By ALLISON HORE
While all eyes were on the USA late last week and over the weekend, the NSW Government announced their intention to sell off their remaining stakes in the WestConnex project.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced on Friday that the government would offer its 49 percent stake in the controversial motorway up for sale. This comes after the NSW Government completed the scoping study which it launched in March into whether or not the government should keep its shares in the road .
In 2018, the government sold a 51 percent stake to the Sydney Transport Partners consortium, led by Transurban, for $9.26 billion. Transurban is expected to be interested in bidding on the remaining stake of the motorway.
Mr. Perrottet said money raised from the sale would fund upcoming infrastructure projects.
“Proceeds from any potential transaction will be invested into the NSW Generations Fund and allow us to continue to build world-class infrastructure such as the Metro West train line from Sydney to Parramatta,” Mr. Perrottet said.
Selling off public assets has emerged as a key strategy in the government’s plan to raise money for infrastructure projects during the post COVID-19 recession. But it’s not a new phenomenon, the NSW government has sold off over $55 billion in public assets over the past eight years of liberal leadership. Sold assets include land, electricity networks, bus and rail lines, historic buildings and even prisons.
But the plan has drawn criticism from members of the opposition, who slammed the move as a rushed “fire sale”. Questions have also been raised whether the government would get a favourable deal on their stake in the road, which has an estimated total construction cost of $16.8 billion, during a recession.
Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne, of the Labor party, also slammed the move, suggesting the government timed the announcement to line up with the media circus around the United States election to avoid backlash.
“The NSW Govt has just used the cover of the US Election to announce they’ll sell off 100% of WestConnex,” he said on Twitter.
“Hundreds of Inner West homes destroyed, six years of construction impacts, ongoing traffic chaos and now they flog the infrastructure off in the middle of a crisis.”
Anti-WestConnex community groups have also raised eyebrows about the government’s decision to sell off the asset. The WestConnex Action Group, who have been opposed to the toll road’s construction every step of the way, said privatising the remaining stake in the road would likely mean higher costs for motorists.
“This will give the government even less power over relieving the extraordinary toll burden on motorists and truck drivers in the future,” they said on their Facebook page.
“Tolls are a grubby business which most members of super funds would rather avoid as a source of income.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian rebuffed the criticism and affirmed selling public assets was a “good” strategy during Friday’s press conference when she interjected a question to Mr. Perrottet.
“Pre-COVID, the NSW government had a very strong record on being able to recycle assets in our balance sheet and then turn it into a productive business structure, and I think the community is used to that concept,” Ms. Berejiklian said.