Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Transport Administration Amendment (Authority to Close Railway Lines) Bill 2016

Railway Tracks

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [10.48 a.m.]: I support the Transport Administration Amendment (Authority to Close Railway Lines) Bill 2016. Once again, I have the pleasure to speak in favour of legislation that furthers the clear mandate given to this Government at the last election to provide abundant new infrastructure to the growing urban areas of our State. More than 100 years ago heavy rail was the epitome of modern infrastructure delivery, but it does not always represent optimal transport delivery in our modern cities. It is disappointing that a supposed modern person like the member for Sydney is so locked in the past.

The precursor to section 99A was first enacted in the Government Railways Act 1858. This legislation recognises that where other significant infrastructure warrants it, heavy rail can be closed in the public interest by authority of the Minister rather than the more cumbersome process of drafting special legislation to do so. This is a thoroughly modern Government, which refuses to be pigeonholed by the way things have been done in the distant past, especially if that will prevent government providing better services in the future for the people of New South Wales.

The bill's scope is limited. The constraints placed on the Minister's authority to issue an order to authorise a rail closure are significant to ensure that the focus is solely on enabling the development of State significant infrastructure within the State's urban areas. State significant infrastructure is defined in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and is described in detail in the State and Regional Development State Environmental Planning Policy 2011. These are significant projects, principally where the proponent is a public authority. A number of the largest and most significant transport projects are classified as being critical State significant infrastructure.

I again emphasise that the proposed ministerial power to make an order is strictly confined to infrastructure of importance to the State and cannot be used for other purposes. The proposed ministerial order cannot take effect until approval has been given for the carrying out of State significant infrastructure and it cannot be used for another purpose. Parliament's approval will still be required if a rail infrastructure owner wishes to close a railway for any other purpose. Such projects are subject to extensive environmental assessment and community consultation before approval can be given. The proposed ministerial order cannot be made until the infrastructure project is approved.

An additional limitation on the Minister's discretion is that the operation of the new provisions are confined to the greater metropolitan region, which includes the urban areas of greater Sydney, the lower Hunter, the Central Coast, Wollongong and the Illawarra. This means that the Minister cannot make an order to authorise a rail infrastructure owner to initiate acts that may constitute closure of a rural railway line, regardless of whether the closure relates to State significant infrastructure. The Parliament's approval will continue to be required before the closure of a rural railway line can be authorised.

I make it clear that this bill is about supporting our State by removing the current legal uncertainty that is putting the delivery of some of our most important transport projects at risk. The bill achieves this by providing a mechanism to resolve the current legal uncertainty and cumbersome restrictions on the State's most important transport infrastructure projects. Its scope is carefully limited and the reform will deliver tangible benefits for the New South Wales community with few risks. The bill will facilitate the delivery of better rail services. A good example is the Parramatta Light Rail, which will improve rail services between Westmead, Parramatta, Carlingford and Olympic Park. The only way to dispel the uncertainty that is putting the delivery of better infrastructure services at risk is to amend the Transport Administration Act.

Parliament should not have to specifically authorise the removal or reuse of derelict railway infrastructure where required for State significant infrastructure. That would be a waste of time and resources, including the time of members of Parliament. No doubt there will be a scare campaign mounted against this efficiency, but the reality is that this Government has a large agenda and we need to focus on the right things. It is important to emphasise that the amendments in this bill will not lead to a reduction in transport services because, before the Minister can exercise his power, a State significant piece of infrastructure must be put in place of the heavy rail. I highlight also that rural communities will be protected because the legislation is confined to the State's urban areas. In Western Sydney there are plans to convert some heavy rail tracks to light rail operations, which is the appropriate course of action.

Only the Baird Government would bring legislation such as this before the House. Labor is incapable of providing new infrastructure. It showed this during 16 years of neglect, stagnation and decomposition when it was in government. Only this Government seeks to pass legislation in this Parliament that will modernise and improve our State. The Government wants to transform our State, not halt it like the Australian Labor Party did. This is a sensible and considered reform. I urge members to support the bill.