Transport Administration Amendment (Authority to Close Railway Lines) Bill 2016
9th March 2016
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [12.20 p.m.]: The member for Riverstone started slow, hit his straps and then tapered off a bit at the end. I am not talking about the quality of his contribution; he was certainly on fire. It was great. I will make a few remarks on the Transport Administration Amendment (Authority to Close Railway Lines) Bill 2016. The object of the bill is to amend the Transport Administration Act 1988 to: first, authorise a rail infrastructure owner to close the railway line that runs from Balmain Road, Lilyfield, to Victoria Road, Rozelle, including that part of the railway line known as the Rozelle rail yards; and, secondly, enable the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure to authorise, by order published in the Government Gazette, a rail infrastructure owner to close any other railway line in the greater Sydney, Newcastle, Central Coast or Wollongong metropolitan region for the purposes of or in connection with development that is declared to be State significant infrastructure under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
The second part of the object particularly concerns me. I am not so concerned about the first part, although there are issues of merit in relation to the specifics. But we should be very concerned about the broad nature of the second part. I have listened to arguments on both sides of the debate and given particular consideration to the points raised by Government members, for obvious reasons. The arguments are, I believe, superficially appealing but I am not convinced that the broad power to close railway lines is either necessary for current proposals or good for future considerations.
The view put by Government members that existing legislative requirements for the closure of rail lines and reuse of those corridors are antiquated are somewhat ironic in that those checks and balances are placed in the hands of the Parliament, an institution that is inherently steeped in procedures, traditions and mechanisms that are inarguably in many ways antiquated. As a matter of fact, they were produced in days of yore—I am sure the member for Cootamundra will appreciate the days of yore. However, it is my view that at least some of the wisdom of our parliamentary predecessors remains current and that their emphasis on protecting rail and transport corridors for future generations is as important today as it was when legislated protections were first put in place.
It may be that this Government and this Minister do not want to close existing rail lines and turn the remaining corridors into freeways or large-scale development projects, but what about future governments and Ministers? The bill creates a mechanism that will allow that to happen. It will allow the Minister of the day or the government of the day to make that call without any checks and balances or the matter being discussed by the Parliament. I am also entirely certain that future governments may have a different definition of what constitutes State significant infrastructure [SSI]. The current Government has its own definition of SSI projects. Many of those projects differ significantly from the types of projects we saw defined as SSI by the previous Labor Government under part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
Indeed, the Government when in opposition railed against part 3A and successive Ministers' use or abuse of SSI—and rightly so. The abuse of such powers should not be forgotten, and yet the Government speakers on this bill have not cast forward to consider just who might apply these powers in future. It is not just about this Government, and it is certainly not my intention to make it about the current Minister; it should always be about the future. If nothing else, the Government should be concerned that it is creating an opportunity for a future dysfunctional government—and we do not have to go back too far to find one—to make capricious and poor decisions that extinguish opportunities for communities.
While I am very strongly opposed to the Government's bill, I wish to speak also about another bill that I thought was very well crafted. That specific example is in relation to the Newcastle rail corridor, which featured in many contributions made in the House today. I just cannot pass up the opportunity to place on record the hypocrisy of the Opposition, having refused to support the Newcastle Inner-City Rail Corridor Preservation Bill 2014, which is a bill I brought to this House in November that year which would have ensured the protection—
Mr John Robertson: Point of order: The member for Lake Macquarie has now clearly strayed from the leave of the bill. He indicated as much in his contribution by referring to "another bill" that was previously before this House. I ask that he be brought back to the leave of the bill and that his contribution relate to this debate.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Ms Melanie Gibbons): Order! The member for Lake Macquarie may be linking the two bills, but I ask him to return to the leave of the bill before the House.
Mr GREG PIPER: I will deal with the matter very briefly. I brought a bill to this House in November 2014 that would have ensured the protection of the corridor for a range of passive, cultural and recreational uses and future possible public transport uses. Indeed, the bill would have preserved the very opportunities for future public use that many of the Opposition members have used in their arguments against this legislation. Well, go figure. Clearly, from time to time the Government needs to take big decisions on matters that are core to its policies and responsibilities and that benefit the community.
In regard to such important corridors and opportunities that can never be replaced if lost, it would not seem unreasonable for the Government, in those circumstances, to prepare a holistic plan for the use of those corridors that is exposed to public scrutiny and that of the Parliament. The mechanisms that are in place now may be described as antiquated by some, but I believe they provide a relevant and important opportunity for applied democracy, a chance to expose such decisions to appropriate scrutiny. In my opinion, section 99A remains relevant, and I cannot support this legislation.
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