After 13 years in office, the modus operandi of the Labor Government in NSW is now well established: when in trouble, create a diversion; when in dire trouble create a front-page fantasy.
In accordance with this well-tried and tested strategy, Premier Morris Iemma and his deputy dog, Transport Minister John Watkins, have unveiled in today’s Sydney media a $12 billion metro scheme to deliver driverless all-day train services in a 38km underground railtrack from St James station in the city to Rouse Hill in the noth-west.
All by 2017.
The announcement came on the day that the Australian Stock Exchange was informed that key stakeholders in another government project, the Lane Cove Tunnel, were making painful writedowns on their investment.
It carried a sobering message for the infrastructure industry and the financial institutions who have been encouraged into NSW projects: this bunch of amateurs, who also brought you the Cross City Tunnel fiasco, is hopeless to do business with.
Here’s another smaller but no less striking example. In mid-October last year Iemma and Watkins announced they were awarding a $10 million contract to Boston Consulting Group to conduct a survey of customer services on the city’s rail network.
As shadow transport minister Gladys Berejiklian noted at the time: “If they don’t know how bad the service is after this length of time in government, they’ll never know.”
The announcement was made just as parliament was resuming and when the government was caught in its usual imbroglio of negative media coverage. It was timed as a “good news” story and to be a circuit-breaker.
But why was Boston Consulting Group being asked to conduct a survey when the government’s own Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator and the NSW Auditor-General had – only a few months earlier – provided more than adequate research on late, delayed and cancelled trains and chaotic timetables?
The media was informed that the BCG report would be completed in three months but, here we are in mid-March, and there has been no sign of a report or any update on its progress.
Berejiklian has branded the exercise “a waste of public money” and believes that the overall cost will be more than $10 million when the final bill comes in. Other critics have asked Transport Minister Watkins for assurances about the tendering process and whether the government fulfilled all its obligations in awarding the contract.
One correspondent has told Crikey that so far he has only received evasive answers from the government on this point. Seems like a case for a full Freedom of Information search!
BCG has behaved impeccably and its final report will review CityRail’s on-time running, cleanliness, and overall customer performance. Let’s hope that it is made public soon and remains unedited.
After all, the public is entitled to know how its $10 million was spent, especially as commuters already knew how dreadful the service was and that increased funding and properly trained staffing would fix it.