Parliamentary speeches

Sydney Metro West project

September 09, 2019

It is my great pleasure to join my colleagues the member for Parramatta, the member for Chifley and the member for Macarthur in raising and responding to this very important motion. It has been my pleasure to listen to their contributions, which have balanced a deep commitment to the communities they respect with an equally clear understanding of what needs to be done to respond to the great challenges of linking people to opportunities and busting congestion across Western Sydney. This is a problem that affects all of us, not just Western Sydney, because Australia has a productivity problem and a government that won't rise to meet this most fundamental economic challenge. It's a challenge with many dimensions, but getting our cities working more effectively is particularly important right now, when all the economic indicators are so concerning and when the government continues to resist the calls of the Reserve Bank governor and a chorus of respected economists to boost investment in productive infrastructure spending.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, Australia is, outside of the city states, the world's most urbanised nation. The vast majority of us live and work in our city and suburbs—more so in Western Sydney than anywhere else. But, over six years, the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have been slow to recognise this and its implications—implications for our prospects of continued economic growth and living standards, and for sustainability of living standards too. Prime Minister Tony Abbott indulged in a fantasy that how our cities function was no concern for our national government, and we are still paying the price for this wilful neglect, particularly the congestion-boosting nonsense of refusing to fund urban public transport projects. He cut the funding from the Parramatta to Epping line as part of the billions taken away from vital rail projects linking the places where so many Australians live—our fast-growing suburbs—to job opportunities.

While the successive governments since then have embraced—or accepted, I should say in reality—that the record under Malcolm Turnbull and now Prime Minister Morrison doesn't withstand scrutiny, Minister Tudge can be given marks for enthusiasm in talking up his achievements. But his is a lone voice in this regard, and for good reason. He is tinkering around the edges rather than grappling with the enormous challenge presented by traffic congestion, particularly, as the member for Chifley reminded us, by not recognising his responsibility to deal with traffic congestion in areas where it most needs to be dealt with, rather than where it seems to be politically palpable. This is at a great cost to Australia's economy. We note that the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has estimated the annual cost of lost productivity caused by congestion at $16 billion—that figure is now two years old. The figure is increasing.

A government that is serious about meeting our productivity challenge and about the living standards of people in Western Sydney would have done so much more. The motion put forward by the member for Parramatta makes this clear. This is a call to action that must be heeded. On this side of the House we recognise the importance of Western Sydney—Australia's third-largest economy and home to more than two million people, with very significant population growth predicted. We see that recognised in today's The Sydney Morning Herald, which is something that perhaps government speakers could reflect upon. We recognise the challenge that this presents to government at all levels: to find ways to work together, to deliver place based solutions, building on the understanding that is found within local communities. This is why the Leader of the Opposition has spoken of city partnerships instead of deals. It is because enduring partnerships are needed to build a bridge between fragmented governance arrangements and a shared vision for a dynamic Western Sydney.

On this, can I put on record my appreciation of the work of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue. A report they've just released, Stuck in the middle, is a critical contribution. I'm sure that's recognised by the member for Parramatta. It is modestly titled but makes an important response, and it deserves a response from this government.

The creation of the Greater Sydney Commission makes possible a genuinely polycentric city, but this requires a commitment to more than two major economic anchors. We need to look beyond the present CBD and the possibility of the airport, as exciting as they are. We need to recognise, as this motion does, that Parramatta is the CBD for Western Sydney and has enormous potential that simply has to be realised, including through Metro West, a project to which the New South Wales government is of course committed, and to which federal Labor committed $3 billion. As the now Leader of the Opposition said, we did so in order to reduce congestion and dependence on cars and to bring jobs closer to where people live, while connecting all of Sydney to the new Western Sydney Airport. Metro West is genuinely a city-shaping project, but Minister Tudge continues to pretend that it is nothing to do with him. This isn't good enough.