiatives in my electorate and the wider inner west. They are positive initiatives that have strong community support. The actions of the O'Farrell Government are now placing at risk the timely completion of the inner west light rail extension. As we know, the Government has announced that it will not go ahead with the GreenWay project. This motion was put on notice prior to that announcement and I have no doubt that this will not be the last time that we debate this matter in the House. There is a petition signed by more than 10,000 residents and community members of the inner west calling for the construction of the GreenWay to go ahead.
It is concerning that the Minister for Transport has announced both a delay to the construction time for the inner west light rail extension to 2014 and has scrapped the planned funding for the GreenWay. This is despite incredible local community support and years of community action to see these projects come to fruition. When in government, Labor committed to a $500 million investment in the light rail network for Sydney, including extending the existing light rail service from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill station in my electorate. This followed extensive community campaigning that was supported by me, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and member for Canterbury, Linda Burney, and of course the former member for Balmain, Verity Firth.
The inner west light rail extension will improve transport access and provide important cross-connectivity in the inner west. There will be nine new stops and it will allow passengers to transfer between light rail and a number of bus routes as well as railway stations at Lewisham and Dulwich Hill. It will also enhance local access and amenity along a rail corridor that is currently available but disused. Importantly, the GreenWay would have provided recreational and active transport opportunities for the local community. We often hear the Minister for Transport speak about active transport and how much she cares about making it part of the Government's plans for transport in Sydney, but when given the opportunity to implement active transport, the Government has been found wanting.
Labor has a very strong legacy in this area. We have provided all the groundwork for a terrific project and it is disappointing that the O'Farrell Government is presiding over a delay in construction and the scrapping of the GreenWay. Our decision to extend the inner west light rail and GreenWay was warmly welcomed by people in the inner west when we announced it. People saw it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide an integrated and environmentally sustainable transport corridor for inner west residents. The GreenWay was to be created as part of the light rail extension of the shared pathway running parallel to the light rail service. It would have created a north-south bush link and an urban green corridor that would have provided valuable habitat and stepping stones for native flora and fauna as well as important recreational opportunities for the people of the inner west.
Significantly, support for the GreenWay began as a grassroots initiative that gathered momentum in 2001. It continues to involve many community groups working together. Local environment advocates were inspired to develop the GreenWay project after seeing what was being achieved elsewhere in Australia and overseas. The inner west freight corridor seemed to be a natural fit, due to the long shallow rail corridor. The GreenWay has secured the support of local councils—Ashfield, Leichardt, Marrickville and Canterbury—and is now an integral component of key local planning strategies. The GreenWay would have provided significant recreational, environmental and transport benefits for the west. There are 23 schools within the GreenWay catchment, and the opportunities for families to cycle for both pleasure and transport in what is a very built-up urban area have been welcomed by the people of my electorate and the people of the inner west.
It is worth noting that substantial progress was made with the inner west light rail extension prior to the election, including extensive public consultation and a formal public exhibition of the environmental assessment and development approval by the Minister for Planning. Preconstruction work had commenced on refurbishing the track's end on the GreenWay, with the first part of the project to be from Marion Street, Leichardt, to the existing bike network at Lilyfield Road. The value of all this work and community support has been severely diminished by the actions of the O'Farrell Government, and the inner west community will not forget that. I call on the Government to commit to ongoing community involvement in the further design and construction phases. I have heard from residents in my electorate that the process of active consultation, which was underway when Labor was in government, seems to have largely ceased, with residents not being kept informed of progress. That is concerning local residents.
