Toll Roads

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (8.50 p.m.)—I want to acknowledge the member for Cunningham and her contribution. I was born in Wollongong Hospital and still have some family down in Wollongong. Part of my family still commutes out of Wollongong every day of every week, so those matters raised by the member for Cunningham are important.

I would like to draw attention to my grievance for the electorate of Mitchell: the ongoing issue of toll roads. Tolling is a significant burden on families and a consistently acknowledged public issue for the residents and commuters in my electorate. Firstly, let me record my support for public-private partnerships and government encouraging private capital into infrastructure and investment. Properly done, public-private partnerships deliver quality infrastructure. They deliver a commercial benefit and they deliver a good outcome for the consumer. In the case of toll roads, value is returned to the motorist in the saving of time, which can be spent with the family or for private purposes, less wear and tear on a car, lower running costs and lower expenses.

A good example of what I am talking about is the properly functioning, government funded toll project, the M7. This project was funded and implemented by the Howard government and has provided a great benefit to the people of Western Sydney and my community. As one of the local federal members whose electorates surround this project, I can confirm to the House that I get virtually no complaints about the toll or the operation of the M7 motorway. People using this motorway pay a reasonably priced toll, and they receive a benefit in return, which they value. That is the way it should work in a public-private partnership. There should be value to the consumer in return for the fee that they pay.

Public-private partnerships and government funded infrastructure can work. They are not problems in themselves. They can be seen to work. Indeed, from the feedback I get, they are seen to work. However, a person’s access to travel from their home to work should be a critical priority for any government, Liberal or Labor, and the member for Cunningham was recently talking about that same issue. In particular, government needs to show concern and empathy for those who live in the outlying suburbs of major cities and our regions and areas where public transport is in urgent need of upgrade and assistance.

In my electorate of Mitchell, there is no rail line to the north-west of Sydney, and this is a major problem for people in my area. I have recorded it here before and I will say it again: my electorate of Mitchell has the highest rate of car ownership of any electorate in Australia—70.2 per cent of my households have two or more cars. That is a direct result of government not funding public transport infrastructure in my electorate. Why do people have so many cars? It is because there is no other choice. It is not because they do not want to use public transport and it is not because they are not prepared to pay the cost, sacrifice the time or put themselves on a train. The reason is that government has failed to provide them with an acceptable alternative—indeed, any alternative.

Sadly, governments at a state level have looked more to the capacity for votes of any potential infrastructure upgrade rather than to providing alternative solutions to those problems. If we are going to be serious about climate change and get real about transport solutions, it is not acceptable for the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government to say we have to get real about car ownership when there is no public transport alternative for many parts of Australia. We have to deliver an alternative.

In Sydney, in New South Wales, this has never been more the case. On many days, members of my electorate of Mitchell are stuck in traffic jams on the M2 motorway or they are crammed into buses with standing room only for the trip to the city to work. In the budget, the federal Labor government funded studies into an alternative western Metro Link from Parramatta to the city rather than from Parramatta to the outer suburbs of our region, where it is most heavily needed. Indeed, it only takes 20 minutes to get from the inner city to the Sydney CBD and it takes sometimes an hour and 40 minutes to go the same route from my electorate of Mitchell to the Sydney CBD.

Let us be clear here on what we are talking about. The residents of my electorate are not complaining about the tolls from our district to the city for the sake of complaining; they are pointing out that they pay these tolls—they pay numerous tolls—and do not receive value in return. Let us contrast the point. I do not receive complaints about the M7 and its operation, because it is a reasonable toll and you get the value. However, when you pay the toll on a motorway and you do not get the value and you are still stuck in traffic and the state government of New South Wales closes publicly owned roads to force people onto those tollways and infrastructure, then you have got a problem and I think you have a reasonable basis for complaint.

There has been a series of what I describe as very bad episodes in public transport infrastructure provision with the private sector in New South Wales in particular. We had the cross-city tunnel—a scandalous situation where a government department, the Roads and Traffic Authority, accepted in the order of $100 million from the motorway operator in return for closing 20 or 30 public roads. These are publicly owned roads, paid for by the taxpayer over generations, and I do not believe it is acceptable—and indeed the people of New South Wales did not find it acceptable—that a government department could receive a payment to close those roads and force people to use these elements of new infrastructure. In the case of the Lane Cove tunnel, we had another repeat of this, with Epping Road—paid for and funded by the taxpayer. They are publicly owned roads and the government has closed the lanes, again in order to force people to use the tollway which has been built in the Lane Cove tunnel. The cross-city tunnel operator has already collapsed and the Lane Cove tunnel, from all reliable reports, is also in some measure of financial trouble. The New South Wales government is giving a bad name to public-private partnerships and private owners of capital for infrastructure.

Not only have the residents in my electorate been forced to use these motorways by direct state government policy but the choice to use a non-toll road has also been taken away from them. Consider that motorists in my electorate pay $16.90 a day, $84.50 a week, $330 a month or $4,056 a year. They have a big stake in this. Let me specify what happens to a typical person going from my electorate to the city. Firstly, they will struggle on local roads, overloaded with traffic, and fight the traffic just to get to the M2. Then, on reaching the motorway, they will crawl along the M2. At some points they will move at a reasonable pace but, more often than not, it will be agonisingly slow or they will stop-start for most of the trip. For this service that is barely quicker than travelling on an alternative route they will pay a toll. When they get to the Lane Cove tunnel, if they take the option of exiting, they will be stuck in enormous traffic because the state government has shut the lanes on the publicly funded roads and made it impassable. Therefore, they choose the Lane Cove tunnel—really, you have no choice on that—and they pay another toll. After struggling through that traffic and paying two tolls, they reach the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is another case in point—a contract with the people which was: we will build the Sydney Harbour Bridge and you will pay it off through your tolls. Well, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was paid off by the people of New South Wales a number of years ago now. The New South Wales state government decided arbitrarily, without reference to the people, to continue the tolling of the Sydney Harbour Bridge not only after the Harbour Bridge had been funded but also after the harbour tunnel had been funded by the tolls on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is an outrageous abuse of people in New South Wales. That is publicly owned infrastructure and, once it has been paid, it ought to be returned to public ownership.

If you live in the north-west of Sydney, you are penalised for where you live and who you are. If you travel both ways a day, it is worse and tolls are doubled. If you live somewhere else in Sydney, you have access to a cash-back scheme and you have access to public transport. But you have no choice in my electorate of Mitchell. There is no rail line, the buses are overloaded and they are private operators in the main. The state government built a transit way from Rouse Hill to Parramatta—and I applaud them for that. But, when I have approached them about access for the private bus companies onto that transit way—which is for buses only and is only used five per cent of the day by buses—do you think I get any answer from them about this? Even for a fee, they are not willing to allow private bus companies, when there is a massive demand for people to use buses.

What kind of transport policy, what kind of planning are we engaging in here? It is a real grievance in my electorate. It is a real grievance of people and they are right to complain about it. They are not complaining that they have to pay tolls; they are prepared to pay tolls where they receive a value for that toll, as in the case of the M7. They are prepared to have great infrastructure and to pay it off, but, in return, governments have an obligation to fund essential infrastructure in essential areas, regardless of the votes of that area, and to return assets—publicly funded roads and publicly funded infrastructure—to public ownership when they say they will, as in the case of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Tunnel. On behalf of my electorate I record those grievances on the very severe situation with tolling from my electorate to the city and from the city to my electorate.