Dr MEHREEN FARUQI ( 21:37 ): I will speak on behalf of The Greens to the Transport Administration Amendment (Transport Entities) Bill 2017. The bill will establish NSW Trains and Sydney Trains as standalone entities and no longer subsidiaries of Rail Corporation NSW. It will create the Transport Asset Holding Entity [TAHE] and provision for a new state-owned corporation called the Residual Transport Corporation. The process will start with the constitution of NSW Trains and Sydney Trains as standalone entities and the formation of the Residual Transport Corporation.
Stage two of the process will be for RailCorp to take on the TAHE responsibilities, and at a date to be proclaimed RailCorp will convert from a statutory corporation constituted under the Transport Administration Act to TAHE, a statutory state-owned corporation, which will own all the commercial assets while the Residual Transport Corporation will hold the non-financial assets, such as a contaminated site. The Residual Transport Corporation will effectively hold all the liabilities. I have been assured by Government advisors that all of these organisations will be subject to compliance of Government Information (Public Access) Act requests and the Standing Order 52 call for papers that the upper House makes.
I have been further advised that section 99A of the Transport Administration Act, which requires an Act of Parliament to close or to dispose of railway lines, will remain unchanged and will apply in its current form. I would appreciate it if the Parliamentary Secretary would confirm that in his speech in reply.
The Government’s justification for this bill is that the Transport Asset Holding Entity [TAHE] will manage the State’s Transport portfolio assets more commercially to create a single dedicated asset manager for the State’s public transport sector and will be responsible for procuring and selling assets. Members can call me sceptical, but given the Government’s track record on privatising public assets and services, that sounds like fattening the calf for slaughter. It puts all of the entity’s valuable assets in one place to make it attractive for a commercial buyer. One can only conclude that moves to do this are all about furthering the Government’s privatisation and sell-off agenda. The Treasurer’s second reading speech stated:
… amending the Transport Administration Act to support the consolidation of transport asset ownership and development of a TAHE by optimising the existing transport asset base to enable a more effective, efficient and commercial approach to the management of transport assets, particularly property …
We know that this Government is addicted to privatisation. I do not think the Treasurer has ever met an asset that he did not want to sell. The current trend is to try to trick the people by leasing public assets to private corporations for an undisclosed amount for a long time. That will mean not one person in this Parliament will live long enough to see if any of them revert to public hands. I note that public transport, which is an essential service, is at the top of the Government’s privatisation agenda. I was interested to read an article in the Australian Financial Review a few weeks ago that included an interview with our long-suffering Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, the Hon. Andrew Constance. He stated in regard to public transport:
They will be all private. In 10 to 15 years’ time government will not be in the provision of transport services, it will be all on demand, private sector driven, underpinned by innovation in technology.
He went on to say:
Already every new train that we are bringing online now, whether it is the Metro train or light rail, are all private sector partnerships.
I acknowledge one point the Minister made. I had the opportunity to catch the live stream of the Minister’s speech to the Salesforce World Tour keynote with Mark Hawkins and special guests. To be frank, it looked more like a cult meeting than a conference, but it is not up to me to judge how the Minister spends his time. I hope he is enjoying the soft toy that Salesforce gifted him, and I will be looking out for it on his gift register. What interested me most was the following statement by the Minister:
I want to make sure that the investments we are making today are able to cater for the needs of tomorrow. So we don’t necessarily go and build a six lane freeway given the changes we are going to see in terms of intelligent transport networks.
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: That should make you happy.
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI: I acknowledge that interjection. It did make me happy. On that note, I agree with the Minister that WestConnex and NorthConnex are terrible projects and not in the least wise. There is no doubt that advances in technology offer many opportunities to improve public transport. However, for the Government to use that as an excuse to wash its hands completely of providing public transport is preposterous because it is incapable of delivering well-planned, integrated public transport infrastructure on budget. It simply wants to abrogate its responsibility altogether rather than face up to that fact and improve its performance.
It is the Government’s responsibility to guarantee the basic provision of efficient, affordable and reliable public transport to its people. That includes those living in the most deprived and disadvantaged areas. Once those services are handed to private contractors and corporations there is no guarantee that will happen. People who need public transport most will be left behind. In essence, the privatisation of public transport means shifting responsibility for its provision to the private sector. I ask members to imagine an Uber-like system where a surge in demand leads to a surge in price. People living in areas where there is not much demand will have no public transport.
We are now even at a point where the privatisation agenda dictates transport outcomes. Take the Sydney Metro for instance. The East Hills and western lines have more serious capacity issues than the Bankstown line, and there has been no explanation as to how Sydney Metro will address this. We know that the Bankstown line was chosen simply because it was the easiest to break off and privatise. Unfortunately with the privatisation agenda at the forefront of these decisions, simpler, cheaper and more effective solutions to increase the capacity across the whole transport network are being neglected. The other issue about this ongoing and never-ending fragmentation of government departments is the difficulties this causes for people and organisations who work together to provide integrated outcomes.
The Hon. Trevor Khan: The Greens talking about fragmentation?
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI: Yes, keep breaking up the public sector and people will no longer able to cooperate, collaborate and give the best outcomes for the community. It makes it much harder for the left hand to talk to the right hand when planning and delivering services. What we will eventually get are expensive, undemocratic services not open to public scrutiny and not with the aim of providing good transport outcomes for our citizens. Contracts are being signed which will lock us into inflexible terms and conditions that will be unable to respond to changes in needs and priorities. Private transport companies are notoriously secretive in reporting on service quality and reliability, and this Government wants to put them in charge across all our transport modes. This bill is about separating out the profitable and non-profitable parts of public transport. Over time, the private sector will be given the profitable bits and taxpayers will be left with the liabilities, the contaminated land and the so called non-commercial assets. The Greens oppose the privatisation of public assets and services. The Greens oppose this bill.