The assassination of the S-W Rail Link
There is no suggestion that …
25 September 2009
When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
(William ‘Big Bill’ Shakespeare)
Visibility was so bad I could hardly see the other side of Sydney Street when I went down to the Brushtail Café for breakfast. The dust storm whipped down the lane and the rising sun, angling through it, suffused the scene with an angry orange glow. It felt like half the Western Division was blowing through Sydney and out into the Pacific.
Was it, I wondered, an omen, a portent of the demise of the Rees Government. I had had a long night of phone calls and googling, unravelling a web of dodgy political dealings about the South-West Growth Centre, followed by not much sleep and I was feeling kind of light-headed and biblical.
I had a client who wanted me to look into “certain aspects” of the slaying of Michael McGurk, the loan-shark and standover man who was – as they say in journalism – “linked to” sundry developers. It seemed the whole shebang was in turn “linked to” land deals in places like Badgerys Creek.
It’s a very NSW story that goes right back to the original conflict between Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the conscientious, enterprising and public-spirited bureaucrat, and that grasping me-first shitbag, John Macarthur, who first owned the shop out there.
The official S-W game plan was based on the novel idea that you should, actually, no kidding this time, do things right and get your major public transport link in place – in this case it was the now abandoned South-West Rail Link – and then you should very carefully stage land releases outwards from the new railway stations. There was to be no free-for-all with whole new suburbs springing up anywhere within the huge area without proper transport and services. They set up a Growth Centres Commission to make sure it worked like that.
And then two teams lined up: on the side of rational, carefully staged, land release stood the Department of Planning, the (now ex-) Planning Minister Frank Sartor, and the vast majority of local government. On the side of a free-for-all stood a bunch of big “investors” who’d cornered land cheap and stood to make hundreds of millions if it was rezoned to allow development. Their problem was that their land was miles away from Leppington and Edmondson Park – the two stations on the S-W Rail Link from which the land releases were to be staged.
Clearly, the forthcoming rail link was a big problem for the free-for-allers. If the rail link went in, what you could call ‘the momentum of the plan’ would become unstoppable. The Department of Planning’s collective resolve to stick to the game plan would harden. It would be many years, possibly decades, before the free-for-allers got their land shifted from ‘rural’ to ‘residential or ‘industrial’ and thereby emerge very rich indeed.
But these people never sleep and, oddly enough, things started to go their way. The cost of the S-W Rail Link had been estimated at $688m when the plan was first announced by Planning Minister Craig Knowles in 2004. But in February 2006, Michael ‘Bipolar’ Costa became Treasurer and Joseph ‘Tripod’ Tripodi became Minister assisting the Treasurer. Sometime between then and March 2008 the estimated cost of the line almost exactly doubled, to $1.36 billion. Why? On what basis? That has never been explained, but scuttlebutt out of federal government agencies has it that Treasury insisted.
The hapless Transport Minister, John Watkins, bravely announced a go-ahead for the project, but he must have had a sinking feeling about the outcome. At that price, the dinky little 13 km line was more expensive that the massive, 72 km, 11 station, Mandurah Line the Western Australian government was then putting the finishing touches to. The S-W Rail Link was “deferred”, and then, Premier Morris Iemma walked and Nathan Rees succeeded. Planning Minister Sartor was sacked, Watkins walked, Kristina Kerscher Keneally became Planning Minister and David ‘The Walrus’ Campbell took over Transport.
Frank Sartor reckons he was sent to the back bench because he’d championed the staged release policy. On 29 November last year the Sydney Morning Herald speculated that KKK got Planning as a favour to the Tripodi faction, and printed a lot of stuff indicating the faction was closely aligned with the S-W free-for-allers.
At that point they shot the Growth Centres Commission and Campbell finally put the S-W Rail Link out of its misery. It looked like game, set and match to the free-for-allers, but they aren’t quite there yet. Against all the odds and in spite of “representations” by none other than former federal minister Graham ‘Richo’ Richardson – who’d been hired at $25,000 a month to make it happen – Department of Planning supremo Sam Haddad still won’t come at rezoning their land. A great deal of testosterone is surging around.
[There is no suggestion that Michael Costa or Joe Tripodi had anything to do with the assassination of the S-W Rail Link].