M5 East Toll Petition

12 November 2020

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. [Time expired.]