The high cost of Baird’s property play

A review of the Baird Government’s performance in the delivery of infrastructure has unveiled some disturbing results which should have us on high alert.

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The sales pitch for Baird’s infrastructure plans have high public visibility but everything else about them is shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Financial details are concealed.  Environmental impacts are hidden. Heritage impacts are ignored.

People who live and work in Sydney know that urgent action is needed to address increasing levels of congestion and that we cannot secure Sydney’s future as a world class city without new infrastructure projects.

But those projects need to be strategically planned and the people who will be most affected by them need to have a real say in deciding what those projects are.

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Importantly, infrastructure needs to make good economic sense. The people of Sydney will pay for Baird’s projects in tolls, taxes, and, odds are, through the government’s sale of public assets.

So just how is the Baird government tracking in the delivery of sound infrastructure planning?

Let’s start with Westconnex. The largest road project in the state’s history.  Westconnex was a $10 billion project which has blown out to $16.8 billion.

The Auditor General was scathing in his early assessment of the project: “The preliminary business case submitted for…review had many deficiencies and fell well short of the standard required for such a document.”

In order to protect itself from public scrutiny,  the government formed a private company, the Sydney Motorway Corporation to run the project. The Sydney Motorway Corporation has just two shareholders – the Treasurer and Minister for Transport.

Why? So that the project is exempt from freedom of information laws in NSW.

The Government refuses to disclose how much the CEO of the Sydney Motorway is paid.

Albert Tibby Cotter Bridge is a smaller, but equally telling example of the government’s irresponsible approach to infrastructure. The bridge takes up precious public parkland and involved no public consultation.

It never went to tender. It doesn’t link up with existing pathways and is hundreds of metres away from the most common walking route between Central Station and the SCG.

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When the NSW Auditor General ultimately accessed the business case, he found that the NSW government could have saved up to $25 million on the cost of the $38 million walkway had it followed different procurement processes.

The Auditor General’s assessment was that there was no “compelling economic or financial argument to support the construction of the walkway.”

The government’s motivation behind building the bridge was to expand the stadium into Moore Park and to put a car park in Moore Park West. The Bridge was the down-payment on that deal.

The Baird government is all about property play.

The Sirius building at the Rocks was purpose built in 1979 and home to about 200 elderly public housing tenants. Most have been evicted.

The NSW Government has been arguing with the Heritage Council that a heritage listing on the building would cause “undue financial hardship to the owner” – the owner being the Baird Government!

This Government’s treatment of those residents is an appalling indictment.  Public housing tenants in areas with high property values should be justifiably afraid of this Premier.

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The heart of Sydney should be home to the well-to-do and the working class, and we are all poorer when decisions are made solely on economic grounds.

New infrastructure must increase a city’s productivity and improve lives. It should propel us towards a future vision whilst honoring its history, its diverse demographic  and its natural environment.

Look at the The McKell Government’s Cumberland Plan to manage Sydney’s growth or The Wran Government’s re-imagining of Darling Harbor.

Public consultation ensures that important decision about how our city functions and what our city looks like, are arrived at in a democratic matter.

Public consultation also functions to protect decision makers, a fact to which Mike Baird, through ignorance or arrogance, seems oblivious.

When the holes of poor infrastructure decisions start to appear, as they most evidently are, and the alarming lack of public consultation comes to light, as it is, it is the Baird government who must cop the fallout.

Michael Daley MP is the Member for Maroubra in the NSW Parliament and Shadow Treasurer of NSW