Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield): In reply, I thank members for their contributions to the Government Information (Public Access) Amendment (Sydney Motorway Corporation) Bill 2016. I have to say from the outset that I am disappointed the Government will not support it, although it is probably what I expected. Accountability is one of the cornerstones of a healthy, functioning democracy. It ensures that there are checks and balances in place to monitor and question the actions of Executive Government. For accountability to work, there needs to be ongoing access to information so that Parliament, the media and the people of New South Wales can be informed and inform themselves on the whys and wherefores of the Government's decision-making.
The creation of the Sydney Motorway Corporation is a cynical and scurrilous attempt by this Government to put facts and figures surrounding the WestConnex project beyond the reach of Parliament, beyond the reach of the media and importantly beyond the reach of the people of New South Wales. It reeks of arrogance and the three people responsible for this decision—the Premier, the Treasurer and the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight—are betraying the confidence put in them by the community. It is disappointing that the Premier, the Treasurer and the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight who will never get the opportunity to speak on this bill have been able to give reason to this place as to why they have put the Sydney Motorway Corporation beyond the reach of ordinary people.
By removing the activities of the Sydney Motorway Corporation from the purview of the Government Information Public Access Act 2009, this Government is quite simply undermining principles and protections put in place by this Parliament to inform the public and ensure their ready access to information on public projects and the expenditure of public funds. Day by day, this Government is acting more and more like a cartel that puts its own interests above that of the public. The removal of access to information on the WestConnex project is the latest breathtaking decision of a government that has lost the faith of the people of New South Wales over this project. Let us not forget that this is the largest project in New South Wales, costing $17 billion, and the Government, after years of inept management, spiralling costs, and non-existent business cases, now decides that the best way forward is to keep the facts and figures away from the public.
These actions are arrogant, reckless and make a mockery of accountable Government. We strongly believe that a project of this size, with its implications for the community, for motorists, residents and the overall infrastructure spend in Sydney requires the closest scrutiny. Yet this is where the Government has let down the people of New South Wales tardy business cases scratched together at the last moment after ongoing public pressure and consultation processes that have been wholly deficient, led by a Minister who refused to engage personally with affected individuals or communities, not once has he been to a public meeting. Not once has he acquiesced to meet with people who are impacted by this project. And now we have this attempt by the Premier, his Treasurer and his Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight to effectively privatise the delivery and the management of this public project.
Information is power, and any attempt to remove access rights to information of government should be viewed with the greatest concern. This bill seeks to return accountability to a secretive Sydney Motorway Corporation and simply ensure that the public, the media and members of Parliament can access information on how it is spending public money. I thank the members who have participated in this debate. In voting against this bill and leading for the Government the member for Castle Hill said "the doors are already open through RMS as the client agency of WestConnex". He was, of course, referring to the access of information through the Roads and Maritime Services as the agency, but that is simply not true.
The first of the three reasons given by the member for Castle Hill for not supporting this bill challenges this very assertion when he said, "It has never been the intention of the GIPA Act to apply directly to private companies" and he is right, which is why this bill has been brought before the House. The Sydney Motorway Corporation is a private company and so it is currently not subject to the GIPA Act, yet it must and should be subject to the GIPA Act because it is managing a $16.8 billion public project, the largest project in the history of this State.
The member for Castle Hill also said there is already a great deal of information out there about WestConnex and the Sydney Motorway Corporation. The information available on WestConnex is only what the community has argued for and what the Government thinks is appropriate. But there is no information out there on the Sydney Motorway Corporation. The member has obviously never Googled "Sydney Motorway Corporation" because beyond one page on the WestConnex website and a directors' report of a few pages, there is no information available whatsoever about it. This agency is managing a $16.8 billion project and we know nothing about it apart from who is on the board.
And laughable at best, the member for Castle Hill's claim that this Government is more open and transparent than previous governments. As pointed out by the shadow Attorney General, the member for Castle Hill has obviously failed to read the latest Information Commissioner's report, which found information release rates declined from 80 per cent to 69 per cent, which corresponded with when the Liberal-Nationals took government. The report on the operation of the Government Information and Public Access Act makes for interesting reading and I urge the member for Castle Hill to do his homework before he enters this place and makes claims that are simply untrue and proved to be untrue.
