TRANSPORT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (PUBLIC TRANSPORT DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY) BILL 2011

I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Transport Legislation Amendment (Public Transport Development Authority) Bill 2011. I do so following on from several other speakers from the opposition and state that Labor does not oppose the bill; however, it has some serious concerns about its content. The shadow Minister for Public Transport has proposed some excellent and outstanding amendments, which we urge the government to take on board in order to ensure that the overblown rhetoric regarding this piece of legislation, both prior to the election and what we have just heard in this house, at least comes somewhere near the mark of being realised.

As we have heard from members of the government, it came to power on the back of a catchcry to ‘fix the problems and build the future’. Over the coming years we will see whether the implementation of another authority by basically moving some Lego pieces around will stand the test of time and be judged as fixing the problems and building the future.

We cannot wait to see the number of magical things this public transport body will apparently do, according to the many speakers on the government benches; we cannot wait to see this almost perfect transport system. We have heard there will be no train delays, a seamless coordination of all services and cleanliness of the highest order — an extraordinary list of things that will come from moving these Lego pieces around. We will see whether or not what is promised in this sort of overblown rhetoric, like so much of what this government does, comes to fruition or not.

What is clear is that this government made a very strong promise prior to the election that this body would be an independent body for the purposes of running, advocating for and planning the public transport network — a frank and fearless advocate, if you like, with a consumer focus. This is the promise that the Victorian people are entitled to expect to be delivered, and it is the test on which the government will be judged, but on the face of this legislation we can see that this is a test which it is clearly going to fail.

This authority was supposed to be a frank, fearless and independent advocate for the consumer and for public transport, independent of government. Yet in the legislation we see that the role of this authority is restricted to acting within the goals of the Department of Transport and its minister. If you are going to create a genuine advocate then that advocate needs to be free to advocate for whatever it believes is most appropriate and to take up the concerns of those it advocates for, whether or not this falls within the narrow scope of what the department or the minister may like the body to focus on. You certainly cannot create a free advocate if you so significantly constrain the scope of their advocacy.

The shadow Minister for Public Transport has proposed some very sensible amendments to address this particular issue. Amendment 1 proposes that the authority would act:

as an independent advocate and spokesperson for the public transport system, including advocating for a position which may not be in accordance with the government’s public transport policies or the department’s planning framework …

There is no point pretending you have an independent advocate for the consumer and the customer if they are so dramatically constrained. If the government is going to be true to its commitment and stand up to what it said in the public domain, we urge that it adopt that amendment.

Similarly, the legislation before the house allows the minister to intervene and give the authority direction as he sees fit. Hang on. The government is supposedly creating an independent authority but it is then able to intervene when it does not like that authority’s views? We now know what this government meant when it said it intended to ‘fix the problems’.

Ms Green — The fix is in!

Ms GARRETT — The fix is in! On its flagship policy on public transport, the fix is certainly in. Again we highlight the amendments that the opposition is proposing to ensure that the independence of the authority is absolutely protected. I go to amendment 5, which we say should be inserted to ensure that:

The Public Transport Development Authority is not subject to the direction or control of the minister in respect of the performance of its duties and functions and the exercise of its powers.

In a similar vein, if we are interested in openness and accountability, as this government led the Victorian people to believe it was prior to the election, then there should be requirements for regular surveying and reporting of the authority to be made public.

On any assessment this would seem to be the expectation of the community on the basis of the clear commitments put forward by the coalition prior to the election. I highlight to the house amendment 2 as proposed by the shadow minister, which provides:

The Public Transport Development Authority must publish any report provided to the minister under subsection (1)(k) on the Public Transport Development Authority’s internet website within 14 days of providing the report to the minister.

This would be openness and transparency. This would be in accordance with the commitments made. This would satisfy the test that the government set itself of creating a truly independent body that would act at arms length from government in the best interests of the public transport system and its users. We ask the government what on earth it has to be afraid of, and I think we know the answer.

We know that under this legislation the minister is able to intervene in the affairs of this authority at any time he chooses. We know that the authority is to be constrained by the goals of the department. It is not independent. This is just another layer of secrecy and another failure to provide transparency for what was promised.

The public transport system is a key area of service delivery to all Victorians, particularly in my electorate of Brunswick. Recent census data shows that nearly a quarter of the people in my electorate use public transport, which places it in the top three. What people in my electorate want to see are actual outcomes in public transport to continue the investment made by the previous government. We have major issues of overcrowding on our trams, including on routes 1, 8, 19, 55 and 96.

There are major problems with the train system and yet we have this policy, this flagship policy of this government, which is a moving around of the Lego pieces and the creation of another authority which was meant to be independent and which this legislation clearly shows will be anything but.

It is time that this government started to match some of its rhetoric prior to the election and to invest properly in the public transport system, not rip services out of the west, not commit repeatedly to feasibility studies that seem to go nowhere, not approach this policy with all of the nonsense and huff and puff that we have heard today about what a magic bullet and magic wand this transport authority will be when it is just a moving around of the Lego pieces. Supposedly it is creating a perfect system, yet where is the investment in that system? Where is the vision for transport? How is the government addressing the growth areas? Where is there an acknowledgement of the fact that Melbourne is the fastest growing city in Australia?

Where is the government’s approach to regional Victoria? Where is the response to all of these issues?

This government is letting the Victorian public down by creating smokescreens and mirrors, by serving up nonsense, by serving up what it says achieves the promises it made when it clearly does not; even on its own tests it does not. We call on the government to look at the amendments that have been circulated and at the very least to get the independence of this authority right. The government should deliver on what it has promised, and then, for heaven’s sake, government members should roll up their sleeves and start doing some genuine work to deliver real solutions and outcomes for a growing state.

Hansard, 2011