The laws by Shepherd, he shall not wantThe
AIMN is often criticised for its claim of being an independent
information alternative. I assume the criticism comes because most
articles and comments tend towards progressive social justice and
The definition of independent is “free from outside control; not
subject to another’s authority; not depending on another for livelihood
or subsistence.” I am not a member of any political organisation or
union. Nobody tells me what to write and nobody checks it before I
publish it. I am not paid to write. I therefore defend our claim to
independence, but cannot do the same for the head of our supposedly
independent Commission of Audit, Tony Shepherd.
As head of the Business Council of Australia, Shepherd advocates for
Australia’s 100 biggest companies, and was chairman of construction and
services giant Transfield Services until he quit in October after more
than a decade on the board.
Transfield has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in federal
government contracts in recent years, including reaping $180 million
from operating detention facilities on Nauru. In February we learned
that Transfield Services will be paid $1.22 billion by the Australia government to run both offshore detention centres
Mr Shepherd left with more than 200,000 Transfield shares, allocated
to his family superannuation fund, on top of his final salary of
Mr Shepherd’s Commission of Audit was tasked with looking at possible
cuts to the ABC and SBS. Considering he is an advocate for pay TV
providers in his position as chairman of the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association
(ASTRA), this is surely a huge conflict of interest. The group, whose
members include Telstra, Foxtel and ESPN, in January issued an
invitation to a party at Parliament House in Canberra.
”Tony Shepherd AO, chairman, ASTRA, invites you to join
the leaders and stars of Australian subscription television to celebrate
the quality, creativity and diversity of content watched by 7 million
Australians,” it said
Shepherd is also a director of the international arm of Virgin
Australia and heads the WestConnex Delivery Authority which will award
contracts to build the proposed Sydney toll road, co-funded by the
Abbott government. The WestConnex is at an early stage in Infrastructure
Australia’s four stage priority list. Its Benefit Cost Ratio is thought
by many observers to be negative.
In October last year, more than 100 people gathered at Leichhardt
Town Hall to hear public transport experts Michelle Zeibots and Gavin
Gatenby point out the many flaws in the shaky case for Australia’s most
expensive infrastructure project.
This led to Leichardt Council presenting a Notice of Motion stating
“The WestConnex is a very bad transport plan. In fact it
is not a transport plan at all it is just a very long, very expensive
private road. It will generated very high carbon emissions in both
construction and use and it will force people off public transport and
back into their cars.
It is also has a very bad urban development plan which has been conveniently linked to the private tollway plan.
It would appear that the government is somewhat opportunistically
seeking to imply that high rise development along the route of a private
tollway somehow equates with encouraging higher density development
near public transport hubs. There is no logic to this at all only a hungry grab for land for developers.
This is not the future that Leichhardt Council and her residents and
local businesses aspire to. The “WestConnex Revitalisation Land Use
Planning” , should it go ahead will destroy the Leichhardt we know and
It would be interesting to see who is buying up land in that area.
WestConnex is the biggest urban infrastructure project in the country
– with $3.3 billion of taxpayers’ money already committed to it – and
hardly anything is known about it.
Taxpayers do not know how many cars are expected to use this
motorway. They do not know its estimated impact on local roads. They are
yet to be told its precise route. They’re in the dark on construction
methods. Even the need for the WestConnex is not known.
WestConnex is really a connection of three motorway projects the NSW government says will cost about $11.5 billion together.
One of the three projects – the second to be built – will be another
M5 East tunnel in southern Sydney and a connecting road to Sydney
Airport. The state says it will be able to build this for $3.6 billion
to $3.8 billion, with construction starting in 2016 and finishing in
This forecast – presented with no justification to back it up – seems vastly underestimated.
When the former NSW Labor government appealed to the federal
government for funding for pretty much the same project in 2010, it put a
$4.5 billion price tag on it (with inflation, that would probably be
close to $6 billion by 2020). Even then the federal government’s advisor
Infrastructure Australia said the $4.5 billion figure was likely to be
So on what basis are Abbott and the NSW State government now so
confident that they can do the job for billions less than their
The public servant running the project to date, Paul Goldsmith, said
”When we started the business case, we recognised this as
a very difficult place to build a motorway. It’s a very expensive place
to build a motorway and this is why we developed a couple of industry
partners to have some input into developing solutions for that part of
WestConnex. We haven’t got a fixed solution but we have a whole bunch of
ideas and we’ve got some short-listed solutions to that area.”
In other words, the government is sure it can build this section of
motorway for $3.8 billion but it either does not know how or will not
Tony Shepherd’s board of businessmen should be providing the
workings, analysis and assumptions of WestConnex, in the same way they
would if governments proposed massively expensive new welfare,
disability, education or health programs.
Research shows us that in most industrialised cities, including
Sydney, car use is declining due to fuel prices and other living
pressures, while demand for public transport continues to grow. Sydney
is a model example of this shift. So while Prime Minister Tony Abbott
believes the ”humblest person is king in his own car”, the evidence says
many of us are opting out of this 1950s mindset.
The claim that WestConnex is an integrated transport solution is also
deceptive. ”Integrated” transport can be interpreted as allowing
different travel modes to complement each other. A more holistic
understanding implies the incorporation of social, economic and
environmental elements, and policies to reduce the need for travel and
the impact of journeys made.
WestConnex does neither. First, widening the M4 and M5, and building
an 8.5-kilometre tunnel, does not enable private transport users to
integrate walking, cycling or public transport as part of their journey.
Second, it does not meet key environmental, social and economic
outcomes. The government’s business case executive summary provides no
insight into how WestConnex will meet environmental criteria or
encourage healthier transport choices.
Perhaps that’s because building large motorways increases greenhouse
gas emissions, air pollution levels, dependency on fossil fuels and
inequitable access to mobility.
Choosing roads over integrated public transport options is not
logical, but ideological, as shown by Abbott’s plans to abolish funding
for urban rail, while promising support for WestConnex, Perth’s airport
gateway road and Melbourne’s east-west link. Mike Baird’s so-called
innovative financing model for the WestConnex is underpinned by this
same neo-liberal ideology.
Failure by successive Labor and Liberal governments to recognise the
need for affordable, reliable, efficient, integrated transport options
has earned Sydney the title of the world’s fourth-worst major city for
transport and infrastructure.
Public money should be spent on projects such as an integrated light
rail connection up Parramatta Road and building Parramatta Council’s
proposed full light rail network in western Sydney.
It is time to invest in 21st-century public transport systems that
can connect communities, cut environmental impacts, and generate
long-term economic success.
Considering Tony Shepherd’s many business
involvements presenting a multitude of conflicts of interest, was he
really the man to head the Commission of Audit? It appears to me that
Tony Shepherd is recommending what is good for Tony Shepherd and the
countless businesses he represents.