The Federal Election campaign raised the spectre of “Western Sydney” repeatedly – that people out in these suburbs have a morbid fear of mortgage rate rises, electricity bill rises and asylum seekers. That was the way we were reported – and that theme is being repeated in the current election campaign. “Western Sydney” is an amorphous, vaguely stupid lump. It isn’t. And yes, while there is concern about cost of living, there is one issue that gets people out here more riled up than most – transport. It is the number one issue out here – and, I believe, causes the concerns about issues like that of asylum seekers, simply because many successful migrants add to the pressures brought to bear to the infrastructure. The infrastructure run down by successive Sydney governments that have very few clues about places west of Parramatta.
I grew up in Greystanes, about 15 minutes west of Parramatta. We were next to a vast corridor of land that was supposed to be the M4, but lay fallow for more than 20 years – thanks to Robert Askin, then Neville Wran not doing anything about it. We moved away from there long before it took Nick Greiner’s ascendancy to have the idea of initiating a public-private partnership to build the missing link and charge a toll for it. The same went for the M5 and the M2 – all expensive alternatives to boosting railway lines and public transport spending.
Those three morning carparks stand as monuments to Liberal Party blinkered thinking about motorways, not developing the railway system. The M2, in particular, was a spectacularly absurd deal, in that it prevented heavy rail being built as “opposition” for many years. This is why I laugh when I hear about Barry O’Farrell now promising the North Western Heavy Rail.
Not that the ALP was any better. In the years after Bob Carr’s elevation to the job of Premier, the only change that occurred to Penrith / Blue Mountains train services was that they got slower, in order to fit “on time running” figures. We, in reality, saw very little impact from Carr’s time, except that we saw the Olympics being run, our debt being paid off and poker machine revenues rising. I also went to his attempt to make Sydney more European – his “Museums at Night” folly – which required a rush to the last train out of Sydney in order to get home. Otherwise, however, the train carriages were largely the same ones as were built in the 70s and the M4 toll was removed. That’s about it. No public bus services (except the TWay from Parramatta to Liverpool), little consideration of how to get around the suburbs that added their stamp duty to Michael Egan’s bottom line. All we have got are the occasional Metrobus – buses, buses, buses. It is a repeating refrain from a government to whom light rail and new heavy rail has been like garlic to a vampire. Not often enough, slow during peak times.
It’s hard to see the new lot being any better, in terms of getting new trains, duplicating the western line, duplicating the Richmond line and those other desperately needed works. It is even less likely that we will see any forward infrastructure planning to ameliorate the expansion of the western urban sprawl favoured by O’Farrell. After all, people in his area don’t want high rise apartments near train stations and public bus stops – so we will have the cop the new houses with just single lane roads to service them.
Perhaps if journalists saw the massive traffic queues, saw the pathetic public transport options here, they would understand it’s transport that is the big issue here – bigger than asylum seekers.