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Privatisation – is it working? Not if you’re on a ferry

Aug 2, 2013Hot Topic

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has a history of privatising public assets and services. And you could be forgiven for thinking he’s got plenty more plans up his sleeve – potentially including more of our public transport systems.

But is the privatisation model working? Not if you look at the Sydney Ferries model.

Sydney Ferries has been in private hands for 12 months now. In the year since ferries were privatised, prices have soared. The service has also been marred by cancellations and collisions – all despite the O’Farrell government’s promise that privatisation would improve the service.

Passengers on the Manly ferry route are facing a 39 per cent price rise, even though the service has suffered greatly. Since the private takeover cancellations on the route have risen 25 per cent and by 50 per cent when bad weather was excluded.

The poor performance could also be blamed for a rapid decline in passenger numbers on the ferry service, with 13,980 fewer passengers in the year since the takeover.

But despite the obvious failure in the Sydney ferry system, the O’Farrell privatisation push continues.

The government has already announced that the North West Rail Link will be privately run – an interesting decision given the large numbers of complaints about the cost of the privately run airport line.

Many have also said the move to split RailCorp into two separate entities – NSW Trains and Sydney Trains – is merely a case of the Premier and his government packaging the transport system up into tidy little packages ready to sell off to private companies. So far the claim has been denied, with the common and cautiously worded line ‘we have no current plans to privatise the service’ often used by the government spokespeople.

In the case of the Sydney ferry system, the economic argument for the privatisation appears to fall flat when you take into consideration the complete impact on the travelling public. Is the privatisation of our essential services, which is sold as being in the interest of the public, in fact just a thinly veiled ploy to cut public sector wages and conditions and keep friends in big business happy?

Have the lines between ‘public’ and ‘private’ become blurred? Are governments, like the O’Farrell Government, moving the boundary lines when it comes to distinguishing what services should be run by the government for the public good in order to fill their coffers?

Do you think Barry O’Farrell has plans to further privatise our public transport system?