TRANSPORT minister Andrew Constance has denied the government tried to avoid putting the proposed closure of Newcastle’s heavy rail line to Parliament by devising elaborate plans to transfer its ownership from one agency to another for $10.
During a budget estimates hearing on Tuesday, Mr Constance also failed to provide a requested estimate of the cost to reinstate trains on the deteriorating ‘truncated’ line because ‘‘we’re not going to do it’’.
The government ceased services on Boxing Day, but a last-minute Supreme Court challenge from Save Our Rail group thwarted its plans to also remove the tracks.
The group successfully argued the government had to abide by the Transport Administration Act, which required that track owner RailCorp had to have Parliament’s approval to close any rail line, including removing it.
The government had otherwise arranged for the Hunter Development Corporation to compulsorily acquire the corridor from RailCorp for $10, on advice that this would circumvent the statutory requirements.
The government has appealed the Supreme Court’s decision, and is awaiting a ruling from Court of Appeal.
Asked by Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi if the government was deliberately trying to get around the law by transfer of the corridor between the two agencies, Mr Constance took offence.
‘‘Are you seriously suggesting that we were seeking to breach the legislation– is that what you’re suggesting?’’ he said.
‘‘I’m asking a question, minister,’’ Dr Faruqi replied.
‘‘No- we’re getting on and revitalising Newcastle. The community is very excited about what we’re doing there. I’m bemused by the opposition to it from the Greens and the Labor Party,’’ Mr Constance said.
Mr Constance also would not speculate on the government’s next move if it lost the court appeal.
He said the city’s fare free bus zone would remain for now but could not guarantee it would continue with light rail in place.
Labor did not ask any questions about the issue.