Four ministers tasked with troubled NSW roads and transport sector

Four ministers will be responsible for the troubled NSW road and transport network after Premier Dominic Perrottet split up the portfolios citing the need for more accountability of the state’s infrastructure pipeline.

Mr Perrottet on Monday unveiled his new frontbench,doubling the number of ministers overseeing the transport cluster,which he conceded had been beset by several“challenges” in recent months.

New Transport Minister David Elliott with Premier Dominic Perrottet.

New Transport Minister David Elliott with Premier Dominic Perrottet.Louise Kennerley

“What worked in 2010 doesn’t necessarily work in 2020,” Mr Perrottet said,when outlining the reasons behind the overhaul.

“I want to make sure that we have ministerial responsibility in those key areas … by having individual ministers accountable for those areas,I think which produce better outcomes for our state.”

Former police minister David Elliott becomes Transport Minister,though roads have been stripped out of that portfolio,with Natalie Ward taking on the job ahead of a 2023 state election in which Sydney’s tolling regime is set to become a key issue. Deputy Premier Paul Toole is the new Police Minister.

Mr Elliott will inherit transport as the government scrambles to return the cracked inner west light rail to service,endures ongoing problems with its overseas-built ferries,and is in an ongoing dispute with the rail union over pay and working conditions.

New Roads Minister Natalie Ward.

New Roads Minister Natalie Ward.Dylan Coker

With industrial action occurring on Monday night and Tuesday morning,Rail,Tram and Bus Union secretary Alex Claassens warned that more action would take place on Sydney’s train network in the new year if an agreement could not be reached with the government.

“Unless the NSW government delivers the basic protections we’re asking for,we’ll have to look at further action. We can’t rule anything out at this stage,” he said.

A new Active Transport portfolio - focusing on cycling and pedestrian movement - has been created,which will be overseen by Rob Stokes,who temporarily took charge of transport after the resignation of Bega MP Andrew Constance in October.

Meanwhile,Nationals MP Sam Farraway has been appointed as Regional Transport and Roads Minister.

Mr Perrottet said the government had become so focused on its $108 billion infrastructure pipeline in recent years that smaller projects had been overlooked.

“We could sometimes get lost because there’s big dollars at play. We can get lost in the big road projects,the big transport projects,and lose sight of smaller projects that can make a real difference to communities,” he said.

Mr Stokes told the Herald last month that making changes to the city’s cycleways and footpaths could make an immediate impact to Sydney’s livability.

Mr Stokes also becomes the state’s Infrastructure Minister,who will oversee the multibillion-dollar pipeline and chair a new committee which will replace the Delivery and Performance Committee.

Four of the nine new ministers added to the 26-strong cabinet are women,with Mr Perrottet on Monday reiterating his party needed to do more to bring women into Parliament.

“This is a ministry that is picked on merit and ... obviously when it comes to having more women represented in the Liberal Party in the Parliament,we need to do better,” he said.

He rejected assertions the new ministers were politically inexperienced,saying most of them had been in Parliament for several years and had either chaired committees or worked as parliamentary secretaries.

University of Technology Sydney transport expert Mathew Hounsell said dedicating a minister to active transport was an important step.

“A major reason that active transport is so poor in NSW is that there was never a champion for it in cabinet,” Mr Hounsell said.

He said splitting the responsibility for the transport cluster was a reasonable idea,given the projects made up more than 70 per cent of the state’s infrastructure spend.

“That’s a lot of responsibility for one person,” he said.

Opposition Leader Chris Minns questioned who would be leading the state’s transport cluster.

“We’ve got a transport department in utter disarray - the last thing we need is buck passing between ministers,” he said.

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Tom Rabe is a State Political Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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