Published on: November 2020
M5 East Motorway Toll
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
It being 4.00 p.m., private members' statements will be interrupted so that the House can consider the paper petition signed by 10,000 or more persons listed on the business paper, regarding the M5 East motorway toll, that was lodged by the member for Macquarie Fields. Before we commence the debate and for the benefit of the public listening online I take this opportunity to explain the process and rationale behind this unique debate. It is unique because it enables the public to directly bring their concerns to the attention of this House.
The intent of the procedure is that the petition debate will start with a speech from a member, which in most cases will be the member who lodged the petition, followed by up to four other members and a Minister in response. To conclude the debate the first speaker will speak in reply. After all members have spoken the House will vote on the question that the House take note of the petition. The question will in most cases be determined on the voice and be passed; however, if it is challenged by a member it may proceed to a division, where the bells are rung and members vote on the motion to take note of the petition by sitting on the appropriate sides of the House.
The question is that the House take note of the petition.
Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (16:01):
:50 It is my delight—indeed, it is my honour—to present this petition on behalf of fed‑up motorists from south‑west Sydney. The Liberal Government has had plenty of time to scrap the unfair toll on the M5 East. It has so far chosen not to do the right thing by motorists. Instead of asking for the M5 East toll to be axed, the best the members for East Hills, Holsworthy, Oatley and Camden could do for their communities was to repeat political spin which no one believes. They used filibusters in this House to avoid having to vote for motions which called on them to stand up for their communities and axe the tax that has come at the worst possible economic time.
The Liberal Government believes it is only a bunch of Labor MPs making a fuss about the issue. Well, it is wrong. Its arrogance has blinded it to the plight of motorists in south-west Sydney. More than 10,000 residents have signed this petition and many thousands more motorists want the new M5 East toll on an old, existing road gone. Some people who signed petition believe it is simply unfair to put a new toll on an old road. Some are sick of the Liberal Government selling out to big business like Transurban. A lot of people just want the toll gone so that they can avoid the unfair financial hardship. Take one of my constituents, for example. The new toll on the M5 has forced him to leave his job with Virgin Australia at Sydney Airport. He simply could not afford to keep his job and fork out the ridiculous amount of money to drive in the tunnels that he has been using for 20 years, which were built and paid for by a Labor Government.
My constituent believed he would work at Virgin Australia until retirement, but then the pandemic hit. My constituent was placed on the JobKeeper payment but his household bills did not just disappear. Council rates, home insurance, gas, electricity, groceries, water bills and credit cards still needed to be paid. Then the Liberal Government slugged him with a new tax on an old road that he has been driving for 20 years, which is nearly $7 each way and will increase with the consumer price index for many decades ahead. That is an absurd amount of money to pay for a road that has always been free. My constituent's household budget could not be stretched any further. He had no other choice but to take a redundancy. He told me:
If the M5 from King Georges Road to the airport had no charges—as it was previously since 2001—I still would have stayed at Virgin Australia. At the age of 59, my constituent has to start again, and everyone knows how hard it can be to find employment when you are a mature worker. Most people understand the upheaval that comes with redundancies and the nerves of finding and starting a new job. Add in the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic and my constituent is rightly feeling stressed and perhaps overwhelmed. That is all because this Liberal Government turned its back on motorists in south-west Sydney and introduced a new tax in the middle of a pandemic.
In his written response to this petition, the Minister was nothing short of callous. He trots out the same old spin: "Spend thousands of dollars on the new M5 East toll and we will give you a few hundred dollars back"— despite motorists still being well in the negative—and "Your travel times will be faster because of increased capacity." The truth is that the M5 East is still two lanes each way, as it has been for 20 years, so there is actually no increase in capacity. The claimed faster travel time is due to the fact that motorists are avoiding this new tax and clogging up local roads in nearby Rockdale, Kogarah and all the surrounding suburbs—but, hey, do not let the facts get in the way of good political spin.
