The Mike Baird Coalition government in New South Wales is keeping its plans for further privatisation of the publicly-owned Sydney Trains network tightly under wraps, after state officials refused to release nearly 100 documents on the issue, declaring them "cabinet in confidence".
NSW Treasury bureaucrats rejected a freedom of information request from the Labor opposition, saying the correspondence and emails could have an impact on commercial interests.
Shadow treasurer Ryan Park said: "This government must come clean about whether or not they intend selling Sydney Trains. It is time for the secrecy to end and to tell the community and workers exactly what is going on."
NSW secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) Alex Claassens said privatisation since the 1990s had increased transport costs in Victoria. "The reality of life under privatisation is that the public never stops paying a price to the private providers. Selling off our train network would result in fewer jobs, a decrease in services and an increased cost to commuters."
The Baird government has already moved to outsource the operation of all Newcastle buses, ferry and future light rail services to a private company. This announcement last November followed the closure of the heavy rail line from suburban Hamilton to Newcastle city, despite a huge public campaign to keep the line open.
The state government has already announced plans for the first stage of the new single-decker Metro train line, costing a massive $20 billion, to be operated by the Hong Kong-based MTR Corporation. The initial stage, from Epping to Chatswood, is to be run by MTR, with a new privatised Bankstown Line still to be finalised.
To add insult to injury, the government admitted in April that the existing Bankstown line would be shut and passengers would have to catch buses while the new line is constructed.
NSW Greens transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi said: "Commuters on the Bankstown line would be rightfully frustrated and shocked to hear that the great transport fix for their area is to shut down and privatise their existing rail service. To this point, the government has never given any detailed evidence of why shutting down and privatising the Bankstown line is the way to fix the train network, rather than actually expanding it to new areas or putting higher frequency trains on other lines.
"No business case or EIS [Environment Impact Statement] has been forthcoming, but the government is going full steam ahead to flog our train lines off to a private operator."
Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Sydney in the upcoming federal election, Peter Boyle said: "The Socialist Alliance completely opposes the privatisation of Sydney trains, or any other sector of public transport in this city. The federal and state governments are working hand in glove on this massive sell-off of the people's transport property.
"On the one hand, [PM Malcolm] Turnbull and Baird are conspiring to privatise and outsource the vital rail, bus and ferry networks of New South Wales and on the other they are working together to construct a monstrous private road tunnel in WestConnex, which is consuming the public funds that should be spent on much-needed new public transport infrastructure.
"We need to unite the unions, commuters and community groups to fight these twin evils of private toll roads and privatised public transport assets. Defence of public transport should become a major issue in the federal election."