(Debate, 9 March 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I oppose the Transport Administration Amendment (Authority to Close Railway Lines) Bill 2016 because it will remove the requirement for Parliament to approve the closure of rail infrastructure. Under the bill the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure will be able to approve the closure of railway lines if the Government wants the land for development and it is State significant infrastructure. I understand that many of the State's disused rail lines are decaying and in a poor state of repair but this is irrelevant to how their closure should be permitted. The need for Parliament to approve the closure of railway lines has to do with the land they occupy and the need to protect rail corridors for future use.
There will be times when it is appropriate to close railway lines, but this should not be done at the whim of the government of the day. Requiring Parliament to approve closure provides a necessary layer of scrutiny and makes decisions less likely to impact on future government transport decisions. Once a railway corridor has been built on it becomes very expensive and very difficult to reopen in the future. The Minister for Planning can declare a project to be State significant infrastructure, which means the Executive Government will have exceptional power to close rail corridors in the State. State significant infrastructure is planned and not developed urgently. The existing provisions do not cause any cost delays. We have not seen a barrage of bills come to Parliament about the closure of railway lines so there is no need to address a backlog of legislation.
Any importance attached to State significant infrastructure projects does not warrant the need to bypass Parliament. Parliament, rightly, should be the judge of what justifies the closure of rail infrastructure. This is especially important given climate change and peak oil, which require a switch to planning to ensure that people have green transport options. More people are choosing, and demanding, to travel by train, which can be fast and affordable. The discussion of fast trains across the east coast of Australia is ongoing and no executive government should be able to make decisions making it unviable for a future government.
The past shift in freight transportation from rail to roads has led to an increase in truck movements on the existing road network, making our roads more dangerous and increasing pollution and emissions. This is a result of decisions made by past and present governments, and a shift in approach is needed. I am concerned that under this bill present and future governments will be able to prevent the future growth of rail freight. Maintaining potential for heavy rail expansion is essential for managing future transport capacity and future transport corridors must be identified and preserved, not removed. There is no reason to bestow this power on the Minister. The Government can introduce legislation and seek approval from the majority of both Houses. It seems it is about getting Parliament and its added layer of scrutiny out of the way to fast-track development, and I cannot support that.
The bill before the House, interestingly, includes a proposal for the closure of the goods line that once connected the main freight line at Lilyfield with the port at White Bay and Glebe Island. This is adjacent to my electorate and I understand is included to provide space for the WestConnex interchange. This is an example of why proposed railway closures should go before Parliament. There is no urgency to closing that railway line, particularly given the full business case for the WestConnex project has yet to be released. The project has been veiled in secrecy, and I share widespread community concern that it is an environmentally destructive, archaic and unnecessary project that will lock Sydney into a future of car dependence. I do not support closing the freight railway corridor for WestConnex, and vital decisions such as this that significantly affect Sydney's future liveability should not be left to the Minister of the day. I oppose the bill.