The Minister failed to acknowledge the financial pain that this toll places on motorists. He failed to acknowledge that during a pandemic is the worst possible time for a new tax. He failed to correct the Liberal Government's mistake in imposing the M5 East toll. He claimed the toll reflected reduced travel times in the tunnels but there is a problem because there is no transparency on that issue. Transurban is not actually required to report travel time data as the Minister detailed in his response to my question on notice No. 3791. That is right, the Liberals want the public to believe they are trying to improve conditions for motorists but they will not reveal the data to back up their claims.
The tolling giant and the Liberal Government hide behind a smokescreen they call "reduced travel times and traffic volumes", but the smokescreen disappears under scrutiny. What is left is plain for everyone to see: a boardroom golden handshake deal between the Liberals and the corporates at the expense of our communities. The Liberal Government sold out motorists as part of its obsession with privatisation without caring about the financial consequences for them. Offloading WestConnex into private hands allowed Transurban to place a new toll on the M5 East as another source of revenue for no major expense. It was only able to do that because the Liberal Government let it. 
Ms FELICITY WILSON (North Shore) (16:07):
:03 I thank the member for Macquarie Fields for bringing this petition to the House today. I like him—and, significantly, I think his constituents do as well, as we see when he is re-elected time and time again. But being well meaning in representing his constituents does not make him accurate. It is particularly disappointing for the member for Macquarie Fields to be self‑righteous enough to complain about the M5 East toll. Think back to when those opposite were in government for 16 years. When they built the M5 East they slapped a toll on it. When they built the M5 they slapped a toll on it. When they built the M2 they slapped a toll on it. When they built the Lane Cove Tunnel they slapped a toll on it. When they built the Cross City Tunnel they slapped a toll on it—which was really good for patronage, wasn't it guys? When they built the left-hand turn onto Military Road in my electorate they slapped the world's largest toll per kilometre on it.
It concerns me that when those opposite are in government they say and do one thing—particularly in our electorates—but do not understand the economic necessity of utilising money to pay for additional infrastructure. That is not surprising because at the 2019 election—the member for Maroubra is not in the Chamber and neither is the member for Strathfield but we do have the member for Kogarah, who might have an opinion on the leadership of the Labor Party—those opposite thought they could represent the views of all people in New South Wales but failed significantly to understand the economic case, which was supported overwhelmingly by the people of New South Wales, for recycling assets, reinvesting in infrastructure and ensuring that we are funding the infrastructure our community needs.
It is appalling that during this pandemic, when we need every single job and every single piece of government-supported infrastructure we can get in order to put us in the best economic position possible as a State, those opposite once again do not care about COVID and the pandemic. They do not want to talk about jobs. They do not want to talk about the benefits of infrastructure. They want to complain about the funds that are necessary to build infrastructure. I am particularly disappointed. I reflect on a major piece of infrastructure in Sydney—I would have loved to hear the member for Macquarie Fields reflect on it also—which has had a toll on it since 1932. It is the Sydney Harbour Bridge—the big coathanger-shaped one. I am not sure whether those opposite drive across it. They are too busy putting tolls on our roads, not driving on them.
Thankfully, the people of New South Wales did not choose Labor in 2019. They chose the Berejiklian Government because they know we are the only ones who can invest in the infrastructure our communities need and that Labor would stop crucial infrastructure projects, which the revenue contributes to. At the 2019 election which projects did Labor not want to scrap? Those opposite wanted to scrap pretty much every project they possibly could. I thank the member for Macquarie Fields for at least raising the petition in his electorate, because the last time I spoke to a petition on infrastructure in this place it was from some eastern suburbs luvvies about a road in the northern suburbs that my community has called for since before I was born. I am glad that he is at least aiming to represent his community—even if he does not represent the interests of the State's coffers and our economic recovery from COVID-19.
