The biggest privatisation scam in NSW history is about to start as the NSW Coalition government prepares to sell off the $17 billion WestConnex tollway. The government and its project adviser Goldman Sachs are expected to start a market-testing exercise, with a deadline of October for expressions of interest from major private corporations.
It is understood that bidders can apply to buy from 51% to 100% of the Sydney Motorway Corporation, the public entity that currently owns WestConnex. This rule favours the tollway giant Transurban, which can now bid for full purchase of the project.
Transurban already owns the bulk of Sydney's private motorways, including the Cross City Tunnel, most of the Eastern Distributor, the M2 toll road into the Hills district, the Lane Cove Tunnel, a 50% interest in the M5 South-West Motorway and the Westlink M7.
A successful bid by Transurban would make it a virtual monopoly operator of Sydney's privatised road system. It would make the NSW state government, for all intents and purposes, an agent of the Transurban road monster.
In a related development, a review by the Auditor-General found the government failed to complete assurance and probity reviews before proceeding with an agreement with Transurban to build the $3.1 billion NorthConnex tollroad.
The Auditor-General said the government had revealed "deficiencies" in its processes when it negotiated a binding deal with Transurban to build the tollroad in May 2013 without doing a business case gateway review or probity report on the tollroad company's unsolicited proposal.
The nine kilometre NorthConnex motorway, on Sydney's north shore, is receiving $405 million in funding from the federal government and up to $405 million from the state government.
Transurban and its investment partners, Brisbane-based investment group QIC and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, are contributing $2.1 billion in return for the rights to operate the motorway. NorthConnex is due to open in late 2019.
Meanwhile, the construction of WestConnex is causing massive environmental and social problems for residents near its path. Families living above WestConnex tunnelling worksites are suffering sleepless nights because of the incessant noise.
According to the Inner West Courier, up to 29 households along the M4 East site have been offered temporary relocation due to construction noise near their property, while others have opted for "white noise machines" to be installed. Most of the complaints to the Environmental Protection Agency have come from the suburbs of Haberfield, Ashfield, Concord and St Peters.
Ashfield resident Andrew Wills has five tunnels being constructed underneath his home. He said it was driving his family crazy. "We have been living with the tunnelling since November — it ranges from faint noise to very strong noise ... It literally sounds like someone is banging on your front door every morning."
The giant quarry excavation resulting from the removal of landfill from the WestConnex worksite at St Peters, now filled with toxic water after recent heavy rains, is releasing a putrid smell into the surrounding neighbourhood.
These are just some of the disastrous environmental and social effects of WestConnex construction so far. Many more are looming ahead.
The next major anti-WestConnex event is planned for Saturday July 22 at 5pm. Local anti-WestConnex groups are organising a lantern procession along the entire route of Stage 3 of the motorway, from St Peters to Rozelle.
Lanterns have traditionally served as a warning, while also bringing light. The procession is designed to inform the community about the tunnel route and the dangers of WestConnex.
Groups will start at either end of the route and converge at the central point in Camperdown Park, Newtown, for a sausage sizzle and entertainment.