The New South Wales government has announced plans to privatise bus services in Sydney’s north-western suburbs, lower-north shore, northern beaches and eastern suburbs.
The move follows ongoing privatisation of assets and infrastructure across the state in recent years, including industries such as water, electricity, public transport and public hospitals.
BUSES GOING PRIVATE
The Berejiklian government will privatise bus services in the last three parts of Sydney — including the northern beaches and eastern suburbs.
Reports reveal thousands of drivers will be told on Thursday the State Transit Authority’s grip on “bus regions” seven, eight and nine will end after the government decided to open them up to the private sector to operate.
Bus region seven covers Sydney’s north western suburbs, including Ryde, region eight the lower north shore and northern beaches, and region nine the eastern suburbs. The regions cover scores of routes, many of which run to Sydney CBD.
The privatisation of bus services is expected to spark a furious response from trade unions, including the Rail Tram and Bus Union.
State Transit has several thousand drivers in Sydney, who will be offered job transfers to the companies which eventually win the tenders to operate services in the three regions of Sydney.
NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay said the privatisation of the last remaining bus regions in Sydney would be a “shocking betrayal of Sydney commuters”.
“The Premier said no more privatisations, and here we are just months after the election and she is busy selling off our public assets,” Ms McKay said.
The privatisation process is expected to take 18 months to two years.
The latest decision comes several years after the government decided to privatise region six, which covers Sydney’s inner west, sparking an outcry from bus drivers and the unions representing them.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said job security for public transport workers and those who supported them had “just been demolished”.
SELLING OFF NSW
The announcement follows a continued trend of asset privatization by the New South Wales government, which has grown to include services in health, energy, transport and more.
The New South Wales state government began the process of privatization earlier than the federal government, in 1989.
There have been over 70 separate privatisation transactions by the NSW government since 2011, with gross proceeds of over $40 billion.
That includes the single biggest privatisation transaction in the state’s history – long-term lease of 50.4 per cent of Ausgrid, the electricity distribution network that services much of Sydney, the Central Coast and the Hunter for $16.2 billion.
More recently, the NSW government has been looking for further ways to expand their portfolio and is now venturing into previously uncharted territories — “air rights”.
According to reports, the City of Sydney Council have approved a $20 million sale of air rights to the 200-year-old heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks near NSW Parliament House.
Private developers, including Lendlease (which owns Quay Tower) purchased more than 12,000 square metres of the barracks’ heritage space for up to $1,500 per square metre.
The NSW government is also selling thin air above the western entrance of the newly opened Wynyard walk in the Sydney CBD.
The City of Sydney is hoping to sell off another remaining 38,000 square metres of heritage space — which includes Qantas House in Hunter Street.
This follows similar trends across the state, from Penrith to Bondi, where the war zones are green spaces, heritage buildings and community facilities.
One of the biggest questions to stem from the announcement surrounds plans to introduce facial recognition capabilities across the Sydney public transport network in the near future.
According to reports, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance confirmed the plans in a speech at the Sydney Institute in July.
The minister said he expected commuters to use “frictionless transport payments” in the “not too distant future”.
He compared the capability to Amazon’s Go stores, where shoppers simply fill their basket and walk out of the store to be charged.
Justin Warren, a board member of Electronic Frontiers Australia, said it was difficult to see how an opt-out system could be opt-out when everyone using the transport system would be scanned.
Constance also floated the possibility of using “biometric recognition” where people can be identified using other physical and movement markers.
The announcement follows similar moves in Queensland, where the same company responsible for ‘tap-and-go’ technology is incorporating biometric identification into train and bus systems.
Residents have expressed concerns that private companies will have access to the technological capabilities to be installed on buses in the network, potentially compromising privacy in the process.
Let’s not forget the Australian government is already prepared to give private companies third-party access to the developing national facial recognition database — and that is a federal program.
Will this sell-off give the new owners access to sensitive biometric information in mass?
Privatisation in NSW: a timeline and key sources | Parliament of New South Wales
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