12 May 2016
(Debate, 12 May 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I strongly support the Government Information (Public Access) Amendment (Sydney Motorway Corporation) Bill, which will ensure the public can apply for access to all documents associated with the WestConnex project. When the Government transferred all functions connected to the project from the WestConnex Delivery Authority to the private corporation, the Sydney Motorway Corporation, it meant that documents such as business case development, traffic modelling, costings and assessment of alternatives could no longer be requested under the State's freedom of information laws.
The situation is untenable; the WestConnex project is publicly funded and the risks and impacts will be borne by the community. The project is estimated to cost a whopping $16.8 billion, an increase of 68 per cent from the initial $10 billion estimate from just four years ago. The project is Australia's most expensive and largest toll road project and decisions surrounding it must be subject to public scrutiny. There is no reason for WestConnex documents to be kept secret unless the Government is hiding something.
SGS Economics and Planning gave its final report on the business case for the project to the City of Sydney in February. It provided a damning appraisal that identified overestimated benefits, underestimated costs and a lack of strategic justification. The report concluded that at best, WestConnex will only produce marginal benefits. Even Infrastructure Australia found that the business case failed to account for induced and redistributed vehicle trips caused by the construction of the project and did not provide allowance for cost blowouts. Its cost benefit estimate of $1.80 for every dollar spent is considerably lower than the Government's claimed benefit of $2.55. The full business case has never been released. Meanwhile the Government is signing contracts and has begun construction. This is a disgrace.
I oppose the WestConnex project, which will only entrench car dependency and result in even worse future traffic congestion. Each day it will result in an additional 10,000 motor vehicles in Sydney's central business district, 20,000 using Anzac Bridge and 20,000 using parts of Parramatta Road. These roads are already congested. Good governments are open governments, and it is disappointing to see this Government slide into the tired old habits of secrecy and complacency, viewing public information as nothing more than a hindrance. This needs to be addressed. Notwithstanding, all WestConnex associated documents should be subject to the provisions of the Government Information (Public Access) Act so that they can be requested by the public. I commend the bill.
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