I am very concerned about the delays to the inner west light rail extension. People living in the west are the ones who will lose out because of the delays. The Government has said that rather than the project being completed by 2012, which was the previous Labor Government's commitment, it will now push out the completion date to 2014. The Government's reasons for this do not add up. The Government claims the reason is a cost blowout but, according to the Minister for Transport, Metro Transport Sydney will finance the costs associated with the inner west light rail extension and the costs will be repaid by the Government over the life of the contract. Given that information, it is difficult to see how the project cannot be completed until 2014. Media reports indicate that the chief executive of Metro Transport Sydney, Kevin Warrell, believed that the extension could be built in a year. The motion calls on the Government to commit to building the inner west light rail extension in a timely fashion, to meet the timeframe completion of 2012, to continue to consult the community, and to commit to building the GreenWay. The residents of the inner west deserve no less. I call upon the House to support the motion and to make sure that the GreenWay and the inner west light rail extension are completed on time.
Mr JOHN SIDOTI
(Drummoyne) [12.24 p.m.]: I acknowledge both the member for Marrickville for moving the motion relating to the GreenWay—although I detect a little cynicism—and the importance of the GreenWay to my electorate. There is certainly support for light rail in Sydney's inner west and the central business district as well as for the GreenWay and a walking and cycling track with bushcare sites. But in complete contrast to the approach adopted by the O'Farrell Government, Labor proposes projects but never delivers them—and I can provide a list. On the Opposition side of the House, we have fiction; on the Government side, we have facts. On the Government side of the House, we have cost analysis, but on the Labor side of the House, there is none. On the Government side of the House there is delivery, but on the Labor side there is just rhetoric.
I concede that many people in my electorate are disappointed about the deferral of the GreenWay, but they have to know the facts. In 2010-11 the State budget allocated $103 million towards expanding the light rail network in Sydney. During the election campaign, the Coalition made a commitment that we would build the inner west light rail extension, and that is exactly what we will do. When the previous Labor Government rushed to announce the GreenWay, it must have known that it was just months out from an election. We stated that more work needed to be done to ascertain the cost involved and asked whether it made good transport planning sense to proceed with the project in isolation. We can now reveal that Labor announced the GreenWay before any engineering work had been undertaken. That was typical. We have seen similar examples time and time again. Labor was absolutely clueless about costs and any construction issues. We have only to look at the metro for an example. The project was estimated to cost $500 million, but what about delivery? Zilch. The Department of Transport updated the cost estimates of both projects. Do members know what the department found? Should I tell them?
Ms Linda Burney:
Mr JOHN SIDOTI:
It found that Labor had failed to do its homework before rushing out and announcing the GreenWay or the light rail extension. During the election campaign Labor promised that the cost of extending the light rail network from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill would be approximately $120 million. The latest cost estimate is $176 million, which is $56 million more than Labor promised—or a 46 per cent increase.
Mr Kevin Conolly:
Mr JOHN SIDOTI:
It is not bad—only 46 per cent out. Labor promised that the extended light rail line would be up and running by late 2012. The estimate, after relevant scoping, is now 2014. Labor went to the election promising that the GreenWay would cost taxpayers approximately $30 million. That estimate was given prior to any engineering or designing taking place. Better cost analysis could be done on the back of a dinner napkin than is provided by Labor. Labor went to the election telling taxpayers that the total cost of those projects was $150 million. The latest cost estimate is now $213 million, which is $63 million more than Labor promised.
Ms Linda Burney:
What's your point?
Mr JOHN SIDOTI:
For the information of the member for Canterbury, it demonstrates that Labor will say anything to win an election—whatever it takes—including misleading the public about the cost of its promises. The public, especially taxpayers, expect and deserve a government to show leadership and to carry out well-designed and proper transport planning, but Labor failed continually. As a result, taxpayers have paid the price. The latest advice from the Department of Transport is that if the GreenWay were to proceed now, it would further delay construction of the inner west light rail extension and would push out the completion date even further.
Owing to Labor's misleading costings and lack of planning, construction of GreenWay must be deferred so that proper integrated transport planning as well as engineering work and studies can be carried out. The inner west light rail extension is a transport priority for this Government and must proceed. We concede that the project must proceed, but it must proceed in a planned fashion. It makes no sense to continue in the footsteps of the previous Government. Labor attempted incompetently to build a cycleway network without an integrated transport master plan that includes active transport.
