I speak in debate on the Government Information (Public Access) Amendment (Sydney Motorway Corporation) Bill 2016. This bill would open the Sydney Motorway Corporation to proper scrutiny by ensuring the public can access information about its dealings.
I thank the member for Strathfield and shadow Minister for Transport and Roads for introducing this critical bill.
I thank her for standing up for integrity and open government, principles that this Government is averse to.
As she noted when the bill was introduced, Labor, under former Premier Nathan Rees, introduced the Government Information (Public Access) Bill in 2009 to ensure that information could be withheld only if there was an overriding public interest against disclosure.
It is abundantly clear that the public interest test in the case of WestConnex is overwhelmingly in favour of disclosure.
WestConnex will cost taxpayers $16.8 billion and counting.
As the Government likes to boast, it is the largest transport infrastructure project in Australian history. But still, the Premier, the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, and the Treasurer worked to ensure the Sydney Motorway Corporation was shielded from public scrutiny by naming it a private corporation.
They created an unacceptable anomaly, and this bill will fix it. This bill will ensure that the public can properly access information about how their $16.8 billion plus is being spent.
It will put an end to the secrecy and the deception.
When it comes to WestConnex, this Government has shown it is not interested in meaningful consultation or opening up the project to proper scrutiny.
Despite collecting thousands and thousands of community submissions through the environmental impact statement processes—in the case of the M5 extension, the most submissions ever received on an infrastructure project in New South Wales—the Government is pressing ahead, making only minor concessions.
The Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight continues to respond to public opposition with mockery and derision, dismissing anyone opposed to the project as a "latte sipper", or any other beverage that comes to mind for Inner West residents.
Those opposite held back the business case for WestConnex until after the last parliamentary sitting day of 2015 to avoid questioning in this place. And disgracefully they exempted the Sydney Motorway Corporation from access of information laws, shielding it from proper public probity.
The community is right to ask: When it comes to WestConnex, what does the Government have to hide?
Despite what the Government might like, we need to talk about WestConnex.
We need to talk about the palpable anger of residents who are forced to sell their homes, uproot their lives and accept shamefully low compensation, all in the blind hope that the Government will do the right thing by them.
We need to talk about students learning in the shadow of ventilation stacks.
We need to talk about locals afraid their kids are in danger from hordes of cars rat-running through their neighbourhoods, particularly in Haberfield, in my electorate.
We need to talk about motorists themselves, who must accept exorbitant tolls on the M4 and who will pay through the nose only to be spat out into Haberfield or St Peters and yet another traffic jam.
It is not going to work.
We need to talk about the residents of Rozelle, Lilyfield and Camperdown, who are now set to have their very own massive spaghetti junctions and tunnel portals right near their residences.
We need to talk about the $16.8 billion price tag, which blows out every time someone bothers to cost it.
We need to talk about the arrogance of the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight and the Premier who refuse to listen to the community's total opposition to WestConnex.
And we need to talk about the Government's lack of transparency and secrecy.
Our freedom of information laws exist because they help to maintain trust between the public and their elected officials and the public service. The right for citizens to hold government processes up to the light has been hard won and is fundamental to our democracy.
The arguments the Government gives for exempting the Sydney Motorway Corporation from this democratic process are entirely without reason or merit.
This bill will make sure the public interest is put back where it belongs—at the heart of our Government. It will restore some of the public's trust in the decision-making process, particularly around WestConnex. Most importantly, it will allow the community to ask the questions they have every right to ask about how this Government is wasting $16.8 billion of its money.
The community has every right to ask why the Government has chosen not to invest that money in public transport.
The community asks why the Government has systematically ripped off property owners in Haberfield, Ashfield, St Peters and Alexandria.
The community asks why the Government now plans to do the same in Rozelle and Lilyfield, destroying its own plans for the Bays Precinct by throwing up an unwanted and polluting spaghetti junction.
This beggars belief, but the reality is the community cannot get answers because the Government has set up a smokescreen to hide the truth.
The Baird Government wants to shut down scrutiny of WestConnex because it knows the project does not add up.
I commend this bill of the shadow Minister to the House, because the people in my electorate who are impacted by WestConnex deserve better.
They deserve answers and they deserve to know why this road that is ruining so many lives has been forced upon them.
The Government cannot hide any longer. We need to talk honestly about WestConnex.