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Lift Redfern Petition Debate Transcript

On 23 August 2012 at 4.30pm the NSW Legislative Assembly debated the Lift Redfern petition. Below is the draft transcript of the debate which included Ms Clover Moore (Sydney), Ms Gladys Berejiklian (Willoughby - Minister for Transport), Ms Carmel Tebbutt (Marrickville), Mr Charles Casuscelli (Strathfield) and Mr Jamie Parker (Balmain).


Discussion on Petition Signed by 10,000 or More Persons

Ms CLOVER MOORE (Sydney) [4.30 p.m.]: The residents of Darlington, Redfern, Waterloo, Chippendale and Alexandria have signed a petition of 10,000 signatures calling on the Government to take overdue action in relation to a lift to allow people access to Redfern station. Redfern station is a major hub of the CityRail network. Every metropolitan railway line other than the airport line passes through Redfern station, making it one of the busiest stations on the network and the second-most important for changing trains. Responses to my 2010 question on notice reveal that the station is the seventh busiest in the CityRail network, with almost 42,000 trips to and from the station each weekday.

The station services the University of Sydney, the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, the Australian Technology Park, the Carriageworks, the Redfern Community Centre and several Redfern-based community services including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services. It also serves as an area of major projected residential and business population growth through urban renewal projects. Yet, despite the station's significance, there are no lifts to its platform, making access difficult, if not impossible, for people with disabilities, for older people, for parents of young children, for pregnant women and for people who are less mobile due to illness or injury. People with luggage or carrying large items also find it a challenge.

In the twenty-first century in Sydney, Australia's global city, all major stations should be accessible, and this needs to be urgently addressed. Public transport is essential to reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. People will not use public transport if it is not convenient. If they are unable to do basic things like change platform, instead they will revert to private motor vehicles. And, for people with a mobility problem who do not have cars and rely on trains for transport, it is unfair. I have heard stories of people in wheelchairs having to travel past their station to another, just so that they can access a line that takes them back to their station on the right platform.

With so many train lines using Redfern, the station should be a priority for an accessibility upgrade. If it were fully accessible, it would provide relief to other busy stations. Various Government Ministers have responded to my questions in Parliament, acknowledging that plans are being developed for the upgrade of Redfern station, but they have failed to provide a time line or a start date. A key focus of the 2006 Redfern Waterloo Built Environment Plan was an upgrade for the station, but plans, timetables and funds were never delivered. The community has been promised an upgrade for more than 20 years, under both Coalition and Labor governments. The community does not want this debate to turn into a blame game between the major parties. What the community wants is action. Responses to my calls to the Minister this year indicate that Redfern station is being considered as part of a review for future upgrades. I understand that funds have been allocated to upgrade 35 stations to make them accessible as part of the Transport Access Program. The need for equitable access to Redfern station is urgent. It should be included in the first round of upgrades under the Transport Access Program. I am really pleased the Minister is in the House to speak on this issue today.

The community has launched Lift Redfern, a campaign to get lifts installed at Redfern station as a priority. The campaign is supported by a wide range of resident, business, arts, political and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, community groups, community services and local elected representatives. The petition before the House forms part of this campaign, with teams of volunteers collecting signatures at Redfern station and nearby access points and at other stations on the CityRail network. Lift Redfern suggests that the Government prioritise platforms 11 and 12, on the Eastern Suburbs line, while it commences plans for a full station upgrade. These platforms were built in the 1970s; they are completely underground and separate to other platforms. They have lift possibilities and would be easily upgraded separately to the rest of the station. The City of Sydney has endorsed the Lift Redfern campaign; and tonight, together with the Lift Redfern campaign, I call on the Government to immediately upgrade the Redfern station with lifts, starting with platforms 11 and 12, so that everyone can equitably use this busy and important inner-city station. I want to finish by paying tribute to all those who have organised this petition. I hope that its aims will come to fruition.

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN (Willoughby—Minister for Transport) [4.34 p.m.]: I want to acknowledge the contribution made by the member for Sydney. I do not disagree with anything the member has said. I was at Redfern station this morning as I was catching a train to meet a commitment, and I was reminded of the easy access challenges that exist at that station. I want to acknowledge, as the member for Sydney did, each of the 10,000 people who put their names to the petition. That is why we have petitions—so that the message reaches this Parliament on a matter that the community feels strongly about. I want to thank you for the contributions that you have all made to bringing the debate to the Parliament today.

There is no doubt that when we assumed government the challenge for us in relation to what was originally called the easy access program was huge. Unfortunately, of the 307 stations on the network only 131 are accessible. When we came to government in March last year about two-thirds of all our stations did not have easy access. As Minister for Transport, I am acutely aware of the challenge that exists, and that is why one of the first actions I took when I became Minister for Transport was to look at what funding was available for that program and what other programs were available to upgrade our stations. We looked at all the different pots of money that existed, pulled them all together and released the Transport Access Program.

