COMMENT: Mehreen Faruqi argues Newcastle is the victim of failed privatisation experiment

'DISASTER': Handing services over to private operators is often touted as a fix-all solution, but has it been a success for Newcastle?
'DISASTER': Handing services over to private operators is often touted as a fix-all solution, but has it been a success for Newcastle?

THOUSANDS of Novocastrians relying on public transport to get to work, school and university on time have come face to face with the harsh reality of this ideologically-driven, privatisation-obsessed government.

Since privatisation in July 2017, the percentage of buses that started their journey on time declined from 95 per cent to just 79 per cent, and barely half of the buses are on time in the middle of their journey.

Just over a year ago, New South Wales’ Transport Minister made the shock announcement that the entire Newcastle public transport network including all buses, ferries and the future light rail would be privatised.

This kick in the guts came just after the Liberal-National government had ripped up the direct rail connection between the Newcastle and Sydney CBDs and replaced it with what could be the world’s shortest light rail line, at a princely sum of over $220 million per kilometre.

The then premier, Mike Baird, told the people of Newcastle that the private operator “will guarantee better and more frequent public transport options, giving Novocastrians the world-class transport they deserve”.

This week, we have learnt just how low an opinion of Newcastle the NSW government has.

I think the privatised bus services are a far cry from anything even remotely world-class.

The private operator has blamed Supercars, school formals and traffic congestion for their under-performance.

Surely, these are issues that bus operators routinely come across and plan for?

In reality, private operators have to contend with the same issues public operators do, but with the added onus of making profit.

Handing services over to private operators is often touted as a fix-all solution. The more complex truth, and one which this government is ignoring, is that privatisation is not a magic bullet that makes all problems disappear.

The plummeting on time performance of buses reveals the true nature of privatisation. Newcastle is a classic case study, an experiment straight out of the neo-liberal playbook.

Against the wishes of the community, the government ripped up a perfectly functional rail line adding chaos and congestion in the city.

They then carried out a wholesale privatisation of public transport under the guise of efficiency, but there is deathly silence when the private sector inevitably fails to deliver.

This was always a recipe for disaster. Privatisation will not rectify the incompetence and bad decisions of a government, only exacerbate them.

The whole mantra of efficiency as a justification of privatisation can be laid to rest for good.

The NSW Transport Minister is on the record saying that the state will not be in the provision of public transport in 10 to 15 years’ time. Newcastle was chosen as a test case for this agenda because the Liberals have no skin in the game, having been turfed out of the seats of Newcastle and Maitland at the last election.

It’s clear that this experiment has failed the people of Newcastle. It’s time to end this privatisation disaster before it gets any worse. The government must own up to its mistake and bring public transport back into public hands.

Dr Mehreen Faruqi is the Greens NSW spokesperson for transport


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