City News

Opinion: WestConnex won’t work. Public transport will.

Public transport rally at Leichhardt High School . Photo supplied by Peter Hehir

By Peter Hehir

You see these signs all over the Inner West. In every suburb. Red and white corflutes beaming out the message that Abbott, Glad the Impaler and the pro toll road lobby are just plain wrong.

But make no mistake – it isn’t just the conservative side of politics that embraces toll roads.

Labor’s Federal Minister for Transport Anthony Albanese stood right beside Julia Gillard and overbid the Liberal pledge of $1.5 billion by upping it to $1.8 billion in 2013 – with a great big cheesy grin!

And in spite of the deliberately muddied waters surrounding this project, it hasn’t been withdrawn. Shorten’s position is clear. The ALP supports WestConnex. No ifs. No buts.

But inner city freeways are being pulled down all over the world because it’s been clearly demonstrated that they don’t solve traffic congestion. They create it! Anyone who has ever used a freeway knows that. Getting on and getting off is where the problem lies.

Where does that leave the Inner West who rightly believe that WestConnex is really toxic? In spite of the millions spent on Government spin to convince us otherwise.

Every bit as toxic as the hundreds of tonnes of cancer causing diesel particles that will be spewed out from the unfiltered stacks and spread over the Inner West. It leaves us all somewhere between a rock and a hard place.

You can understand Berejiklian and Abbott’s obsession with dismantling the public service. Like the rest of the Neo Cons they want to privatise all Government activity. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume just for a moment that this blind faith in private enterprise is actually genuine.

But does that make them right? No way. Not by a long shot. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

This quote from the budgie smuggler’s book Battlelines:

In Australia’s biggest cities, public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and a hideous drain on the public purse. Part of the problem is inefficient, overmanned, union-dominated government run train and bus systems.’

If it is so: ‘Why is it so?’ The undisputed facts are that public transport has been critically underfunded here in Sydney for decades. Even if he is right, is that justification for throwing public transport under a bus and idealising the motorcar?

Surely if something is broken, then you fix it. If public transport was more accessible, affordable, comfortable, competitive and reliable – as it is in the rest of the civilised world – then many more people would utilize it and the cost of running the services would reduce accordingly.

The rail management approach, when urgent track maintenance was required on sections of track, was not to spend the money – but to slow the trains down. It is any wonder that the rail service was criticised for being slow! Subsequent investigations into the Granville tragedy revealed that the derailing wouldn’t have happened had there been an adequate budget for track and rolling stock maintenance.

The public aren’t stupid Tony. The Unions aren’t the problem. They’re an important part of the solution, representing ordinary people and are a bulwark against being totally screwed by those whose only interest is in a dividend and the bottom line.

The Lib’s position has always been that ‘the great unwashed’ can just take a bath.

In 2015 and 2016 the spin doctors from the Sydney Motorway Corporation on the back of a huge advertising campaign had managed to convince some of the west that WestConnex was a good thing.

But the gloss is rapidly wearing off. The tolls cut deep in a demographic where disposable incomes are few and far between.

Toll roads are the ‘hideous drain on the public purse’, not public transport. AECOM provided the business case and the usage figures for WestConnex. They also provided the figures for the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and for the Cross City Tunnel.

The SHT has cost NSW taxpayers more than $1 billon in ‘lost’ revenue, because the usage figures were grossly overstated. The CCT has been in receivership twice. Surely this should tell the Government something? Just how wrong can you be? How many bites of the cherry does AECOM get?

Campaigns to urge super funds here to pull out of toll road projects are gaining ground but too little headway is being made. It needs to be embraced by the community at large. Hopefully this campaign will gain impetus in the run up to the elections early in the New Year.

The very real tragedy in all of this is that there isn’t a political alternative. Sure the Greens have the correct perspective but until they can command 35% of the primary vote or Labor backflips, there isn’t a political solution.

The best we can hope for in NSW is a hung Parliament with Independents and the Greens holding the balance of power.

Perhaps the final word should belong to Abbott:

“No one, however smart, however well educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom.” — Liberal Party Campaign launch, 12 August 2013.