Public Interest Debate - M5 East

05 August 2020

Mr ANOULACK CHANTHIVONG (Macquarie Fields) (16:59:39) — I move:

That this House:

  1. Notes motorists have been able to drive on the M5 East toll free since it was opened by a Labor Government in 2001.
  2. Condemns the Liberal Government for imposing a new tax on an old road by implementing a $6.95 each‑way toll on the M5 East.
  3. Calls on the Liberal Government to scrap this appalling and unfair toll which will have a devastating impact on household budgets in south-west Sydney, costing motorists more than $3,300 a year.
  4. Calls on the members for Oatley, Holsworthy, East Hills and Camden to do the right thing by their communities and support the Opposition's motion.

I describe a scenario for members in the Chamber. Imagine you bought a car in 2001 and you paid for it in full before picking it up from the dealership. You have been driving it for almost 20 years when the dealership sends you a new invoice. It expects you to pay again for a car you already own. It beggars belief that a dealership would be so underhanded, so greedy. This scenario seems fanciful. It could not possibly happen. Right? Wrong. This is exactly what the Liberal Government has done to motorists on the M5 East. The Liberals expect motorists to pay a new toll on an old road. When the M5 East was opened by a Labor Government in 2001 it was free. No tax, no toll, no tricks. A good Labor project. Under Labor the M5 East was a free way to travel. Under the Liberals it is a tollway. It is part of a sweetheart privatisation deal for an old road.

Make no mistake, this is highway robbery, and it comes at the worst possible time for many people. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. It has had a devastating impact on people's health, wellbeing and livelihoods. How does this Liberal Government respond? With heartless disregard for motorists who drive on the M5 East who are already struggling to pay their bills. The Liberals clearly need to be schooled in being decent and fair, so I will tell them what not to do. Do not impose a new tax on people in the middle of a pandemic. Do not make it more expensive to go to work for the people who are still lucky enough to have a job. Do not sign corporate backroom deals that hit the hip pockets of hardworking families in south-west Sydney.

I expect the Members for Oatley, Holsworthy, East Hills and Camden will be very nervous. Voters will not forget this tax at the ballot box. They know this new toll is unfair and that the Government did nothing to stand up for them. The Liberal Party councillors on Liverpool City Council are not as silent as the members for Oatley, Holsworthy, East Hills and Camden. They know the toll is unfair and that their community in Liverpool is angry and will not stand for it. At least they have done the right thing and joined sides with their Labor colleagues in calling for the new toll on the old M5 East to be scrapped.

I already know what the Minister will say in his reply. The talking points have long been drafted and distributed. Government members will each get up and repeat the lines they know to be fiction. The Minister will try to convince motorists that they should be grateful for a new toll on an old road. He will rattle off spin about reduction in travel times, faster travel speeds and reduced traffic volumes. The Liberals might have imposed health restrictions on gyms but that has not stopped the Liberal Party spin classes from running throughout this period. When the price is increased from $0 to $14 for a return trip, drivers will avoid the M5 East altogether. Funny that—significant price increases result in demand reduction. This is basic economics 1.01. What did the Minister think was going to happen?

The Minister will not admit the devastating impact the toll will have on household budgets and the disproportionate financial impact on the people of south-west Sydney. But we know better. Motorists know better. The Minister is likely to talk up the Toll Relief program. He will say motorists who spend more than $1,352 a year in tolls get free registration.

Firstly, he neglects to acknowledge the huge financial discrepancy between the annual cost of the unfair M5 East toll and the value of registration. Let us go through some numbers. A nurse who works at the Prince of Wales Hospital, for example, and drives on the M5 East every day for work will pay more than $3,300 a year in these new tolls. She probably will get back just over $300 in registration for her light vehicle. She ends up with an annual negative net balance of more than $3,000. In the Liberal Party's fantasy mathematics land, that is a good financial outcome; hence the new tolls are justified. If the Minister tries to spin the nonsense that drivers will benefit from toll relief, then his maths is wonky and his logic is just wacky. It is no wonder that our students' numeracy results in the Programme for International Student Assessment have taken a dive over the past few years, when this Minister and this Government cannot even get their basic addition and subtraction right.

This is not a small tax, in the order of thousands of dollars. Analysis shows it is estimated to be $190 million in the first year, $600 million in three years, $1 billion in five years and $3 billion in just over 10 years. It is a new tax not just for this year, but also for every year for the next 40 years, increasing at 4 per cent—well above wages growth and inflation. You will pay for this tax and your grandkids will be paying for it. This is a multibillion‑dollar tax on south-west Sydney motorists for an old road. I ask the Minister: How is that fair for the residents of south‑west Sydney? The short answer is that it is not. This Liberal Government calls itself the party of lower taxes.

To me, a multibillion‑dollar tax is a pretty big tax. When it comes to taxes and tolls, do not listen to what the Liberal Party says, look at what it does. Few decisions are more reckless, unfair and heartless than this one. We are in the middle of an economic recession like no other, and the Liberal Party's answer is to increase taxes and collect more tolls. But there is time to make it right and scrap the M5 East toll.