Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp has railed against the “state of secrecy” in NSW after being frustrated over his search for the truth about light rail costs.
Mr Crakanthorp hit a roadblock over two freedom of information requests he lodged with Transport for NSW.
One request was for “all emails and briefing notes” from Transport for NSW to the Transport Minister, along with documents, about “cost variations” for the Newcastle light rail project.
Transport for NSW estimated that this would take “120 staff hours” to complete.
Mr Crakanthorp said this “seems excessive”.
“They began building it last year and since then there have been changes to the costs estimated at the beginning,” he said.
The MP’s second request was for information about the cost of consultants for Newcastle light rail, the interchange at Wickham, truncation and redevelopment of the old rail line and The Store site in Newcastle West.
As part of this request, he asked for the names of the consultants and the reasons they were engaged.
Transport for NSW estimated that this would take “100 staff hours” to complete.
Mr Crakanthorp said this estimate “does not appear to be correct to me”.
“Transport for NSW should simply be able to extract the specific details from the awarded contracts. Why will it take so long to find key documents on a project?”
Transport for NSW charges $30 an hour to process GIPA applications.
Mr Crakanthorp’s requests for information could theoretically cost $6600, but the department said processing fees had not been discussed.
A state agency can give a 50 per cent discount if the information provides a “special benefit to the public”.
However, an agency is not required to deal with an application if it would “require an unreasonable and substantial diversion of the agency’s resources”.
In the case of Mr Crakanthorp’s applications, the department asked that he consider amending their scope to “establish more reasonable terms of request”.
A Transport for NSW spokesperson highlighted “the broad nature” of the applications as a problem.
The department wanted the applications to be more specific, such as providing “a date range”, but Mr Crakanthorp was concerned this would lead to “critical documents” being excluded.
“It shouldn’t be this difficult to access information for taxpayer-funded projects,” he said.
“This goes to the state of secrecy the NSW Liberal government has created around major infrastructure projects across NSW.”
Mr Crakanthorp said the government was “making the information requests unaffordable and inconvenient so they don’t need to account for their actions”.
“The costs are prohibitive and the community has a right to scrutinise government expenditure of public funds,” he said.
“Taxpayers should be able to know what they are paying for without having to pay more money to access it.”
Meanwhile, Mr Crakanthorp questioned the government's $1.2 million advertising bill for the light rail project over the past two years, a figure he was able to obtain through a freedom-of- information request. He contrasted this with the lack of support for struggling traders.
He had asked the NSW Premier's office to consider light-rail compensation for three businesses, including Newcastle Diggers Club in Scott Street, but had been rebuffed.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on a visit to Newcastle in December that she would consider rent relief for businesses suffering a demonstrable negative impact, but she later backtracked to say compensation was not necessary in Newcastle.