I will tell the member for Macquarie Fields the true story of the M5 East. Since it was opened in 2001 it has been an essential part of the Sydney motorway network—thank you for that—and the main freight route between the airport, Port Botany and south-west Sydney. But because Labor failed to build the M5 East with enough capacity, motorists on the M5 East experienced heavy congestion for years. Labor did nothing about it. It is not possible to widen the M5 East tunnels safely and effectively due to the significant impact it would have on motorists—motorists coming from Labor electorates. Without the M8, by 2021 the average speed on the M5 East would have been 42 kilometres per hour. The M8 motorway therefore duplicates the M5 East corridor, halving travel times and doubling travel speeds.
We know that Sydney is the best city in the world to live in, and we are helping people get where they need to be sooner by delivering a record infrastructure build with an integrated transport network designed for the future. New tolls are only applied where users receive a direct benefit—there is a causal link. As has been outlined, journeys are faster and safer for motorists on the M5 East. It is disappointing that Labor is adopting the same old tactics of shutting down every infrastructure project it can get its hands on.
Mr CHRIS MINNS (Kogarah) (16:12):
:05 This is the great toll swindle on the working families of western Sydney. It is a tax on working families who are doing it tough—tougher than they have for 30 years. In fact, the Liberal Party likes toll roads so much it gave one of them an award: "The M8 has been awarded the 2020 NSW Premier's Award in the 'Strong Economy' category. The decision-making panel highlighted the project's significant contribution to stimulating the economy." Stimulating the economy they say—out of everybody's pockets, $20 for trucks and $7 for cars. Where is that money going? Half of it is off to Transurban and, after next Tuesday, all of it will be off to the private sector. Repeat after me: 100 per cent privately owned monopoly toll road. The Government promised at the last election it would not do that. Do not think that will not come up each and every day when we talk about the Government's economic legacy as everybody is trying to rebuild the economy after the COVID pandemic.
It has been a disgraceful effort by the New South Wales Government, not by the backbenchers who are in the Chamber today but by the New South Wales Treasurer and the transport Minister, who today cancelled a public transport project in western Sydney while talking up toll roads for western Sydney. There you go: The east gets public transport and the west gets toll roads and an inability to pay—$7 for cars, $20 for trucks and a 4 per cent increase each year, every year, for 20 years. I still have not heard the transport Minister say, "You know what, 4 per cent a year is too steep for working families. They can't afford it. " In fact, he went on Triple M Sydney, ABC Radio Sydney and 2GB and said, "Yeah, no, that is absolutely adequate." This is at precisely the same time as he is giving public servants a 1.3 per cent wage increase. So there is a 1.3 per cent increase for public servants but a 4 per cent increase for people who use toll roads on the M8 and the M5. If inflation increases then the toll will jump even higher to perhaps 5 per cent, 6 per cent or 7 per cent—we do not even know how high it could go. On 13 August I was amazed by what the transport Minister had to say on the Triple M Sydney morning show. Jess Eva said:
Andrew Constance I understand that — but yesterday we had to listen to a man who couldn't visit his mother more than once a week because he couldn't afford the tolls to go and see her. And that same man … Just wants to visit his mother.
The Minister for Transport and Roads responded:
I understand the cost of living measures — If people are struggling — they can contact Transurban.
He is telling people to give the toll road company a call! It as if he is saying, "I'm just the bloke who caused the mess, it's not my responsibility to fix it. Go and give Transurban a call." It is like giving your SP bookie a call and asking, "Can you let me off the debt, please?" What an absolute joke. At a time when unemployment is approaching double digits, we are in the deepest recession in 29 years and when families are desperately saying to Labor MPs and Liberal MPs that they cannot afford the toll, the transport Minister suggests giving Transurban a call, as if that is the solution!
I did not think that matters could get worse, but last week we found out that the Government will break its privatisation pledge to the people of New South Wales and privatise the rest of the toll road. The Treasurer said earlier, "Look, I need to privatise it, but we don't call it privatising. We call asset recycling, economic efficiency"—or some other crappy terms that mean privatisation.
