Thursday, April 15, 2010

346 Days To Go

The fallout from Monday’s traffic disaster on the F3 continues with the head of the RTA, Michael Bushby, stood aside pending an independent investigation ordered by the Premier. Ever since the debacle, there have been calls for heads to roll, as if that might somehow magically fix the problem, and this appears to be the first. Of course, much of the heat has been directed at the Transport Minister David Campbell, lampooned by critics as “Mr. Slow”, who has been found repeatedly at the centre of disaster after disaster. The list is apparently endless, with such failures as the T-Card saga, the cancellation of the CBD Metro, and the apparent inability to improve ferry services all landing at his feet. But is Mr. Campbell really to blame, or is he just the meat in the sandwich?

It has been famously reported that former Transport Minister Carl Scully remarked that the job was so challenging that he had to drag himself by the neck to the office each day. And it is a monumental challenge. The problems besetting all aspects of transport in New South Wales, including both roads and public transport, have their roots in the decades of failure to adequately prepare for future growth and to build the necessary infrastructure accordingly. Despite awareness of the growth pressures, especially around the Newcastle – Sydney – Wollongong axis, Premier after Premier and Government after Government have failed to recognize the need for adequate investment in roads and other essential infrastructure. Of course, the current government has been in office for 15 years, so it’s getting pretty difficult for them to avoid responsibility by pointing the finger of blame at anybody else.

While calling for the resignation of the Minister might feel satisfying, the real question is whether it would make any difference. The decision making process which resulted in the abysmally poor response to Monday’s disaster is a process which is and should be within the RTA. It is supposed to be their responsibility to manage the road system to ensure that the safest possible environment is provided, and that when things do go wrong they are dealt with as effectively as possible. Critics have long suggested that the RTA has become a heavy handed bureaucracy which does more to punish drivers than to help them. Perhaps it is time for a shake up of the Authority and a review of how it operates.

But the buck has to stop somewhere, and responsibility for what has happened this week comes with the territory of being the Minister, and for that matter being the Premier. This government has had fifteen years to deliver a better outcome for not only the motorists of New South Wales, but also the users of public transport, the patients of the Public Hospital system, the residents who cannot find affordable housing, and all of the constituents who feel that our elected representatives have forgotten just who it is they are supposed to represent. For a large number of people, it would not be enough to get rid of the Transport Minister; they can’t wait to get rid of the whole government.

There are just 346 days to go, until they get the opportunity to make that happen.

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