The Guardian 16 November, 2005

Something’s rotten in the State of NSW

Andrew Jackson

As the cross-city tunnel collapses figuratively around the ears of the NSW Labor Government, another has collapsed literally out from under a block of flats. The debacle has brought a new spotlight on the Government’s enthusiasm for "Public/Private Partnerships".

Residents in the block on Longueville Road, Lane Cove, have said they were often woken at night by rumblings in the ground as the tunnel was being constructed. However, the rumblings turned into a roar when a 10- by 10- metre hole opened up beneath them.

All 47 residents were safely evacuated, as were four workers in the tunnel near the site of the collapse.

Almost immediately The NSW Government said it would establish an enquiry into the tunnel collapse. However, given the continuing revelations of "sweet-heart deals" having been made in the contracts awarded by the NSW Government to developers on numerous Public/Private Partnerships, the impartiality of such an inquiry has been called into question.

"It is not good enough for Minister Tripodi to say ‘it will be thoroughly investigated’. This Minister had little credibility before this latest tunnel debacle. Any investigation he organised would be compromised from the outset", said Greens MLA Lee Rhiannon.

Since the tunnel collapse it has been revealed that further road closures around Sydney are to be expected in relation to both the Lane Cove Tunnel (Epping Road and Longueville Road) and the new M7 Motorway in Sydney’s west.

Greens MLA Syliva Hale has accused the NSW Government of using the "commercial in confidence" argument to stop NSW taxpayers knowing how their money is being spent and what secret undertakings have been given to developers.

"The biggest danger in keeping these contracts secret is that the public can make no assessment of whether it is getting a good deal. Often the Government is bearing most of the risk and the PPP is more expensive than if the government had raised the money and undertaken the project itself", explained Ms Hale.

In the meantime NSW Minister for Roads, the controversial Joe Tripodi, has come out in defence of the Government’s program of public/private partnerships. Mr Tripodi said whether a project was publicly or privately funded had no bearing on the quality of the work or the possibility of accidents.

The NSW Labor Party has received $15 million in donations from developers over the last five years, over 30 percent more than contributions from trade unions.

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