Mr Jihad Dib:
The golden key.
Mr CHRIS MINNS:TheDaily Telegraph
Yes, the golden key to prosperity. On 26 September 2018 in , the headline read, "Dom's home truth. Treasurer says family comes first after seat swap furore". The article went on to read:
Under-siege Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has declared he is "no different" to any father trying to balance work and family life.
Other dads do not have chauffeur-driven government cars and do not earn $370,000 a year but they still pay the toll. The Treasurer says he cannot afford the tolls and needs to move closer to the city, but regular people in western Sydney have to pay full freight. That is the modern Liberal Party for you. At a time of hurt and struggle, they simply could not care less.
Mr ADAM CROUCH (Terrigal) (16:17):
:37 Good afternoon, members. It is lovely to be here.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
Order! Members will come to order. The member for Terrigal has only just begun speaking.
Mr ADAM CROUCH:
It is all right. Half the member for Kogarah's family live in my electorate, so it is okay. He is a happy boy, and so are all of his family. I acknowledge the member for Macquarie fields for bringing the petition to the House. It is important for the public to have their say through petitions like this. I acknowledge the member for Kogarah's contribution. The $4.3 billion WestConnex M8 opened on 5 July 2020. The new twin tunnels provide a continuous nine-kilometre journey between Kingsgrove and a new interchange at St Peters, which was built on the former Alexandria landfill site, representing a great use of landfill. The M8 means that motorists are able to travel from Beverly Hills to St Peters in around 10 minutes. Importantly, it is also providing relief for motorists who use the M5 East, which was notorious as one of the country's most congested roads.
We have put people's lives back together by giving them more time to spend with their families, and that is such an important thing. We are seeing similar benefits from NorthConnex for residents on the Central Coast who are saving up to half an hour on their journey times. NorthConnex offers the added advantage of choice, as people are still able to use Pennant Hills Road if they wish. The WestConnex M8 is a critical corridor for goods imported and exported from Port Botany and will be vital for tourists going to and from the airport post‑COVID. The M5 East, constructed under a Labor government, was not built to cope with the volume of traffic that would need to use the road. There was no futureproofing of the project. Prior to the construction of the M8, more than 120,000 trips were made on the M5 East. It had the slowest typical travel times of any motorway in Sydney. Before it opened, it took an average of an hour to drive between Liverpool and Sydney. I can travel from the Central Coast to Sydney faster than that. The reality is this Government has had to clean up the mess left as a result of Labor's short-sightedness. There was no futureproofing of the road projects that previous Labor governments commissioned.
Mr Jihad Dib:
Thank you, but that is a tired argument.
Mr ADAM CROUCH:
We like you too and we hope that you come back. We are backing the member for Lakemba—it is all good. Labor failed to adequately invest in future infrastructure. We have seen this on the Central Coast, where we have been shortchanged for years. We were promised road after road and nothing ever happened, but this Government has delivered the NorthConnex, the M1 upgrade and all the roads that were never delivered under Labor. Most people on the Central Coast are happy to use NorthConnex, but if they do not want to then they can use Pennant Hills Road.
The M8 tunnel has two lanes in each direction with capacity for a third lane to cater for future demand. That is an idea that was foreign to previous Labor governments. This Government has futureproofed the M8 tunnel, which is the longest underground road tunnel in the country, to the benefit of thousands of people who get as much as half an hour back in their daily lives. The M8 is also helping to ease congestion on the M5 East, saving drivers up to 30 minutes on journeys between Liverpool and the city. You cannot put a value on being able to spend an extra 30 minutes with your family every day. The WestConnex M8, the final stage of the WestConnex known as the M4-M5 Link Tunnels project, and the M6 extension known as the Sydney Gateway are amazing projects.
