4 June 2022

'Maybe Wagga should subsidise the Eastern Suburbs': Sydney Mayor explains her comments to Public Transport enquiry

| Chris Roe
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Waverly Mayor Paula Masselos traded words with Wagga MLC Wes Fang during an Upper House Committee meeting. Photo: Supplied.

“Maybe Wagga should subsidise the Eastern Suburbs?”

It was a stunning comment delivered by a Sydney mayor during a debate with Wagga MLC Wes Fang over inner-city public transport.

The exchange took place at a NSW Legislative Council hearing where Labor Mayor of Waverly Council Paula Masselos appeared as a witness.

Waverly council area encompasses some of the state’s most exclusive suburbs, including Bondi. They have been at loggerheads with the state government over the proposed privatisation of some bus routes.

In May 2021 it was announced 25 bus routes were to be scrapped and changes made to a further 23 to push commuters towards the newly completed Light Rail service.

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Mr Fang said his exchange with Cr Masselos occurred during a discussion over the frequency of services outside peak periods.

“We’re moving those buses and services from non-peak times to peak time,” he explained.

“For those people travelling during non-peak times, it means that they don’t necessarily have the frequency of service they might have had.”

He said her complaint was around “equity of service” throughout the day and that he aimed to weigh her urban expectations against the experience of those in the regions.

“I was prosecuting the equity argument and saying that I live in Wagga and, while we have adequate public transport services, we don’t have the plethora of public transport services like buses, light rail and trains that they do in Waverly,” Mr Fang said.

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During the exchange, Mr Fang questioned, “If you are so prepared to have equity, would you be prepared to forego some of those services so that we [his hometown of Wagga] could have increased services?”

Cr Masselos pushed back, “I think that that is a flawed logic, with respect, Mr Fang,” she said.

“It is not about one area foregoing another; it is about whether there is enough service and capacity that is put into the system to accommodate the needs. With privatisation, we are – well, I personally am challenging that because the experience that I’m seeing is that it is not happening. In fact, there is a diminution of services.

“So maybe it’s Wagga that needs to subsidise the Eastern Suburbs, perhaps?”

In response to enquiries from Region Media Cr Masselos was eager to clarify her remarks.

“I deemed Mr Fang’s question inappropriate because at no stage did I compare Waverley and Wagga Wagga,” she explained.

She said her point was not about one area’s service being reduced to bolster another but rather ensuring enough services and capacity across the network, irrespective of location.

“I responded to Mr Fang’s question with irony as he clearly did not seem to grasp the important point being made,” she concluded.

While it is clear that Wagga was the innocent victim in a round of political tit-for-tat, Mr Fang said the unfortunate comment reflects a disconnect between the city and country.

“It is clearly a city-centric attitude and it could only come from somebody who has no comprehension or understanding of the challenges of transport in the regions,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that not only did she say it, but in effect, she doubled down on it.”

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