JOHN AUSTEN: The Commonwealth is ‘meddling’ in NSW rail – at last!

Jun 2, 2017

There are indications the Prime Minister wishes to modernise infrastructure policy.   Reports regarding rail to Badgerys Creek highlight the discomfort this causes to the NSW Government- and enormous benefits if the Prime Minister gets Commonwealth involvement right.  

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported the NSW Transport Minister arguing for the Commonwealth to just dole out money – no questions asked – for his government’s rail projects since ‘the expertise’ resides in Transport for NSW’.[1] What nonsense!

In the context of rail options for Sydney’s second airport at Badgerys Creek, the NSW Minister’s quip about ‘expertise’ is sadly misplaced.

His government’s 2012 rail plan, Sydney’s Rail Future, laid the basis for its metro rail. That plan ignored Badgerys Creek. Didn’t ‘the experts’ know about the proposed airport? Or were the experts told to overlook it? See:

The Herald also claimed the Commonwealth favours a north-south rail line through Badgerys Creek. This must be a surprise for the NSW Minister who apparently favours; no railway at all or, at a pinch, only an east-west spur to Parramatta or Liverpool. He would expect Canberra to donate cash to such a project with no questions asked since NSW has ‘the expertise’. When the idea proves pointless the money would presumably be diverted to NSW roads. What a mess!

To the NSW Minister’s consternation and the horror of his advisers his outmoded approach is being dumped; Worse, they sense the Commonwealth views Badgerys Creek as part of a transport and land use network. They see the Commonwealth pushing for something the NSW government should have done, indeed would have done under any sensible Sydney rail plan; a north-south line through the new airport.

A north-south line through Badgerys Creek would be superior to an east west spur. It would have provided the million or more people in lower socio-economic south west suburbs much better access to growing, well-paid jobs in the ‘global arc’. It would have connected the two airports, universities etc. It would have been the type of thing needed for economic growth and promotion of fair opportunity. It would have been a victory for economics and equity over the infrastructure lobby.

However, ‘would have been’ entails a caveat. The NSW government’s metro plans possibly put a north-south line and other sensible options in jeopardy. The fact that we don’t know whether this is the case should make all Sydneysiders, especially the Prime Minister and Ms Turnbull, Chair of the Greater Sydney Commission, livid.

This uncertainty helps explain a new found interest of the Prime Minister’s portfolio in rail. It also helps explain wails from NSW to stop questioning its ‘expertise’!.

The Herald article implied the Commonwealth needs real competence rather than trust in State governments and their departments who continually bluff the media. It seemed to support the Prime Minister’s interest in Commonwealth capability.

However, in a separate piece its author, Jacob Saulwick, argued the Commonwealth should butt out; claiming a north-south line is an example of unhelpful Federal suggestions. He quoted the NSW Minister: ‘you’ve got to look at our infrastructure plan here and what we’re doing and don’t treat it in isolation’. [2]

Isolation? The NSW government ignored the airport! Would its rail plan be the same if the airports (plural) were considered?

Mr Saulwick went on: ‘there is no reason in logic that Canberra would have a better sense of what Sydney needs than Macquarie Street’.

Perhaps, but the big problem is suspicion of logic being suspended by Macquarie Street Metro mania.

The Herald also carried sentiments like: Canberra should let States (try to!) fail on infrastructure; the Commonwealth must just contribute funding.

It is sad to see such absurd ideas in the 21st century. They must worry people in areas (to be) hit hard and long by State government failures; like those who will find themselves on the wrong side of the tracks because of the Sydney rail ‘plan’.

The NSW government doesn’t need to try to fail. Most informed people see that its rail plan is already failing Sydney with more unfortunate consequences on the way.

It would be foolhardy to reject Federal help and real help should start with the Commonwealth Parliament conducting an open assessment of the situation. To just throw money at the NSW ‘plan’, as some suggest, would be the worst possible response.

A public inquiry by the Commonwealth Parliament is needed. As both Governments face elections in 2019, when the first stage of Sydney metro opens, it better start soon.

John Austen is a happily retired, Sydney western suburbs dweller. Further details will be at



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