NEWCASTLE TRANSPORT PETITION DEBATE
I thank the people in the gallery, who have made the very long trip down to Parliament House today. They will get home very late, but we are very pleased that they are here and we welcome them. It is an enormous privilege to be elected by your community and I was elected because I share the values of the people in my community of justice, fairness and equality. I promised that I would stand up for those values in this place. To me, it is fair and just to have an essential public service that meets the needs of the community, and of course that includes public transport. For those who cannot drive, or who choose not to drive, a good public transport system ensures that they can get to where they need to go. It means they are independent and mobile. It means that no matter who a person is, that person can access essential services, employment opportunities and educational opportunities.
But in January this year, all of that changed for the people who live in the Newcastle region. Their lives were changed dramatically. Last year when I sought a meeting with the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure to discuss my concerns before the changes came into effect, the Minister said to me in this Chamber, "Guess what? Welcome to Opposition." That arrogance has characterised the Minister's approach to this issue. For the past four months, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure has sat very smugly in this Chamber and ignored the chaos he created. He has belligerently deflected the legitimate concerns and criticisms raised by my colleagues and me by saying that he has seen no evidence that people are worse off. He wheeled out his cronies to peddle the spin that this is a world class transport system.
But Labor Opposition members know, and people in the gallery know, that this is a far cry from the reality of what we live with. What we have is poor connectivity, blowouts in journey times, reduced operating hours, and cuts to very vital services. If the Minister wants evidence, I have it in spades. In February this year, we had a meeting attended by more than a thousand people to protest against the changes and to hear the stories of people who were affected by those changes. In March, we marched. The police advised me that almost a thousand people attended that too. There are the 10,000 people who have signed this petition so that we can force the Government to debate this issue today.
Yesterday, we tabled another 10,000 signatures, so we will be back here next month. We will not stop until we have our vital services reinstated.
The petition calls on the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure to intervene and force the private provider to restore direct services to key destinations such as Charlestown. Last month the Minister claimed that there would be a review within three months of the new service commencing. Guess what? It is three months tomorrow, but we have seen absolutely nothing. If history has taught us anything, it is that whatever the Minister says should be treated with caution and cynicism. After last year's fake consultation, which lead to the disastrous network that we have now, the private provider has said that it would tweak or refine the network and have a second round of consultation. Since then, we have nothing at all from the provider, and we do not expect to, because it is fake consultation all the way.
Our community has no confidence that the Minister can do his job. The Minister tells us that patronage figures have gone up, but his own website tells us something different. It tells us that numbers are down 11,500 on last year's figures. He cannot even get the figures right. People are abandoning public transport. It does not meet their needs, it is unreliable and it takes twice as long. In fact, the only full buses getting around Newcastle today were the ones the visitors in the public gallery were on. People are being left behind by this Government. There is no justice and there is no fairness in it at all. If the stories that we hear daily are not enough, how about this one? Last week, the Premier and Cabinet released its Hunter update. The Government has identified the Hunter as a youth unemployment hotspot. Guess what the greatest barrier is? Transport.