Senate debates

Monday, 15 March 2010


Greater Western Sydney

10:00 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for COAG and Modernising the Federation) Share this | | Hansard source

Greater Western Sydney is a broad community of about 1.85 million people and growing in a society that has been described as the most multicultural on earth, with one in two residents being either first- or second-generation migrants. In its diversity, it is a microcosm of young, modern, multicultural and aspirational Australia with the strong traditions of Western Sydney history. It is an area of ever-growing prosperity and business strength and, as a region, it ranks behind the Sydney CBD and South-East Queensland as the third largest in Australia by economic output, which is estimated at $80 billion per annum. So, it is rightly seen as a great place to live—to live affordably and to enjoy all that the west has to offer.

However, it would be remiss of me in making any observations about this part of New South Wales to not also say that it faces its own challenges, not the least of which come from Labor state and federal governments that are all too willing to take Western Sydney for granted. Among a litany of examples—and I acknowledge that it is very difficult to choose one in particular—I think the most glaring failure of public policy in Western Sydney is probably in the area of transport. You only have to try to catch a train from Penrith or Parramatta station or sit in a car on the M4 on a weekday morning to get a firsthand look at the culmination of 15 years of state government inertia when it comes to transport policy in my state. It is a government that has set the standard for failing to deliver on promises, although the current federal government is giving it a run for its money.

Let us start with the Parramatta-Epping rail link announced in 1998 for completion in 2006. We are still waiting for the first sod to be turned, and will wait a lot longer yet, having learned recently that the project start date has been deferred until at least 2020. What about the north-west rail link, originally announced in 1998 for completion in 2010, then pushed back to 2017, then scrapped? Now, it is back on the agenda. However, construction will not even begin until 2017—almost 20 years after it was originally promised. The south-west rail link is a project that has been announced a staggering nine times by four Labor premiers—a veritable panoply of premiers: Mr Carr and Mr Iemma in the old school, Mr Rees and Ms Keneally in the new school. Will the residents of places like Edmondson Park and Leppington be ninth-time lucky and finally get the rail line they have been promised so many times? Given Labor’s track record—no pun intended—I do not think the people of Western Sydney should count on rail infrastructure ever being completed under this government. Why would you trust them?

This government, over 15 years, has made at least five major rail announcements and wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on preliminary work committing to hundreds of kilometres of new tracks in Western Sydney. And what have they delivered? Not a single metre, let alone kilometre, of new track. Between them, the state and federal Labor governments now want to build new cities of 300,000 people each on either side of the west. This is important growth for Australia and important growth for Sydney. Good on them; go ahead. But for goodness’ sake, plan for it. Plan for the infrastructure now, and plan for it properly. Commuters in Western Sydney have ample time to ponder their taken-for-granted fate as they wait for their invariably late or cancelled bus or train that just does not arrive. Not that those commuters can rely on the federal government for assistance either: unfortunately, of the $1.1 billion in federal government stimulus money for rail projects, not one single, solitary cent was spent on rail improvements in Western Sydney. Of the $860 million in stimulus money for road projects, less than $1 million was spent on major highway and freeway projects in Western Sydney.

But back to our state trials and tribulations: what is the New South Wales state government’s latest plan? The government is going to make track modifications to the Western Line to enable a so-called Western Express service. You could not be blamed for having a sense of deja vu at this point. What about the Western FastRail? Don’t be confused here between the Western Express service and the Western FastRail. The Western FastRail was proposed a few years ago. It was an ambitious project to construct a high-speed rail line linking Penrith to the CBD in 28 minutes. It had the backing of the then Treasurer, Michael Costa. The Prime Minister pledged, from opposition, to help fund the project in government. I hope nobody is holding their breath. Of course, just like every other rail proposal in Sydney in the past 15 years, the Western FastRail failed to arrive.

There are certain eerie similarities between the Western FastRail concept and the new Western Express service, not least of which are their similar sounding names and significant price tags—I think $4.5 billion for the Western Express—and the remote prospect of any of them being delivered by state Labor. The key difference though is that, despite its name, the Western Express is not very express. In fact, Cobb & Co. might be a better option. This government in New South Wales is apparently going to spend $4.5 billion on a project that will deliver a five-minute saving on trips between Penrith and Parramatta and a nine-minute saving on trips between Penrith and the CBD. At over $4.5 billion, that is a cost of about $25,000 for every man, woman and child in the Penrith local government area for that nine minutes. It just isn’t good enough. It is not good enough in transport, and it is not good enough in health.

With this region enjoying the sort of robust population growth that others would envy, you might have expected to see some expansion of the provision of health services in the area. Instead, we have seen precisely the opposite and, in that process, a complete failure to support the dedicated and professional medical staff across the region who give their all every day. We see bed closures in the paediatric unit and restrictions on elective surgery at Nepean Hospital in Penrith. We see the scaling down of emergency procedures at Mt Druitt Hospital in Western Sydney. In the St Marys-Mt Druitt Star last week a senior doctor advised that:

The area health service hasn't listened to the doctors and nurses, who have no confidence in the new system.

The senior doctor went on to describe the paediatrics situation as:

… a fiasco, where a child presented to Mt Druitt Hospital who needs after-hours emergency surgery is transferred to Blacktown and then returned to Mt Druitt to recover because Blacktown doesn't have a paediatric ward.

We have also seen the closure of the maternity ward at the Blue Mountains Hospital and the diversion of major trauma patients from Nepean Hospital to Westmead. Westmead, notwithstanding the extraordinary dedication of its staff, is a hospital with one of the worst records in the state for patient admission times. The Sydney Area West Health Service experienced a funding shortfall of over $60 million. They cannot even perform basic responsibilities like paying suppliers on time as a result of that. That says to me that the consequences of this state government’s inaction is that they have given up on providing satisfactory health outcomes for residents of Western Sydney.

Where is the federal government? We have seen the grandstanding of the last few weeks, where cooperative federalism has degenerated to a point in New South Wales where the Premier of New South Wales, Kristina Keneally, is forced to leak her own correspondence to the Prime Minister to gain political traction. How is that cooperative federalism? On what planet is that defined as cooperative? And what has actually happened about health services in the region? Have a close look at the GP superclinics promise which the now Prime Minister had as a much vaunted policy at the last election, they were going to be built all across Australia. Not one GP super clinic is being constructed in the Sydney metropolitan region. In a state which has the dire health services that New South Wales experiences that is absolutely phenomenal and in fact would devastate most people if they actually sat down and thought about it, I suspect.

When the last set of health announcements were made by the Prime Minister, one of the local papers in Parramatta was at Westmead Hospital with the member for Parramatta as she tried to explain the policy, I am sure to the best of her ability given the information available, to patients and staff. Even then she was unable to give a straight answer to even the most basic questions. One health reporter put it this way:

Asked what difference a health consumer going to a hospital like Westmead might expect to experience as a result of the changes, Ms Owens was unable to provide a lot of the detail.

Likewise, the staff who were there seeking answers did not get very many. We do not know how the local area health authorities or networks will be structured and people continue to ask questions, and not unreasonably. There is a litany of problems that arise out of the failures of state and federal Labor governments in Western Sydney to address the needs of residents genuinely and constructively.

I started tonight with transport. I have ended on health. There are many more issues to come.