It’s the road that’s supposed to connect the west to the city, but when it comes to politics it’s divided along the same old lines.
Both federal and state Labor MPs are weighing in on the financials of the WestConnex project and the role of the man now overseeing the development, Stuart Ayres, a man Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle, has dubbed the “Minister for Toll Roads”.
Mr Ayres is overseeing the reintroduction of tolls on a widened 7.5-kilometre section of the M4 motorway, the first part of WestConnex to be opened to traffic by mid 2017.
Earlier this week Federal Opposition Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese complained on ABC Radio that he had called the office of Penrith MP and Minister for WestConnex Stuart Ayres to have a meeting about the WestConnex project and was still waiting to hear back a week later.
“I haven’t had the courtesy of a response from Mr Ayres. That does contrast with his predecessor Duncan Gay,” Mr Albanese said.
“We didn’t always agree and many of those discussions were quite fiery, the way the state government was handling the project. He [Duncan Gay] was a very direct minister, but at least he was prepared to engage.”
Meanwhile State Opposition Minister for Roads, Jodi McKay and Londonderry MP Prue Car held a press conference in Penrith on Friday to encourage public submissions to the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into tolls.
Ms McKay said the government had an “agenda” to impose new and higher tolls and the inquiry meant they would need to justify how they determine the cost and duration of those tolls.
“Labor got rid of this toll on western Sydney and the Liberals are bringing the M4 toll back - at a much higher cost.”
Her comments follows a highly critical audit of the Federal government's $3.5 billion commitment to the WestConnex project released last Tuesday [February 14] which found the scheme was not properly assessed ahead of the funding being released.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the National Audit Office confirmed that a $2 billion loan for the WestConnex motorway from the Coalition government failed to achieve its key goal of fast tracking the project's second stage by two years.
Commonwealth Auditor-General Grant Hehir found that upfront payments and altering milestones for later support "did not adequately protect the Australian government's financial interests". His report, was particularly scathing of funds being paid in advance. A large component of the federal funding for WestConnex is a $2 billion concessional loan to the NSW government.
Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle called the project “a dog” in last week’s Blue Mountains Gazette and a “gift from the Liberals to their mates in big business”.
Mr Ayres said the new work was always going to be tolled. The $16.8 billion project is expected to finish by 2023. Submissions to the inquiry can be made up to February 28 at www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/gpsc2.