Baird faces the music on privatisation

Premier Mike Baird left the comfort of a Property Council lunch in Newcastle City Hall on Tuesday to address hundreds of anti-privatisation protesters in Civic Park.

Mr Baird was given grudging respect for his decision to front the crowd, and he was applauded when he said the privatisation of Newcastle Buses, the Stockton ferry and the planned light rail “would not go ahead” if the “market soundings” the government was seeking could not promise “better services”.

“We’ll hold you to that, Mr Baird,” one protester shouted in response.

Saying he had two points to make, Mr Baird said: “Unless this market sounding shows that we can deliver additional services, better services, to the city of Newcastle, it won’t go ahead.

“But if there is a transfer, in a sense that we see that we can deliver better services, then there will be protection for workers in that. Tat’s my commitment in relation to this whole process.

“I thank you for coming out, and for being passionate about what you believe in, and what you’re doing, and the way you do it.”

“We might not agree on everything, every time, but I understand the personal stories, I understand the passion for what you do.”

More than 300 unionists and community activists took part in Tuesday’s rally, which included a brief stand-of with police when Newcastle Trades Hall Council secretary Daniel Wallace tried to lead a delegation of Maritime Union of Australia members up the driveway entrance to City Hall. He was turned back.

One of the frst speakers, Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp, said the government’s handling of the privatisation announcement was “a disgrace”, with afected employees being told “three hours after the media”.

Mr Baird apologised for this a few minutes later when he addressed the rally.

Mr Crakanthorp said “the government has raised the white fag [on Newcastle transport]”.

“Handing control to the private sector is not the answer,” Mr Crakanthorp said.

“It’s time this premier stopped treating the residents of the state’s second-largest city like second-class citizens.”

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said she was “disgusted” that the government’s justifcation for the privatisation was falling public transport patronage, when if there was any fall in passengers, it was the government’s fault as operator.

By Ian Kirkwood, Newcastle Herald

Join us and stand up for public transport

  • A unique subject line will help your message stand out in Minister Elliott's inbox.
  • Tell Minister Elliott how the rail chaos, bus privatisation or any transport issue has impacted you and ask him to fix this mess now.
  • We will not share your information with any 3rd party entities. Find out more by reading our privacy policy.