Following the delivery of the M8, a distance-based toll now applies to the existing M5 East. The minimum toll for cars is $3.04, which is less than the cost of a cup of coffee, and the maximum is $6.95. This change was announced in 2015 as part of the planning and community engagement of this vital $4.3 billion project. Transport for NSW worked with the WestConnex and Transurban to prepare road users, the community and stakeholders for the opening of the M8. This included providing information about tolling on the M8 and the M5 East. In the lead-up to the opening of the M8, stakeholder briefings that advertised a range of online and social media information were made available, just as the Government did with NorthConnex. That gave people the chance to have a look online to make an informed decision about what they wanted to do. That has been the big difference between this Government and former Labor governments—we give people the choice so that they can decide what they want to do. This is what we have done with the wonderful NorthConnex, which is a multibillion‑dollar project that is saving time in people's everyday lives.
Ms LIESL TESCH (Gosford) (16:22):
:41 I congratulate the member for Macquarie Fields on bringing this very important petition to the House today. I say to the 10,000 signatories of the petition that there will be many more to come. I recognise that many of them are from the Central Coast and they signed the petition because they have realised that they are being smashed by the cost of NorthConnex.
Mr Adam Crouch:
That is complete rubbish. They have a choice and you know it.
Ms LIESL TESCH:
I note that the member for Terrigal does not get many complaints about the toll because his constituents know that they will fall on deaf ears—like a lot of complaints that are made to him. Instead they come to me complain about this situation because they know that I will do something about it for the Coasties. The people of the Central Coast, especially small business workers and those involved in goods transport, cannot choose to use NorthConnex and they know that they are going to be smashed by its toll. Truck drivers will be fined $190 if they do not pay the $24 toll but use Pennant Hills Road instead. That equates to $500 a week for small business owners on the Central Coast who have no choice but to use the road. These are the people whom the toll will really hurt. This Government says that they are looking after small business owners in our local community, but they are being smashed.
Central Coast residents who are faced with paying $7.99 each way, or $80 a week, to get to work in Sydney faster have been contacting my office. Peter is a young man who wants to use the tollway to get to work but cannot afford it. He has tried it out. He would have preferred a trial time but, no, that was voted down by the Government. Rodney is a real estate agent in Liverpool. On the first day the tollway opened he rang my office and blasted my staff about the cost. It is an absolute disgrace. Everyone who signed the petition is sending a message from the people of New South Wales to the Parliament. I used to live in western Sydney and the reintroduction of the toll out there is an attack on the people of our State. It is not reinvesting; it is making the people of this State pay a private provider to use the roads.
It is a systematic problem: The Government privatises our roads and collects tolls on behalf of private corporations. Imagine what we could do if that money was returned to the State's coffers—and the pockets of the people of New South Wales—to reinvest in infrastructure. Several constituents from the Transport Workers Union met with us in Wyong and said people will lose their business as a result of the toll.
Mr Adam Crouch:
Ms LIESL TESCH:
I will talk to you after this. I do not have their names with me. People will be forced onto this road who cannot afford to use it, at a cost of $500 a week for their businesses. I bring to the attention of the House the cost of the tollway and the pressure from the Government to send people back to work in the city. The Government is pushing people onto the tollway so it can pay its real estate friends in the city and the toll operators when people on the Central Coast would prefer to work from home. There is huge support for the work from home movement yet the Government is pushing people back to work in the city and forcing them onto roads at additional cost. I point out to people across the Central Coast the increase the Government has put in place for toll roads. People do not realise there will be a 4 per cent increase every single year. That is a massive cost—and it is coming. There are pay cuts for frontline workers across the Central Coast.
Mr Adam Crouch:
That's not true—same old, same old.
Ms LIESL TESCH:
I hope the member for Terrigal starts to listen to the people of the Central Coast. I get sad when residents of caravan parks contact me and say they cannot make ends meet.
Mr Adam Crouch:
We get your people ringing us every day because you don't look after them.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER:
The member for Gosford will direct her comments through the Chair.