As shadow Minister for Transport I was very critical of the pace of the then Government on easy access, because on average only two stations a year were being upgraded. If we kept to that pace, it would have taken us at least 90 years to make all the stations accessible. Just to demonstrate to the community how strongly I personally feel about this issue, when I was first elected to Parliament about nine years ago I felt very strongly—I still do—that one of my local stations did not have easy access. I took the issue to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I thought, "Why should one part of the community be excluded from using the station?" Unfortunately, my case was dismissed. But I wanted to use that example to demonstrate that it is a matter that I feel very strongly about. That is why, when we came to government, in this year's budget we gave an extra $40 million boost to the program that provides accessibility to our stations.

I was very pleased to announce earlier in the year, as was outlined by the member for Sydney, that 35 stations will be getting upgrades. We are able to upgrade more stations with the money we have available and the boost we have provided; the previous Government's policy to upgrade each station for easy access was what we call gold plating.

Every station it upgraded was provided with the gamut of easy access facilities—that is, a lift, a ramp, stairs, escalators and so on. I would prefer that more stations be provided with a ramp, a lift or an escalator rather than nothing. We must increase accessibility as quickly as possible at a large number of stations rather than at just two or three a year. That is why the Government has announced that 35 stations will be upgraded this year. Unfortunately, Redfern station was not one of the stations included on that list because it has specific issues, which I will address.

Initial research indicates some complex issues at Redfern station, but that is not an excuse to do nothing. As the member for Sydney said, Redfern is in reality a city circle station although it is not classified as such. The number of people who use it means that its upgrade is much more complex than that required at an average suburban station. Obviously it requires more extensive work, which will be more costly. Museum station, which is a city circle station, needs lifts and we face huge challenges at Wynyard station and Town Hall station. The Government is ready to address those challenges. I reiterate that this Government is committed to increasing the number of stations with easy access facilities, especially those that have high usage. The Government feels strongly about this issue and that is why it has committed to act.

Opposition members will undoubtedly say how terrible the Government is for not doing anything. However, in 2007 the then member for Heffron, Kristina Keneally, announced that Redfern station would be upgraded. She went on to be the Premier of New South Wales, and the member for Marrickville, who is about to make a contribution to this debate, was the Deputy Premier. They had a great deal of time in which to address this issue, but unfortunately they did nothing. It is therefore a bit rich of them to organise photo opportunities now. The shadow Minister for Transport was the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport when members opposite were in government. I did not want to politicise this issue, but unfortunately it has been politicised by people who had a great deal of time to do something but who did nothing. The Coalition's record in government demonstrates that it takes easy access to stations seriously. This Government has already delivered 35 station upgrades. We appreciate the challenges that must be addressed at Redfern and I acknowledge that people are experiencing difficulty accessing it. However, the Government is reviewing that situation and I look forward to making further comments about accessibility at our railway stations. 

Ms CARMEL TEBBUTT (Marrickville) [4.42 p.m.]: I support this petition organised by the residents of Darlington, Redfern, Waterloo, Chippendale and Alexandria calling for lifts to be installed at Redfern station to improve access. I thank all the people who worked so hard to collect the signatures, many of whom are in the gallery today. I particularly acknowledge the work of Lift Redfern, which has brought together resident, community, Aboriginal and business groups and politicians. It has actively campaigned to ensure that improvements are made to Redfern station. Geoff Turnbull, Linda Scott, Robyn Fortescue and others have worked very hard on this campaign. Geoff and Linda, who are in the gallery, have played a major part.

Redfern station is at the junction of three electorates—Heffron, Marrickville and Sydney. This petition was tabled by Kristina Keneally, the former member for Heffron and former Premier. I pay tribute to her advocacy on behalf of her electorate. She was passionate about the people of Heffron and improving services and infrastructure in her electorate. She wholeheartedly supported this petition and the campaign to upgrade Redfern station by installing lifts. Ron Hoenig, who is the Labor candidate for Heffron and who is also in the gallery, shares that passion. I know that he will be a great member for Heffron after he is elected on Saturday. Campaigners collected more than 10,000 signatures on this petition in a little more than one month. That is a demonstration of the significant community support for this issue. The campaign for the upgrade of the station was launched in November last year at a community barbeque.

