To: Grant Hehir, Commonwealth Auditor General
Dear Mr Hehir,
We request that you conduct an audit of the WestConnex project. The project has made a travesty of the NSW planning process. Hundreds of people’s homes are being compulsorily acquired, however the project is yet to gain the necessary planning or environmental approvals from the NSW government.
Eighty-two year-old Giuseppe Alibrandi and his son have lived in their family home in Haberfield for decades, but are now having their house compulsorily acquired. Like many others, they are being offered a price well below market value. They now face the prospect of being forced to uproot their lives and buy a property in another suburb. They are just one of many families in this predicament who are suffering the injustice of this ill-conceived and ruthlessly pursued tollway.
The NSW government has also failed to implement its own Major Projects Assurance Framework. Ordinarily, a project of this size would have had at least six independent gateway reviews. The WestConnex project has had just one, based on an incomplete business case. Even so, this review put up five red flags (including project delivery, governance and value for money) and four yellow (including risk management and sustainability). There were no green flags.
The business case for WestConnex also includes a number of non-standard, highly questionable ‘benefits’ which are used to justify the project. These include the claim that the project will prevent $832 million of greenhouse gas pollution from being generated (despite a forecast of 31% increase in traffic in the project area). This type of creative accounting gives the public no reassurance that this project represents value for money or whether in fact there is any net benefit at all.
There has also been no attempt to investigate public transport alternatives to WestConnex, so there is no evidence that this project represents the best transport solution. At a cost of $16.8 billion, it is one of Australia’s costliest infrastructure projects ever, yet it has failed these fundamental tests of accountability and transparency.
Given the enormous scale of this project, the huge disruption to people’s lives, and the many unanswered questions about its justification, we urge you to conduct a full investigation into WestConnex.
Why is this important?
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has shortlisted WestConnex for potential auditing. They are completing other infrastructure audits at the moment, but are due to make a decision about whether they proceed with the WestConnex audit very soon.
ANAO will consider public submissions when making the decision about whether auditing WestConnex is a priority, so it’s important to demonstrate that lots of people care about this issue and want the project to be investigated.
If we can convince ANAO to investigate WestConnex, then we know that the shoddy business case for this project will be exposed. It is primarily $3.5 billion of federal funding that is propping up the WestConnex project, so having the Commonwealth Auditor-General criticise the justification of the project will create campaign opportunities to get the federal funding withdrawn.