Thankyou Jenny for coordinating today’s People’s Inquiry.
Jenny and I have had somewhat parallel experiences in our first year in the NSW Parliament: We’ve both been fighting the Government on a range of issues, including Westconnex.
The destruction which started this week in Haberfield and Ashfield is heartbreaking and I thank residents who are taking a stand to protect these beautiful heritage homes and neighbourhoods.
Like you, I’m deeply concerned about the impacts of Westconnex and that is why today is so important – We need to put people back into the equation.
The Baird Government has cloaked the project in secrecy; They’ve refused to justify the expenditure of $16.8 billion in public money; and most galling of all, they’ve wilfully ignored the concerns of residents.
I want to use my time here today to put on the record some key violations of good governance when it comes to Westconnex.
It is by no means a definitive list, but might help frame this afternoon’s discussion.
Confusion and chaos have been at the centre of Westconnex from the beginning.
In 2013, the Westconnex Delivery Authority was formed to construct, finance and manage the project; but it was sidelined a year later with the creation of the Sydney Motorway Corporation.
In that process, the Chief Executive of RMS and the Secretary of Transport for NSW was ousted, meaning that the State's largest transport project was no longer being overseen by transport officials.
The Office of the Auditor-General slammed the early governance of the project, arguing that:
“There were a number of deficiencies in governance and independent assurance over the early stages of the WestConnex project…. The processes applied to WestConnex to provide independent assurance to Government did not meet best practice standards.”
The report also noted an inappropriate lack of gateway reviews, and conflicts of interest in providing assurance; and also criticized the first business case, noting it:
“…had many deficiencies and fell well short of the standard required for such a document.”
That’s a bureaucratic way of saying it was a mess.
The updated business case was released the day after Parliament rose last year, shielding it from proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The Government handed responsibility for Westconnex to the Sydney Motorway Corporation, a private entity, excluding the project from the Government Information (Public Access) Act.
That means that despite being built with $16.8 billion of our public money, the community can’t access crucial information about its governance or operations.
Shadow Minister for Transport, Jodi McKay MP introduced a Bill to reverse this decision and ensure that Westconnex would be subject to freedom of information requests.
The Greens, Labor and independents supported this Bill – unsurprisingly, the Government did not.
Labor and Anthony Albanese have called for a full national audit conducted by the National Auditor General - citing the multi-billion cost blow-out as proof of poor planning.
Last month, I wrote to the Senate Economics References Committee, urging them to investigate allegations of corruption at Leighton Holdings and their involvement in Westconnex.
The Leighton Group is involved in all 3 stages of the project and we have a right to know whether those allegations have any bearing on the project.
My letter was referred to the Committee, and will take evidence on the matter – unfortunately of course the upcoming election will get in the way but I have commitments from Senators that they will continue to pursue the issue in a reconvened committee whatever form that may take post-election.
We have the right to know if the offshore corruption allegations received in evidence by the committee are indicative of a broader cultural practice within Leighton Holdings group.
I’ll also be moving a motion in the NSW parliament calling for all work to stop until a full investigation can be undertaken.
Most galling of all has been the utter disregard of this Government towards local residents.
I’ve sat in people’s kitchens while they wept and told me how Westconnex has robbed them of everything.
The truth is that the chaos and failures in governance have had a real and devastating impact on people.
Acquisitions in Ashfield and Haberfield have been shambolic – with home-owners forced to accept offers hundreds of thousands of dollars less than their property is worth.
Acquisitions began before the project was given planning approval, before an EIS was released or a feasible business case made public.
The EIS was an empty gesture towards consultation, with the Government offering little mitigation for residents and ignoring the community’s fundamental opposition to the project.
The consistent lack of information has caused debilitating stress and anxiety:
Last week, Haberfield residents were reportedly told only days before construction began that houses on their street were to be levelled.
I’m pursuing serious complaints that conditions of approval are already being ignored.
The Government continues to reject calls for a public inquiry and it’s easy to know why – we know what an inquiry will show:
- Gross mismanagement
- Deception and secrecy
- And utter arrogance in pushing through a project without public support or justification.
I thank you for coming today and bringing an honest appraisal of Westconnex to this place.
Rest assured, I’ll keep fighting alongside you.