While many individuals have been involved in the campaign—and I have named some of them—its genesis was the desire to carry forward the late Trevor Davies' vision for Redfern. As many members know, Trevor was a long-time inner-city Labor activist who was tireless in his advocacy for the communities of the Redfern-Waterloo area. His work in the local community preceded the formation of Lift Redfern and was about much more than simply upgrading the station. Nonetheless, Trevor saw the upgrade of the station as critical because it is the gateway to the area and an important part of any broader improvements. It is sad that Trevor is no longer with us and cannot witness this debate. Of course, this issue is not only about Redfern and surrounding communities; it is also about Sydney. Redfern station with its 12 platforms is a key station on the railway network because almost every line runs through it. I am pleased that the Minister is in the Chamber this afternoon and I welcome her assurance that she is examining this issue. However, I must point out that it is she who has politicised the issue, and that is a shame.

ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gareth Ward): Order! I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of the longest-serving Mayor of Botany Bay, Ron Hoenig.

Mr CHARLES CASUSCELLI (Strathfield) [4.46 p.m.]: I congratulate the petitioners and volunteers who worked so hard on this petition containing more than 10,000 signatures that calls for the installation of lifts at Redfern station. I also congratulate the Government on allowing the petition to be tabled so that it can be debated. We all want the same thing; we all want every railway station in this State to have easy access. I have just returned from South Korea and I was very impressed by the facilities provided at subway and railway stations in that country. Governments must consider the resources they have at their disposal and determine priorities accordingly. This was never an urgent issue for the former Labor Government—it was not an issue for its transport Ministers or for the local member, Kristina Keneally. It was not an issue when she was the Minister for Redfern Waterloo nor when she was Premier. It was never on the radar and the Labor Government did nothing.

This Government is now being asked to do something in a little over 18 months that had not been done during the 16 years that members opposite were in government. I am not suggesting that the Government is not capable of responding to the challenge. However, we must take into account equity and fairness across the network. We have limited resources, and priorities must be established to achieve maximum benefit for the people of New South Wales. My only lament is that the Labor Government spent $500 million on a failed metro project, another $100 million was wasted on the failed Tcard project and $176 million was spent on an unnecessary bridge close to where I live. That wasted money amounts to more than the $700 million that this Government has allocated to improve access at our railway stations.

If the former Government had not flushed that money down the toilet it could have been spent at Redfern station and Flemington station. Many people travel to Flemington on the weekend to buy produce at the market and I often see people struggling up and down the station stairs with their purchases. The money could also have been spent on the station at Croydon, which has an ageing population. The same could be said about stations across the network. I am delighted that the Government has allocated a significant sum to address this issue. The Minister is working on a fair and equitable program that will maximise the effect for train travellers, and I commend her for that. If anyone should offer an apology it is the former member for Heffron—she should apologise to the petitioners for not having done something sooner.

Mr JAMIE PARKER (Balmain) [4.49 p.m.], by leave: I congratulate and thank those residents and members of local communities who campaign not only on this issue but also on disability and access issues in general. I am proud to see in the public gallery members of the community of Sydney, and the inner west in particular, who have been working on this issue. I thank the residents of Redfern, activists, businesspeople and community members who have supported this petition. It is important that this petition is before the House. Accessibility is an issue at train stations and, in my electorate, ferry wharves. It has been talked about for a long time. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Transport is in the Chamber to speak to the House and the community about the issue.

The issue was raised emphatically by residents in my electorate. I acknowledge Irene Doutney from the City of Sydney and Mehreen Faruqi, the fantastic Greens candidate contesting the seat of Heffron. She has been working tirelessly on this matter. Ms Faruqi will take up the fight against inaction, whether with Labor or the Coalition, to make sure the job gets done in our community. I put to the House that the community needs a timetable. The community understands and accepts that there are limited resources, there is a range of challenges that need to be met on the network, and there are limited funds. I respect the fact that the Minister has come to the House to address the issue. Some Ministers do not come to the House when petitions are discussed; I acknowledge that the Minister for Transport does.

It is important for the petitioners and the broader community to understand the Government's time frame. The Minister has said that she will look into the matter in the future, but it would be appreciated if the Government could set out a time frame so that there is context. I do not intend to politicise the issue by bashing the former Government but it made commitments that it did not deliver on. It is understandable that a community that has experienced disappointment under a former Premier is concerned that the present Government may squib on the promise as well. The community looks to the Government to deliver.

Mr Daryl Maguire: This Government delivers.

Mr JAMIE PARKER: I acknowledge the interjection by the Government Whip that this Government delivers. Let us look at a time line. Will it be this year, next year, or the year after? The community needs an assurance that there will be progress on the matter. I thank the residents and members of the community who have fought so hard for this issue.

ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Gareth Ward): Order! I thank members in the public gallery for their attendance this afternoon. The discussion of petitions allows members of the public to bring forward ideas and to have them heard in your Parliament. 

Discussion concluded.