Ms LIESL TESCH:
The member for Terrigal needs to listen to the people of the Central Coast. This cost is ridiculous for commuters who want to work in the city but do not want to pay the $7.91 a day, $80 a week, just to get to their workplace. We are coasties. We spend four to six hours a week travelling, and adding an extra $80 cost every week is not fair to coasties.
Ms ELENI PETINOS (Miranda) (16:27):
:38 The New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government is proud to deliver the new $4.3 billion M8, which is making journeys on the M5 East faster and safer. We all know how clogged with vehicles the M5 East was for many years. One incident could bring the entire corridor to a standstill. Transport for NSW predicted that by 2021 without the M8 there would be 108 motor vehicle crashes a year on the M5 East—about one every three days. The M8 has doubled the capacity of the existing M5 corridor. Following the opening of the M8, Transport for NSW is monitoring traffic and heavy vehicles on local roads. Transport for NSW will also prepare a road network performance review plan within the next 12 months to examine traffic and identify potential mitigations required on the road network as a result of the M8 being operational.
While motorists on both the M8 and M5 benefit from faster and safer journeys, the New South Wales Government understands cost pressures on families and is providing relief for those motorists who are frequent toll users. These measures are: one free 12-month vehicle registration to drivers who have spent $1,352 or more on tolls in the previous financial year, which is an average of $26 per week; and half-price registration for drivers who have spent $811 or more on tolls in the previous financial year, which is an average of $16 a week. The M5 South‑West Cashback Scheme also remains in place for motorists using the M5 South-West. Eligible motorists can choose to claim cash back for these tolls or, alternatively, claim toll relief. Additionally, the New South Wales Government offers a raft of cost-of-living support measures and rebates with information available on the Service NSW website, which I encourage those opposite to direct their constituents to.
The New South Wales Government has a $57.5 billion investment program generating thousands of jobs. Toll roads are part of the transport network because they enable infrastructure to be delivered years earlier than would otherwise be possible, allowing people in the freight industry to experience benefits sooner. The Government has already delivered the new M4, the M8 and NorthConnex, all of which are saving people time on their journeys. In September the Premier and Minister for Transport and Roads marked the halfway point in tunnelling for the M4-M5 link tunnels, part of the third and final stage of WestConnex. When these tunnels and the Rozelle Interchange are complete in 2023, motorists will experience the full benefits of WestConnex. Importantly, we are also building toll-free roads and more public transport as part of an integrated transport plan to make journeys faster, safer and more convenient. This includes investing billions of dollars in Sydney Metro City & Southwest, Sydney Metro West and Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport. The Government has a proven track record of delivering major infrastructure that saves people time and makes a real difference to people's lives.
Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (16:30):Weekend at Bernie's
:46 In reply: I thank members representing the electorates of Kogarah, Gosford, North Shore, Terrigal and Miranda for their valuable contributions. I note that the member for Camden is in the Chamber. I thought he was a mannequin, because he has not said anything. Somebody move his arms. It is here, colleagues. One would think he would take this opportunity to speak up for his community. But what do we hear? There is nothing at all; total silence. I am amazed that the first two speakers in this important debate were the member for North Shore and the member for Terrigal, who would not even know where the M5 East is. They would never have paid to use it. The Government says that petitions should be heard—the voice of the community should be heard—in this place. Yet it does not listen, it does not care and it does not change its ways. It says it understands the financial impact but does nothing.
What does it say about this Liberal Government that it places this financial impact on people in south-west Sydney? The toll is $6.95 each way, increasing by 4 per cent every year for decades to come. It is a lot of money for a lot of families. Yet the Government does not care. One would have thought the Minister for Transport and Roads would be here to contest this issue, given it is so important. But he sends members who have probably never travelled on the M5 East or paid the toll. The only time they use the road is probably on their way to the snow. It is just not fair. It says that this Liberal Government does not listen to the people in south-west Sydney and it does not care. It is unacceptable. The M5 East toll is a new tax on an old road that has been free for 20 years.