Ms Carmel Tebbutt:
It will never happen.
Mr JOHN SIDOTI:
It will happen. The people of New South Wales can trust this Government on transport. We are becoming a Government renowned for transport and infrastructure building. That is this Government's priority. In four years time I will show members opposite our record, but I will now go over Labor's record. I will give the example of the North West Rail Link. In 1998 Labor announced that it would be completed by 2010.
Ms Carmel Tebbutt:
Point of order: My point of order is relevance. The motion is about the light rail extension in the inner west; it is not about the North West Rail Link. I ask that you bring the member back to the leave of the motion.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lee Evans):
Order! I uphold the point of order. The member for Drummoyne will return to the leave of the motion.
Mr JOHN SIDOTI:
I am certainly returning to that because I am talking about transport and transport needs. I am talking about the lack of credibility of members opposite. I am talking about a project that Labor announced would be finished by 2010. In 2005 those opposite said it was delayed and would be completed by 2017. In February 2008 it was axed. In March 2008 it was re-announced to be built by 2017. In October 2008 it was axed again. This was the state of play by members opposite in government. It had no credibility. However, this Government is determined to deliver proper infrastructure for this State, built on sound financial management and good economic policies, not something that was invented on the back of a napkin to win an election. I move:
Ms LINDA BURNEY
That the motion be amended by leaving out all words after "occur" in paragraph (4) and inserting instead "in a timely fashion".
(Canterbury) [12.31 p.m.]: I join the member for Marrickville in speaking to the motion. It is important that Government members understand that these projects were not planned just in the last 12 months or two years: the community had lobbied for the light rail and GreenWay project for a long of time. I will not play politics because these projects are far too important to the inner west community. Extension of the light rail and the GreenWay project are supported by thousands of people in the inner west. Those projects have been supported and worked on by five inner west councils. I note that the member for Strathfield was mentioned adversely in his local newspaper for not bothering to turn up recently when the GreenWay group presented a signature signed by 10,000 persons. That shows contempt for the project and an incredible lack of understanding for the passion people have about the extension of the light rail. The planning has been over a long period.
I will focus on community consultation, which has decreased dramatically, in the time available. I well recall the member for Marrickville convening a community consultation meeting at Dulwich High School on the extension of the light rail, which was attended by more than 200 people. The expectation of the attendees and those in the inner west is that community consultation and involvement would continue. The question must be asked: Why has that not continued? Why have community consultation and updates on the light rail extension and the GreenWay project decreased? As the member for Marrickville noted, the completion date has been pushed out by two years. I am concerned that the completion date will be pushed out even further. No logical reason has been given for this delay. The member for Drummoyne made assertions about lack of planning and referred to the back of a serviette. I am sure the member for Marrickville will take up that point.
I am not sure who wrote the member's speech but it demonstrates his lack of understanding of what is involved in planning. The former Department of Transport and other agencies involved in the project would not have poor planning with a project of this size. The assertion beggars belief. In addition, the inner west community is concerned about changes made to the completion date and the uncertainty surrounding those changes. There is enormous concern about the Government walking away from the GreenWay project, which is critical for a range of reasons that will be debated in the House at a future date. These projects were not just plucked out of the air; people in the inner west have worked on them for more than 10 years. The Government has shown a lack of respect to people involved in the planning, and those involved in pushing forward the light rail extension and the GreenWay project.
Mr CHARLES CASUSCELLI
(Strathfield) [12.36 p.m.]: I address three points raised by the member for Canterbury. First, she should be reminded that this is not about community consultation or community needs; it is about delivering a project. It is simple. The people of New South Wales have spoken, demonstrating that Labor has no credibility in delivering projects. Secondly, with respect to the concerns of the inner west community, recently the Inner West Courier
—the largest local paper for constituents interested in the GreenWay project and the inner west light rail extension—conducted an online survey that showed that 82 per cent of respondents out of 2,000 supported the deferral of the GreenWay project for the reasons put forward by the Government. Thirdly, the O'Farrell Government has been upfront—something lacking from the previous administration—about the inner west light rail extension and the GreenWay project: It will proceed with the inner west light right extension from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill.
