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THE Berejiklian government is under renewed pressure to release key documents relating to the Newcastle Light Rail project, with Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi labelling it a “prime candidate for cost blowouts”.
The Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, faced accusations in parliament last week of lying about her knowledge of the real reason for a $549 million blowout to the cost of the Sydney light rail project.
It came after Fairfax Media revealed she was sent information in 2014 as transport minister about the cost increase, which the auditor general has said was due to errors in the business case.
It’s led to comparisons to Newcastle, where the government has refused to release both the business case and project analysis for the light rail project.
“The Newcastle Light Rail Project is a prime candidate for cost blowouts: there is no transparency, no full business case and no cost benefit analysis,” Ms Faruqi said.
“We don’t even know what the budget is as they hide the real cost inside the bigger ‘Revitalising Newcastle’ project.”
Numerous freedom of information requests seeking the documents, including from the Herald and Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp, have been rejected on the grounds that they are considered cabinet-in-confidence. Questions to the Premier’s office about why the business case had not been released were not answered.
Instead, a spokeswoman for NSW transport said “Novocastrians can have confidence in this project because it is being delivered under a robust due diligence, probity and assurance framework, and evidence from Australia and around the globe shows us that integrating light rail with big plans for urban renewal works”.
“We have local experts on the ground ensuring light rail delivers the best solution for Newcastle. One of the . . . objectives of the . . . Revitalising Newcastle program is to invest in initiatives that create jobs, to stimulate economic activity, and to leave a positive legacy for the people of Newcastle.”
But Ms Faruqi said the the Premier “should not be afraid of public scrutiny of projects”
Ms Faruqi has written to the NSW auditor general, Margaret Crawford, asking her to conduct performance audit into the project and has been told that the request is being considered.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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