WestConnex privatisation is ‘highway robbery on a massive scale’

September 29, 2021
Anti-WestConnex protest in 2017. Photo: Peter Boyle

When former-New South Wales treasurer (now premier) Dominic Perrottet announced the sale of the remaining 49% of the monster WestConnex road tollway project to a Transurban-led consortium on September 20, he boasted that the $11.1 billion price “well exceeded” the reserve price.

However, according to anti-WestConnex campaigner Andrew Chuter this is yet another multi-billion-dollar public subsidy to big business.

In 2018, the Transurban-led Sydney Transport Partners (STP) consortium, which then included AustralianSuper, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, bought 51% of WestConnex for $9.3 billion.

“Let’s be clear on the sums: this project is costing $23 billion to build but, thrown into the sale was another $9 billion in tolls on feeder roads”, Chuter told Green Left.

“Then, Transurban bought the whole lot for about $20 billion. That’s a $12 billion loss to the public. This alone is highway robbery on a massive scale.

“And what about the real costs to society and the planet? We’ve just locked in over a generation’s worth of tolls and car dependency, resulting in greater air pollution and fossil fuel consumption.”

Perversely, for the new corporate owners of WestConnex, the costs borne by the public were a selling point. The latest partner in the Transurban-led consortium, Canadian fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), told Jenny Wiggins from the Australian Financial Review (AFR) that it joined because it expects the partnership will lead to more road investments in Australia.

CDPQ admitted its investment strategy in the Asia-Pacific hinges on accessing a “constant deal flow of public private partnership assets in the region”.

The complete privatisation of WestConnex now leaves Transurban controlling all but three of Australia’s 21 toll road networks. The WestConnex deal with the NSW government allows it to raise tolls by 4% or the inflation rate — whichever is higher — a year.

Generous toll regimes “means profit margins for WestConnex last financial year are nearly 80% — even higher for some of its older toll roads”, reported Jennifer Hewitt in the September 20 AFR.

The sell-off of WestConnex comes after $13 billion worth of privatisation since the 2019 election, when Premier Gladys Berejiklian promised “no more privatisations”.

Chuter, like other public transport advocates, has long pointed out that these road tollway projects are a corporate scam and a massive “con job” on the public.

“The WestCONnex wheel of waste is a vicious cycle. It’s now leading to the next disaster, the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches toll roads, and the next, the M6. The solution is obvious and simple: better public and active transport.”

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