Like many folks living in Sydney I suspect, I am not sure quite what to think about the Iemma Government’s grand metro proposal. Let’s consider the negative aspects to the proposal to begin with. The current government’s record on delivering successful PPP agreements is less than stellar. The project would be a massive one, taking a significant amount of time to complete, and highly likely to require the involvement and support of multiple governments. The project would represent a highly significant infrastructure investment specific to the Sydney metropolitan area, and would not really benefit all those people in New South Wales living outside this area. It is not clear what the benefits and negative impacts of the project to the city of Sydney would be precisely, in the absence of any detailed inquiry commissioned by the government. When you combine all these factors and consider them together, it would be a brave soul who does not have a doubt in his or her mind that a project of this magnitude can be carried off.
But then let’s consider the flip side of the coin. The proposed metro line would open up a fantastic and much needed transport option for Sydney’s burgeoning north-west suburban zones. The suburbs through which the metro lines pass would likely undergo something of a rejuvenation, with residential and commercial interest increasing, and traffic decreasing due to the increased use of public transport. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who values public transport and appreciates the potential economic, cultural and environmental benefits that it can bring can not help but feel a little excited about the proposal, whatever their doubts might be. The transformative possibilities that a big public infrastructure development like this would bring to Sydney are arguably hard to overestimate.
Few policy proposals in the modern history of NSW state politics come burdened with so much doubt and yet uplifted with so much hope. On the slightly sceptical side, Scott Rochfort had quite a good piece in the SMH yesterday that took an interesting line on the Iemma Government’s recent track record with PPPs. This line in particular captures something quite important, I think, and something the NSW Opposition would be on to in a hurry if they were smart:
Mr Roozendaal should realise PPP stands for private public partnership. Mr Roozendaal, like his private partners, should “accept the risk” of the road, whose opening was delayed until a week after the last state election.
When two people enter into a “partnership” they usually both take responsibility if a joint venture fails to deliver. The Government so far only appears to know the concept of taking credit for infrastructure projects that have not made it off the drawing board. Such as the new $12 billion metro.
The NSW State Government has played a generally quite adversarial role in the public eye in relation to its PPPs; more than happy to portray its private partners as the “bad guys” trying to make a buck at the taxpayer’s expense. Perhaps with this massive infrastructure project now on the table for discussion, it is time to take stock and repent for the sins of the past. Minister for Roads Eric Roozendaal should admit what is bleedingly obvious to everyone in NSW; the recent PPP agreements for the Cross City Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel were far short of optimal for the people of Sydney. The government should come out, and publicly admit that it should have done better. And most importantly, the government should then make it crystal clear that it will do a far superior job with this next proposal, and outline exactly how it intends to deliver on that promise.
This sort of openness and transparency is just what the Iemma Government needs at the moment if it is to bring the people of NSW along for the ride on this ostentatious metro scheme. Without public support for the proposal and a reason to have a renewed sense of faith in NSW Labor, there is no credible way forward for the government. Indeed, without the justified confidence of the people, the average punter is more likely than not to inform Mr. Iemma and Mr. Roozendaal at the next available opportunity that based on the current form guide, they’re dreamin’ with this metro stuff.