The NSW government have decided to add insult to the injury that was the failed CBD Metro by refusing to release 45 boxes of documents relating to land acquisitions and planning decisions carried out for the project. After wasting half a billion dollars of taxpayers money on the cancelled project the government are trying to hide behind spurious claims of “commercial in-confidence” to avoid further embarrassment.
My Greens colleague in state Parliament Lee Rhiannon has been pursuing the government over this matter and recently former Chief Justice Sir Laurence Street, the independent legal arbiter appointed to determine this matter, issued a report supporting her position. The report concludes that the majority of the documents the government wishes to keep secret either contain no information that needs to be legally privileged or can be easily edited to remove confidential information such as contact details of individuals or financial information about private businesses.
Justice Street’s conclusion leads me to wonder what the government is so keen to hide in these documents. I suspect that they want to avoid embarrassment over a poorly structured planning process that worked in reverse of the way these things should. Rather than plan a Metro because they had carried out a thorough investigation of transport problems in the area and found this to be the best solution they simply determined that they wanted a Metro and then went about trying to find justifications for the decision.
In the end the government was unable to find the justification it needed for its Metro plan and was forced to scrap it, but not until it had wasted hundreds of millions on planning, publicity and administration. Even the communities that might have gained some small benefit out of it realised that spending $5.3 billion on a disconnected 7km dead-end rail line in inner Sydney was an appalling waste of money. It was enough money to fully fund heavy rail connections to the north-west and south west of Sydney that would have made a vastly larger contribution to improving transport across the greater metropolitan area. Plus the leftover funds would have built a significant light rail system in the City and the Inner West
It will also be interesting to see what these documents tell us about the persistent rumour of a secret deal between the State Government and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. While I have seen no evidence of a deal as such I was disappointed, along with many other members of the community, at the Lord Mayor’s reluctance to give the Metro the criticism it was due. Perhaps she was simply so dazzled by her desire for the upgrades of Town Hall Square that would have accompanied the Metro that she was unable to see how flawed the project as a whole was.
Whatever the case may be, it is now incumbent upon the government to take the advice of the independent arbiter and release the majority of the documents on the CBD Metro. In the interests of maintaining a transparent democracy and learning from this costly mistake – which cost taxpayers half a billion dollars yet produced no tangible outcomes – I very much look forward to these papers seeing the light of day.
Image of the Montreal Metro by Denis Jacquerye, use authorised under Creative Commons. While this image is indicative of what a Metro looks like, the CBD Metro would have never seen such a high level of patronage. For further information on the campaign by Lee Rhiannon to have these documents released see her letter to the Clerk of the NSW Legislative Assembly requesting they be released as well as Justice Streets report.