The member for Epping described the delivery of this project as exactly the same as NorthConnex, which is absolutely wrong. I would have expected more from him because he should know that NorthConnex is essentially a Transurban project; a project delivered by an ASX listed company. This proposal came about because of an unsolicited proposal, and while there is far too much secrecy around that process, there is a very obvious difference between the governance of NorthConnex and the governance of WestConnex. For a start, there are no shareholder ministers of Transurban.
The member for Drummoyne, my neighbouring member of Parliament and a strong advocate for WestConnex, actually called me a whisperer of something, I think. I want to put on the record of this place, that I have always been honest with my community about the M4 widening and M4 East tunnel; never have I deviated from my position. I will continue to highlight the deception to which members of my community have been subjected. The Government always promised that the M4 East tunnel would be under Parramatta Road—even the media release issued when the announcement was made in June last year said so instead, the tunnel has been moved to cater for high-rise development on Parramatta Road.
This shocking breach of trust will impact approximately 500 homes in Burwood and Croydon in particular. How dare the member for Drummoyne accuse me of not standing up for my community on this issue. How do I know that? Because his constituents come to me for help. He supports the project and refuses to meet with his constituents even though many of the houses being compulsorily acquired are in his electorate. I thank the shadow Attorney General for his contribution to this debate and for his support for this bill. The question that he asks goes to the heart of this bill—namely, what is the Government trying to hide? As he said, this $17 billion project is subject to cost overruns and budget blowouts.
For example, we have seen the cost of this project blowout from $10 billion to $16.9 billion. I sincerely thank the shadow Attorney General for his help in drafting this bill. WestConnex is having more of an impact on the electorate of Summer Hill than it is on any other electorate. I congratulate the member on her advocacy for her community. The member for Summer Hill, who was in the House, has been vocal in her opposition to this bill and has never hidden her views on this project. The member for Summer Hill has fought side by side with her community and they deserve answers. But those answers have not been forthcoming because the information to which they are entitled is being hidden by the Sydney Motorway Corporation governance structure.
I note that the member for Newtown is in the Chamber. Her community is also being impacted by WestConnex and she too has been a vocal opponent of the motorway. I thank The Greens for their support for this bill. I agree with her comments that the interests of impacted communities are being put behind the interests of private interests in the construction of this motorway. She drew the attention of the House to the business case for WestConnex, which was released late and which had large and important parts redacted. I also support her comments that no longer are those who were elected making decisions on this project; rather, seven individuals on the board of the Sydney Motorway Corporation—seven individuals who were never elected and who most people have never heard of.
During debate one member tried to gag the member for Charlestown for using the term "secret scheming" to describe the way in which this Government is going about the delivery of projects in New South Wales, including the upgrade of Hillsborough Road in her electorate. The member for Hawkesbury took offence to the use of those words and used this forum to gag her contribution—an extraordinary action for the member for Hawkesbury to take because this bill is all about secret scheming. It is about secrecy and the scheming of this Government to make sure that information on WestConnex is not available. So out of line was the decision of the member for Hawkesbury to gag the member for Charlestown that her time was reinstated; he was given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again.
The member for Clarence also spoke in debate on this bill. He was given a speech and told to go into the House and read it, not because he has an interest in WestConnex, the Sydney Motorway Corporation or transparency. I thank the member for Londonderry for her contribution. The impact of this Government's obsession with tolls is a significant issue in her electorate and she has launched a petition, which has attracted thousands of signatures. The member for Londonderry has told this House and others that wherever she goes people want to talk about the imposition of tolls and the impact that will have on commuters as they travel from her electorate to the city.The member for Blue Mountains also spoke in debate on the bill. Her constituents are concerned about the toll that will be reinstated on the M4 from early next year. As from next year they will be paying about $2,000 annually to travel to the city on a road that is currently free. This is not a new road; it is a free road. But that road will be tolled from early next year and that toll will rise above the consumer price index [CPI]. Indeed, for the first time in New South Wales we will be seeing tolls above the CPI. The member for Blue Mountains has joined the member for Londonderry in her petition, and has also been overwhelmed by the reaction from her community. One of the reasons for this reaction is that the Government has done a poor job in communicating with the community about this. In fact, they have had no communication at all; the Opposition has been spreading the message and toll gantries have been erected on the M4.
