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Privatising the state’s rail fleet could usher in higher fares, service cuts and government subsidies, the sector’s union claims, as Premier Steven Marshall today confirmed “all options” were on the table.
Marshall and his Transport Minister Stephan Knoll have both refused to rule out privatising the train and tram network, with the Premier insisting “we haven’t made any decision, but we’re looking at all options”.
It follows questions about the state Liberal Government’s privatisation plans in parliament yesterday, with Knoll giving equivocal responses to a range of Opposition inquiries.
“We’ve made it very clear, we’re dissatisfied with the public transport system in SA,” Marshall told reporters this morning.
“We’ve made no secret of the fact that the minister and the department have been out looking at best practice worldwide… what we’re interested in is improving public transport, increasing patronage.
“We’re way at the bottom of the league table – we don’t accept that, and we’ll be making our investments commensurately [but] one thing taxpayers can be very assured of is we’ll be making the decisions that we make in the best interests of all South Australians.”
It follows InDaily last week revealing the creation of a new SA Public Transport Authority within the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure geared towards turning around “declining” public transport use.
All current departmental public transport service staff will be transferred to the new division, which will be responsible for the delivery of all public transport services, in line with a Liberal election promise aimed at encouraging a more “customer focussed” culture within the bureaucracy.
The union responsible for government employees on the rail network, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, argues any privatisation move would require either cutbacks, increased revenues or government subsidies offsetting any savings or windfall.
State secretary Darren Phillips told InDaily: “Obviously we’d be against any privatisation, because it doesn’t make any improvements to services and it’s not necessarily a cheaper way of running public transport.”
He conceded that “obviously at the moment [the service] is not running at a profit”.
“So if you privatise something that’s not making profit, a private company would obviously want to make a profit,” he said.
“Where’s that come from? It could come from cutting services, higher fares, subsidies from the government – or all of the above.”
Knoll himself today conceded taxpayers would continue to subsidise a privatised service, telling ABC Radio Adelaide: “There is no way that public transport is going to be a profit-making exercise, that is fundamentally ridiculous – the South Australian public, the taxpayer, will continue to put in huge amounts of money.”
This article first appeared on indaily.com.au