Something rotten in the State of New South Wales?
No doubt many readers of this column watched the recent ABC Four Corners programme, ostensibly covering the public transport crisis in New South Wales.
By Mark Carter
Unfortunately I was unable to watch the actual programme, but the transcript makes for interesting reading.
However, the public transport issues raised, while pertinent, appeared to have been used in a somewhat allegorical context and one imagines that education or health could easily have been substituted should the show’s producers have chosen to do so.
Primarily, long suffering Sydney commuters and the Government’s various Metro proposals were rolled out as a backdrop to the main story, which focussed on the failure of the NSW Government’s electricity privatisation proposals and the ongoing political skulduggery that NSW is renowned for.
The ultimate message from the story, in the reporter’s eyes, appears to be that the Labour Government in NSW is well and truly on the way out. But then we all knew that anyway?
Regular readers of this column would not have been surprised at the public transport content of the programme, as I have frequently referenced the lack of any coherent rail-related transport planning policy in NSW and the rather ad hoc approach to date towards development of the Sydney Metro.
A big positive was that this was a rare occasion where urban public transport issues were seen as headline electoral issues, rather than the convenient mid-term bunfights they usually generate between governments and oppositions, only to be forgotten again at election time.
And if the media is to be believed, transport issues do occupy a large portion of Premier Nathan Rees’ thoughts. Apparently when asked by a reporter at a 2008 press conference he indicated that two-thirds of his time was spent thinking about Sydney’s traffic and transport problems.
Unfortunately I get the feeling that it is the two-thirds of his time remaining after he’s coped with the backstabbing and factional infighting that plagues the NSW Labour Party, which as already mentioned appeared to be the real focus of the programme.
On a number of occasions, Four Corners has hinted at several of the key challenges created by a lack of cohesive public transport planning in NSW, and that also has parallels around Australia.
This is the ‘transport poor’; those urban fringe dwellers who have to move out further and further from our major city centres seeking more affordable housing to fulfil their own personal Australian Dream.
People then see more and more of their disposable income spent on fuel and second, third and fourth cars while others spend a significant part of their day travelling to and from work as the result of substandard transport options. The upward trend in fuel prices will only exacerbate the problem.
The irony is that adequate public transport solutions always seem to be an afterthought and as in the case of NSW, the promised rail solutions to the north-west and south-west of the metropolitan area failed to materialise, as did the subsequent Metro proposal for the north-west.
Relief for commuters such as those portrayed in the programme, seems a very long way off. It is hard to imagine how the proposed CBD Metro is going to have any major impact on their commuting patterns, either through increased capacity or in reducing congestion.
Given the State Government’s track record on previous promises to expand Sydney’s public transport network it is hard to envisage a further expansion of the Metro network beyond the CBD proposal occurring in the next decade or so. It is hard to see where the money is coming from to pay for it all and this is obvious from the Government’s own pronouncements.
The overall prognosis does not appear to be good. While the fact that the programme did not turn into yet another public transport witch hunt, as is so often the case in NSW, is a major positive – but there was no hint as to what the possible solutions might be for Sydney’s public transport woes.
Viewers were left with the clear message that Labour is on the nose and that come the March 2011 election it’s gone, but very little else.
However, a year is along time in politics and the Liberal Opposition should exercise caution if they think they will win the 2011 election by default. If they are smart, and if the conclusions suggested by Four Corners are correct, then for the first time ever we could see a first party to win government riding on the back of a progressive public transport policy. Wouldn’t that be nice?
To read the transcript of the Four Corners programme visit: www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2009/s2705327.htm
The Sydney Metro site: www.sydneymetro.nsw.gov.au has some interesting updates and a rebuttal of some of the claims made in the Four Corners programme.