The motivation of the member for Granville in speaking to this bill is similar. She has often spoken in her community and in the media about her concern for those in her local area who will be slugged by tolls on the M4. The contract for the M4 extends to 2060. It is the longest concession agreement ever seen in New South Wales, and we are yet to see what the concession agreement will be for the M4 East. This bill is not specifically about transparency around tolls; another bill will be introduced to deal with those issues. Labor is concerned about how tolls are being set, the transparency of the contractual negotiations and the ongoing operation of toll operators. This bill is about transparency more broadly; it is about all those issues related to the Sydney Motorway Corporation.
I thank the member for Lakemba. As I said earlier, he is one of the fairest people I know. He may have a swag of old movies that he wants to bring before this House but he spoke about trust and of all people he is in a good place to do so. As he said, one cannot talk about trust and not give people information. He commented that the punters on the street think that this project is being delivered by this Government. It is not; it is being delivered by seven people sitting around a board table making decisions in secrecy because they have been chosen by this Government, for whatever reason, to be on the board of the Sydney Motorway Corporation. He remarked that people are only finding out about the toll by noticing the toll gantries as they are driving along the M4. The gantries are the only things currently being completed, which is a good indication of the Government's priorities in relation to this project. It is all about racking in the dollars through the tolls.
The member for Sydney has also been an advocate for transparency in relation to this project. He has been involved in the commissioning of a number of reports. He has spoken strongly about the failure of this Government to release the full business case. The member for Sydney and I have made applications under the Government Information (Public Access) Act [GIPA]. We now know, from making those applications, that documents can no longer be accessed. Indeed, much of the information about the business case has been redacted so we will never be able to get the information we need to understand the feasibility and management of this project.
Labor introduced the Government Information (Public Access) Act in 2009. We did so to ensure that the actions of executive government remained accountable and to engender greater levels of confidence in government decision-making. It was rightfully supported by both Houses of Parliament. In introducing this bill I spoke about the lofty sentiments expressed by the member for Willoughby, and now the Treasurer, and ironically a shareholder Minister of the Sydney Motorway Corporation. She spoke in this House of the importance of transparent decision-making. Unfortunately, the sentiments that she held so dear back then now seem to be redundant when it comes to the biggest infrastructure project in the history of this State. The GIPA Act is fundamentally important to the functioning of a healthy and open democracy. The Baird Government's attempt to stifle accountability and conceal how it spends public money is a slippery slope that should be resisted at all costs. As I said earlier, if the Baird Government gets away with exempting WestConnex from public oversight, when and where will it stop?
Will it stop with schools, the hospital system, or police? Yesterday I spoke yesterday about the concerns that I have as shadow Minister for Transport that the metro project could be headed in this direction. The Government must guarantee that it will not redact information about the metro, the second largest project that it is delivering, from the Government Information (Public Access) Act. The people of New South Wales have a right to know how $30 billion in projects will be delivered and what discussions are occurring relating to it. In the second term of this Government the people of New South Wales have become rightfully suspicious. Today an announcement will be made concerning council amalgamations—another good example of why people are suspicious of this Government. The decisions concerning councils are political. Communities across the State will be impacted by decisions based on what is in the best interests of the Liberals and Nationals.
Across many areas the Government is showing signs of arrogance and a belief in its own infallibility. This arrogance was exhibited at the recent WestConnex project media conference on the introduction of tolls on the M4. When questioned the Minister did not know the toll charges, the number of toll gantries, or how many motorists travel on the M4. He appeared to find it amusing that he did not know the answer to these basic but critical questions. The Baird Government perceives the community as an obstacle to government rather than the fundamental reason for government.
I am concerned about the redaction of information about the Sydney Motorway Corporation from the provisions of the Government Information (Public Access) Act as well as the precedence it sets. It creates an environment in this State that will further weaken democratic government—something that we can ill afford. The Parliament must support the bill and demonstrate to the electorate that no level of public oversight and accountability is too high when it comes to the expenditure of public funds and decisions that impact on people's lives. I commend the bill to the House.