Charlestown electorate bus services privatisation failure

10 May 2023

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown—Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (19:29): I take this opportunity to thank the people of Charlestown for again electing me to represent them in this Parliament—the oldest Parliament in Australia. It is an absolute honour to be in this place and an opportunity I am very fortunate to be entrusted with. I intend to continue in Government what I started in Opposition and that is to work to improve the lives of the people who elected me to serve.

The electorate of Charlestown is extremely demographically diverse, and many different issues were raised with me during the campaign. But an issue that was raised with me consistently over the last several years, and which has continued to be raised with me over the last several months, is the state of our public transport.

Privatisation of buses in the Charlestown electorate has resulted in the deterioration of services for the people who routinely rely on public transport for work, education and social connection. That is why I welcome the Government establishing a Bus Industry Taskforce.

This was a key election commitment by NSW Labor because reliable public transport is essential; it is not a luxury. Since the privatisation of Newcastle's bus services by the former Coalition Government, I have received thousands of complaints about cut services, last-minute cancellations and poor communication of changes to the local community. With an increasing population and increasing cost of living pressures, it is as important now as it ever has been that people can rely on public transport.

The key word here is "rely". Many Charlestown constituents rely on public transport. It is the way they get to school, to work and to medical appointments. It is their connection to their community. To add to the experiences people have had with buses that I have already reported in this Chamber over the last several years, I wish to share some of the stories that have come to me just in the last three months.

Megan contacted me on 5 May. That day, two consecutive bus services on the 13 Glendale to Newcastle route had failed to arrive, without warning or explanation. Because she had no surety that the next scheduled service would arrive, Megan had to use a rideshare service to get to work, leaving her significantly out of pocket. This was not the first time she had to do that.

Megan said that at least one of her daily buses had failed to arrive "the last few times" she had attempted to catch a bus to work. That is just not good enough, particularly if we want to get people out of their cars and onto public transport.

If a bus does not come, the people who are left behind are often those without other options for transport— the most vulnerable members of our community. It includes people living with a disability, who do not always have the option to drive. Vickie works at Access Industries, which is a supportive workplace in Newcastle offering employment opportunities for people with a disability. Vickie has been catching buses to Access Industries for a long time, even prior to privatisation. But since privatisation she has had to leave work early to catch her afternoon bus home and she arrives home later than she did prior to privatisation. On 21 March this year at 6.15 a.m., while trying to get to work, a quite distressed Vicki phoned her mother. She had been at the bus stop on time to catch her 5.49 a.m. bus, but it did not arrive. The following day she had to catch a taxi for part of her journey so she would not be late to work because services had run behind schedule. The cost of that taxi was $30. That is $30 that Vicki did not have to spare.

Then there are students. Emily is a 13‑year‑old student at Merewether High School. In her first week of school this year, two of her buses were cancelled without warning on the same day. One was her bus to school and the other was one of her connecting buses home. I have heard of many other students who have had the same experience since the beginning of the school year.

I am proud to be part of a government that listens. We have heard all of these concerns and we are acting. The Bus Industry Taskforce will play a key role in dealing with the consequences of bus privatisation and will drive improvements to bus services.

It is clear that the existing arrangements and services need to change. The task force will play a central role in delivering improvements to bus services across the State.

I commend the Minister for Transport for swift and decisive action so soon after 25 March to create a pathway to solutions for the passengers on our beleaguered bus services.

Well done, Minister.