The former Labor Government said the light rail extension could be built by 2012 for $120 million. Let the public record show the credibility of members opposite in citing figures like that. The planning approval for the project, granted by the previous Government, set the alignment of the shared cycling and walking path—the GreenWay. However, the Government has been careful about developing the GreenWay as part of the inner west light rail extension, and with good reason. On coming to government, Transport for NSW reviewed the work done by the previous Government on the light rail and the GreenWay project. There were, and still are, unresolved design issues related to the GreenWay project, which is causing delays to the light rail project. There were significant, complex engineering problems—something that the other side could not grasp—that would blow out costs if we stuck with the previous Government's plan.
We did our homework thoroughly and we considered the best way forward, unlike the previous Government. Metro Transport Sydney, our public-private partnership partner, in collaboration with Transport for NSW has been doing detailed site surveys and engineering studies, including geotechnical investigations, to prepare designs for tender purposes. The priority for this space is dual tracks for the light rail and the necessary infrastructure to operate it. It is a public transport imperative. Under the previous Government's plan, building the GreenWay would include excavating through five existing road bridge footings while keeping the roads operating, building retaining structures in narrow sections of the corridor, constructing elevated support structures and relocating a number of existing high-voltage overhead powerlines. All of these are significant engineering imposts on the actual project itself.
Mr Jamie Parker:
That happens when you build things.
Mr CHARLES CASUSCELLI:
Members opposite had 10 years; I was told this was a 10-year project but they were not able to get it off the ground. These activities would create significant added costs to the GreenWay project estimate, as well as create additional cost and time risks for delivery of the light rail service extension. I repeat that for those who missed it: The O'Farrell Government is committed to a light rail network for Sydney. The inner west light rail extension is a priority. It can be, and is being, delivered without unnecessary delay. We are focusing on removing as much unnecessary delay as possible. The time and cost risks associated with the shared path have been removed to ensure that light rail construction can proceed as quickly as possible and be ready for service in 2014.
Mr JAMIE PARKER
(Balmain) [12.39 p.m.]: I congratulate the member for Marrickville on moving this motion. It is important that we examine the history of light rail, as other members have done. It was a huge community campaign that unified five different councils—Leichhardt, Ashfield, Marrickville, the City of Sydney and Canterbury. Labor, the Liberals, The Greens and Independents acknowledged the critical importance of light rail and the merits of the GreenWay project. I recognise also groups such as EcoTransit, which fought incredibly hard for an inordinate amount of time to convince the former Government to support light rail. I acknowledge the efforts of Labor members in the Chamber and the former member for Balmain, who deserves credit. She worked hard to see light rail implemented. Finally they convinced the Government after a decade of campaigning that light rail was not an evil Liberal conspiracy but a very useful and appropriate piece of infrastructure deserving of support.
Of course, we were delighted with the announcement and, conversely, incredibly disappointed when the Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian, announced the Government's decision. I met with the Minister and with local mayors. We sent a delegation to speak with the Minister. The issue attracts two approaches. One is that we do not want to slow down the light rail project because that is a priority. If we agree with that approach, then allocate the funding to construct it. If no money is allocated for future construction and the project is merely deferred, where is the budget? The fact is that there is no budget. This project is off to the never-never and looks like it will never be constructed. Although the Government has said it will leave the corridor intact, constructing the GreenWay after the light rail is operational places an incredibly difficult financial impost on the operator and will result in enormous commuter disruption. I am sure that Coalition members who have contributed to this debate realise they are in a difficult situation.
Mr John Sidoti:
No, we're not in a difficult situation.
