Minister for Transport and Newcastle Buses

Madam Speaker, right now, my community is hurting.

In July last year, this Liberal Government privatised Newcastle Buses and Ferries and since then, we have lurched from one public transport crisis to another. Last year, I outlined my efforts to ensure my community was not forgotten. I made every effort to work in good faith with the newly appointed private provider, Keolis Downer. I made every effort to bring my concerns, and the concerns of the community to the attention of the Minister for Transport. I requested meetings. I asked for public consultation with community. I made representations to the Minister and Keolis Downer.

But from the get go, this Minister has been arrogant and belligerent in his approach to his portfolio responsibilities. Even worse – he has been dismissive of the legitimate and serious concerns and of the people who rely on public transport.
He claims he’s seen no evidence of the disadvantage faced by vulnerable people. Well in that case Madam Speaker, he’s either wilfully ignorant and didn’t bother to look at the changes before signing off on it, or he’s a bloody liar. Six months ago, the Minister for Transport sat across from me and patronisingly told me to be patient. “Give them two minutes” he said. “They’ve only been there for three months”.

Well Madam Speaker, we’re now heading into the eighth month of complete chaos.

The so called assurances I was fed have been mistruths. “Broad public consultation” they said. “Four to seven minute waits between connections” they said. Better services. More frequent services. A New Way to Travel. These are the fake facts that the Minister continues to peddle, all the while ignoring the concerns of public transport users. The 350 bus service which previously ran from Swansea Heads directly into Newcastle had one of the highest levels of patronage in the entire network, and up until three months ago, it was considered a major route in the Newcastle Transport network.

The needs of the community haven’t radically changed in three months. But what we have seen is an arrogant Transport Minister who’s “tick and flick” attitude has forced an unworkable transport network on my community, allowing the private provider to put profits before people.

There is now a public transport crisis in my community.

I have not spoken to a single person who is better off because of the changes.

It is no exaggeration to say that these changes have ruined people’s lives.

I had Ebony from Pelican, a young woman on Newstart who was recently travelling to Charlestown for a meeting with her Job Service Provider. Ebony was late for her 10am appointment because she had to wait 50 minutes at Lake Macquarie fair for her connecting service. When she called her Job Service Provider she was threatened with non-compliance and told her Newstart payments could be suspended. I’ve heard from Jack, a student at Merewether High School who is currently doing his HSC. Because of the changes that this Minister signed off on, Jack now has to get a bus at 5.32am, in order to get to school by 8am. His commute previously took him 1 hour and five minutes. It now takes 2 hours and 13 minutes. I’ve spoken to support service providers, who tell me that elderly people have been robbed of what little independence they had, and now face severe social isolation. The bus which formerly ran past the Belmont 16 Foot Sailing Club has been scrapped, which means patrons can no longer get to the Club for social events like Bingo.

These are all issues which could have been corrected if the Minister had done his job properly. The spin about “broad consultation” was a lie. Schools were never consulted. Support services and disability service providers were not contacted. People who actually use public transport were largely excluded from the consultation process, and as a result we’ve had nothing but chaos.

This Minister is not fit to hold an office of the Crown, and if he had a shred of dignity he would tender his resignation immediately.