Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Trainload Of Money

Today, the New South Wales Auditor General Peter Achterstraat released his report on transport projects, with an assessment which has been described as “scathing”. Here is the bottom line, in the words of the Auditor General: “Of the $412 million spent on the Sydney Metro, $356 million represents expenditure with no apparent benefit to the people of New South Wales.” This one sentence neatly sums up everything which has been wrong about the Labor government in New South Wales, and reflects the failure of successive Premiers to deliver on their transport promises.

Each newly installed occupant of the Premier has boldly announced visionary plans to address the transport challenges confronting Sydney, only to be pushed out through the revolving door of the Premier’s office and to have their plans consigned to the dustbin. But not before millions of dollars had been spent on scoping studies, feasibility studies, environmental impact studies, compulsory land acquisition, planning and design. There was the North West rail link, the Parramatta to Chatswood line, the South West rail link, the North West Metro, the West Metro, The CBD metro, and back to the future with the North West and South West lines back on the agenda. But can we really be certain that any plan currently on the table will actually be completed?

When Kristina Keneally took over the position of chief seat warmer, out went the latest grand plan, the Sydney Metro. With it went not only the hundreds of millions of dollars identified by the Auditor General, but also any good will which might have remained with those who had their businesses and livelihoods disrupted by a plan which had come to absolutely nothing. With it also went any level of credibility or trust that might still have existed among the voters of New South Wales. Never mind that the Metro was a flawed plan from the start, and that Premier Keneally probably made the right call to dump it, so much political capital had already been invested into it that it was now, like the cash, all gone.

And it is an awful lot of cash. The $356 million identified by Mr. Archterstraat could have been much better spent on any number of things. It could have built a major new hospital, or upgraded dozens of existing hospitals around the state. It could have employed thousands of nurses to work in those hospitals. It could have paid for the entire backlog of overdue maintenance at state schools, and still had money left over to build some new schools as well. Or it could have paid for about half of the maintenance backlog for public housing. In anybody’s language, it’s a trainload of money, and we can all think of dozens of ways it could have been more productively spent.

Instead, it has been sucked into a black hole “for no apparent benefit”, never to be seen again.

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