Local buses

Mr TIM JAMES (Willoughby) (19:31): This evening I address the House on the local bus service in Willoughby, a service that has faced significant challenges since our emergence as a State from the COVID‑19 pandemic last year. Ensuring a level of service from our buses that commuters expect and deserve has been one of my key priorities. Commuters standing in queues at bus stops across Willoughby as full buses sail past do not want excuses. They do not want a blame game or politicking from their Government. They just want their bus services fixed. They want to have the confidence that when they turn up to a bus stop in the morning their bus will get them to work on time and in the evening bring them home. In short, they want a reliable service that they do not need to worry about. I thank Willoughby commuters for their understanding and feedback as I have stood at bus stops and street corners to listen and act for local residents.

I have worked tirelessly with local bus operators and the previous Government to deliver meaningful and feasible improvements to the service. A range of measures was already underway including sign‑on bonuses, recruitment days and streamlined processes to get more bus drivers. There was more to do, but lots of work had been put in and it was making a real improvement on the ground. With my strong advocacy, the previous Government announced a four‑point plan to address the root cause of the disruption: post-COVID bus driver shortages. This included, first, making public transport free to and from work for all bus drivers across Sydney; second, establishing a task force to attract skilled bus drivers from overseas; third, waiving of the bus driver authority fee and subsidising training course fees; and, fourth, inviting the community to have their say on improvements across the bus network, including routes and timetables.

Now we have a new Government that has promised to act on the bus driver shortage. It has announced another review, a review that will hand down its findings in 12 months, which is a whole year away. But we already know what the issues are and we know what is needed to address them, so I encourage the Government to get on with it, to implement the plan that has already been developed and, indeed, to deliver real practical outcomes and improvements. Let us be clear: There were no quick fixes here. The Government should be straight about the causes of the disruptions and of the driver shortage. A once‑in‑a‑lifetime pandemic uprooted lives and careers and caused lasting shifts in behaviour, including travel. The bus driver shortage is being felt across Australia and indeed the world. Despite what some would have us believe, this is not a problem unique to regions 7 and 8 of Sydney's bus network. New Zealand, for example, recently recruited 350 drivers from the Philippines to address its bus driver shortage.

Australia's emergence from the pandemic over the course of the last year has exposed large workforce shortages impacting across many industries throughout Australia and indeed the world. This is not about franchising nor privatisation, as members opposite would have us believe. Indeed, bus franchising was a policy of the previous Labor Government. Most routes in Sydney were already franchised by the time the Liberals came to Government in 2011. They did not cause labour shortages then and were not the cause now. We have already seen the Government's bus task force recycling the former Government's solutions, such as streamlining training processes and reducing red tape. I welcome this if it means we get our buses fixed faster, but this Government should proceed to give the drivers the Opal cards we promised to attract skilled drivers from overseas, as the previous Coalition Government committed to.

I welcome the community consultation on routes and timetables, something that was already announced by the previous Government. We need routes to be optimal and working for commuters and our communities. Beyond the driver shortages, I have worked tirelessly to improve the broader bus service and its delivery. The Chatswood to Royal North Shore Hospital service, route 113, commenced last year. Three route 120 services have been added to each morning and evening peak. The Liberal's Zero Emission Bus Transition Strategy is delivering the electrification of the Willoughby bus depot: 120 electric buses will be delivered to the Willoughby and Neutral Bay depots, with 35 of them serving the Willoughby electorate next year.

I have heard the community's view and I am working to restore the 257 service to Balmoral. I am also advocating for point-to-point bus services in Willoughby, as exist, effectively, on the northern beaches. The previous Government committed to an $8 million feasibility study to move the needle forward to provide options for the much-needed upgrade of the Willoughby bus interchange. This is a vital and necessary investment. This Government needs to deliver on it now. The Liberals have a strong track record in public transport, delivering record investments and reversing the 16 years of neglect that preceded it. I am proud of our transformational public transport projects, including in Willoughby. On local buses, I will, and we on this side of the House will, continue to take real action—much more than mere reviews that take 12 months—and we will always stand up for the Willoughby community and our local transport needs.