Building and maintaining transport infrastructure is of pivotal importance for the future prosperity of NSW. We had the chance to speak with Stephen Cartwright, CEO at the NSW Business Chamber about what projects need to be delivered in order to ensure economic growth and mobility in Australia’s premier state.
Q: A recent national survey conducted by the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at the University of Sydney characterises New South Wales as “the most pessimistic [state] in terms of sentiment towards transport in Australia in the next five years”. What impact does the lack of commitment to build transport infrastructure have on businesses in the premier state?
A: If you can’t move your goods and services, if your customers can’t access your business then business will move to a city in which you can – that is why transport is so vital to business and why it’s imperative that the NSW Government delivers on new transport infrastructure. The list of priority projects that Sydney and regional centres in NSW need are only getting longer, the more delays there are in rolling our a transport infrastructure program.
The Federal Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics has estimated avoidable transport congestion cost Sydney $3.5 billion in 2005 and will hit $7.8 billion in 2020 if nothing is done to alleviate it. Business owners will be the ones who will bear the brunt of those additional costs.
Public confidence in transport promises has been shot to pieces by successive transport commitments that have only been deferred or broken outright. NSW needs to move beyond the current malaise of its start-stop approach to planning and delivering transport infrastructure. A regular pipeline of projects will provide certainty not only to business, but also taxpayers and will encourage greater private sector investment in local skills.
We proposed as part of our “10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW” pre-election blueprint the creation of an independent infrastructure body called Infrastructure NSW to prioritise infrastructure projects and propose suitable funding models to deliver them. Business and the wider community want to get politics out of infrastructure decision making and we see Infrastructure NSW as the way of doing that.
We also put forward the need for a transport demand strategy. Part of the problem in Sydney is that our transport network is sufficient but it’s the peak hour demand that grinds the city to a halt. We are encouraging the government to look at measures that will spread peak hour demand and take pressure of the transport network. We can work more efficiently with our existing infrastructure if we can change some of our behavior through proposals such as variable tolling, off-peak discounts and changing school hour start times.
Q: With the Transport Blueprint for NSW the state government has released a plan to develop strategies and actions to address transport challenges for the period to 2036. In your opinion, what transport infrastructure issues need to be address most urgently?
A: The key issue for the NSW Government to address is to deliver on its promises. Plans and strategies are useful only to a point, if you can’t break ground, if you can’t build what needs to be built; it’s a complete waste of time producing these documents. We are suffering from planning exhaustion in NSW, There is an audible groan from the community when the government announces another plan, it’s not because they don’t want plans, it’s because there is no faith it will be carried out.
We put forward several priority areas that need to be addressed to solve our transport issues as part of our 10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW pre-election blueprint. We want a Transport Tsar to take control of the State’s 15 transport agencies, which has been achieved to a point by the new Transport NSW body; an integrated electronic ticketing system for public transport that will make it more attractive and easier to use; a transport demand strategy that changes behavior patterns and uses our existing infrastructure more efficiently; and an independent infrastructure body in the form of Infrastructure NSW to prioritise new infrastructure projects and propose funding models.
Q: Can transport infrastructure help boosting regional development?
A: Transport is as much a priority for regional areas in NSW as it is in the heart of Sydney. We’ve been developing localized versions of our 10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW campaign and those local ideas always contain transport, road, rail and air upgrades, as a priority for their regions.
NSW Business Chamber has been a strong campaigner on the need to upgrade the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway from Newcastle to the Queensland border. The Pacific Highway and its dangerous reputation acts as a handbrake on the economic development of regional communities along the route. The NSW Government pointed out the advantages of improving the Pacific Highway in a submission to Infrastructure Australia. Those benefits included reduced transit times for freight and passenger vehicles of 10 to 15% with a likely decrease in freight costs as a result and the improved safety record would boost the tourism economy in regional communities.
Good transport links allows businesses to locate in regional areas and still be able to access vital business infrastructure such as ports, airports and distribution centres. In turn, encouraging businesses to set up in regional centres increases the number of jobs and strengthens communities.
Q: What areas in NSW have the biggest potential for growth?
A: Every region has its strengths, whether its tourism, mining, professional services, agriculture or manufacturing. The role for government is to support regional centres to develop those strengths and create clusters of industries that work together.
We’d like to see a competitive approach in government support for regions. We proposed a $250 million Develop Regional NSW Fund as part of our 10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW to help businesses and/or government departments relocate or expand to regional areas. We’d like to see regional communities with business putting together a proposal to be awarded that funding. Those communities can put together a case of what that business or department would bring to the region; how many jobs will be created; economic contribution to the local economy; the potential for supporting businesses to locate their as well; to determine which region should get funding.
Q: What can delegates expect from your presentation at the 5th annual Lloyd’s List DCN NSW Transport Infrastructure Summit?
A: Discussion points will show how co-ordinated approaches of transport infrastructure across the State, will support the ability of all NSW businesses to grow and thrive. This means businesses will have easy access to transport infrastructure which enables goods and services to move around the State without impediment.
Future concepts, such as high speed rail, will also be raised, as an example of nationally critical projects which are necessary to keep the State moving. What will be shown is the ongoing need for business to be consulted at every step to ensure the best outcome.
Stephen Cartwright will be speaking at the upcoming 5th Annual NSW Transport Infrastructure Summit 2010 on the 15-16 November 2010 at the Sydney Harbour Marriott. Click here for more information.