Mr JAMIE PARKER:
Their situation is difficult because they want the light rail to be built yet the Minister for Transport will not provide the funds. More than 22 schools have been involved in the project, which will augment and increase commuter and leisure transport, provide safe routes and support local biodiversity. It is a wonderful initiative with incredible community support. The member for Strathfield said that the poll revealed some people were happy for construction to be deferred. "Deferral" is the active word, but the critical element is for money to be allocated in the budget. If the upcoming budget does not allocate funding, the project will not eventuate.
Mr John Sidoti:
They allocated $103 million.
Mr JAMIE PARKER:
I acknowledge that interjection. Labor did under-allocate. From my understanding, assertions were made at the estimates hearing that the project was under-allocated. If that is true, where is the funding allocation for the GreenWay if it has truly only been deferred? I call on the Government to support the motion of the member for Marrickville to ensure construction forthwith of the light rail. The first quarter of 2014 is an incredibly long time to wait for a piece of infrastructure to be built. If it takes two years to build five kilometres of infrastructure when the railway line is there already, God help the Government building the North West Rail Link. If it takes 2½, almost three, years to build a light rail facility when the tracks already exist and the upgrading had commenced, on the Government's foreshadowed time scale it will take about 32 years to build the North West Rail Link. This Government has to get the agencies working, provide a clear commitment, and invest in light rail and the sustainable public transport future we all desire.
Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT
(Marrickville) [12.43 p.m.], in reply: I have listened carefully to the contributions of all members in this debate and thank them for speaking to this motion about the inner west light rail extension. I do not support the amendment moved by the member for Drummoyne, which reveals the Government's true intention: If I understand the amendment correctly, not only does the Government now seek to remove from the motion any reference to the light rail being operational by 2012, but also it is committing to no time frame. The member for Drummoyne has moved that all words after "occurs" in paragraph (4) be replaced with the words "in a timely fashion". What does that mean? The Government has shown its true intention: Not only is it committed to not completing the light rail extension by 2012, but now it is not even prepared to have the motion state that it will be completed by 2014. The Government will not commit to a time frame.
Inner west residents will be extremely disappointed, but not surprised because that has been their fear all along. The Government simply is not committed to completing this project on time and is not committed to inner west residents. We saw the same result with the scrapping of the GreenWay project. Now we have the Government's failure to commit to a firm time frame for the extension of the inner west light rail. All we have heard from Government members today are excuses. It is all well and good to assert in this Chamber that costs have blown out and, therefore, the project will take longer to complete, but where is the evidence to support this cost blowout? When the Minister was questioned about this during the estimates hearing she failed to produce evidence to demonstrate a cost blowout.
I take up the point of the member for Balmain: The Coalition does not seem to understand that it is now in government and has responsibility. If there is a blowout in costs, as the Government claims, why can it not find additional funds to make sure this project is completed on time? This project will bring benefits not just to inner west constituents and residents in my electorate but also to those in the electorates of Balmain, Canterbury, Drummoyne and Strathfield. If the Government genuinely believes there is a cost blowout for this project, it is incumbent on it to find additional funds. That is what being in government is all about. The reason the Government is not providing additional funds is that its response is just a smokescreen. There is no cost blowout delaying this project.
Put simply, the Government does not care enough about inner west residents to deliver this project on time. I return to the report in the Sydney Morning Herald
in which the Minister confirmed that the company, MTS, was paying for the extension to Dulwich Hill and that the Government would repay those costs over the term of the contract. If that is so, as the Minister has said, why can the extension from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill not be finished until 2014? It is unclear why the Government claims there is a blowout in costs. More importantly, it is unclear why the Government cannot make this project happen by 2012 so that the residents of the inner west and Sydney have the benefit of this very important transport and recreational project.
Question—That the amendment be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
Mr R. C. Williams
Mr J. D. Williams
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Question—That the motion as amended be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion as amended agreed to.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lee Evans):
Order! It being after 1.00 p.m. the House will now proceed with committee reports.