Matthew Kean – state member for Hornsby

Working hard for the Bushland Shire

Matt Kean MP, state member for Hornsby.

Matthew Kean is Member for Hornsby and Parliamentary Secretary for Communities in the NSW Parliament.

This interview was conducted at the offices of Matthew Kean prior to Christmas 2014, in the same week as the siege of the Lindt Chocolate shop in Sydney CBD.

Matthew Kean, thanking for talking with us today. You cover the dual roles of member for Hornsby and Parliamentary Secretary for Communities. Can you start by briefly explaining what your Secretarial role entails?

When Mike Baird became Premier of the State, I received a phone call from him asking me to be his Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Communities. That’s effectively a responsibility for multi-cultural affairs in New South Wales. So primarily, my role is working with the wonderful, diverse ethnic communities in NSW and making sure they are connected in with government and the government is connected in with them.

This week has been particularly challenging because of what has happened in Martin Place and the scrutiny that is being applied by some sections of our community towards the Muslim community.

However, these events have provided me with an opportunity to deliver a very strong message that we all need to stand together. The things that unite us are far greater than the things that divide us.

All of us who love this country and all of us that want to see it thrive have a responsibility to make sure that we don’t let a few people try and disrupt our way of life.

As the member for Hornsby, what are the key issues that you are working on? What are the key “issues” within the community?

The issues in that effect community of Hornsby are the same issues that affect the community of Ku-ring-gai and the community of Willoughby.

It was shameful what they (Labor) had done to Hornsby Hospital.

First and foremost was the state that the previous Labor Government left our local hospital. It was shameful what they had done to Hornsby Hospital. They had tried to shut it down by stealth. We had a situation that every time it rained doctors and nurses had to put out buckets and towels. Doctors would trip over power cords in the operating theatres.

I think what best sums-up Labor’s failure to our community in our local hospital was the fact that you had Possums running around in the Intensive Care Unit.

So, my major commitment was to address the years of neglect that Labor had with our community and that’s why I’m proud to have started the rebuild of Hornsby Hospital.

The $120m extension to Hornsby Ku-ring-gai hospital
The $120m extension to Hornsby Ku-ring-gai hospital

If you drive down Burdett Street you will see $120m that we have invested in to Hornsby Hospital; which I fought for and which I have now delivered.

This Hospital will finally give the communities of Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai the state of the art facility which we deserve. This is not some third world country. We are only 45 minutes from the CBD of Sydney and yet we had horrific conditions.

If it’s not acceptable for Labor to allow their seats to have conditions like this, then why is it acceptable that they allow our seats to suffer through lack of funding and years of neglect?

So, we’ve changed that. We’ve invested heavily in our hospital system and we’ve also secured another $500k to start the planning for stage II.

Stage I of the hospital is being built and will include new surgical wards, new theatres and new recovery areas. Stage II will look to completing the hospital rebuild. So, Stage II looks at things like additional wards, aged care, and a whole range of other services.

The Royal North Shore Hospital has been built by a third party and leased back to the State Government. Is that the same process that is occurring with the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital?

The Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Hospital is not a public-private partnership. This is government investing public funds and it will be completely publicly owned.

Other key community issues relate to provision of infrastructure.

Pennant Hills Road choked with traffic
Pennant Hills Road choked with traffic

Pennant Hills Road is regarded as the worst road in Sydney by any measure. Every day of the week it is gridlocked with congestion.

Not only are there problems with congestion, it is downright dangerous. You’ve got B-Double trucks ripping along there as part of the national freight network. Pennant Hills Road is literally the missing-link in the National Freeway system.

People have talked about fixing Pennant Hills Road for decades and no one has done anything about it. When I was elected, I championed the tunnel project which was recently announced. Last week the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) completed its review. There are some changes required to the design of the tunnel, particularly around the emissions portals. If the changes are adopted by the department of planning we’d expect work to start on the project in 2015.

As State Member, do you have carriage of this project?

Absolutely. I’m not going to shy away from the fact that I have been out there campaigning for a solution to Pennant Hills Road. It’s a critical project for residents of Hornsby Shire and the Central Coast.

All the evidence suggests that the best solution is to put a tunnel under Pennant Hills Road. A tunnel will remove forty thousand car movements per day off Pennant Hills Road, which will halve the amount of traffic on that road and cut down travel times by up to 25 minutes.

It will be a game changer for this area.

Transport infrastructure has been so important for this area and that is why I have been such a champion for this project.

What happens to Pennant Hills Road, when the tunnel goes through?

I’ve been very clear about Pennant Hills Road; we need to leave it as it is. It needs to have the same lane configurations as it currently has. What we cannot have is the situation that we saw with the Lane Cove Tunnel, where cars were funnelled in to the tunnel by closing lanes on Epping Road which meant motorists were forced to pay. There was no choice. They were forced to pay to use a private toll-way.

What we’re saying is; let the private sector help build this tunnel, but give people choice. They can have a quick journey through the tunnel or they can choose to stay on Pennant Hills Road.

The other road issue in the area is Galston Gorge. What is being done to stop trucks from going through the gorge?

No matter how much money we spend trying to prevent people going through the gorge, there will still be idiots that disregard all of the signs. There are four flashing lights to alert you if you are over the required length that you shouldn’t go down there. Yet people still go down there.

Short of me standing at the Gorge with a sign saying “stop”, I’m not sure what we can do!

We are looking at some other options including a more permanent structure. One of the challenges that we face is that we live in the bushland shire, Galston Gorge is a very fire-prone area and we cannot prevent our emergency services from accessing the area. We do not want a situation where our emergency services vehicles cannot access the gorge. In the event of a fire, that would be disastrous.

We need to get the balance right. We’re working with council to come up with options and will have more to say about this during 2015.

Urban density. The North Shore is changing with the development of high density housing along the Pacific Highway Corridor and I hear of plans to erect a 25 story residential tower on the west side of Hornsby. Do you believe that we have the long term infrastructure plans in place to cope with this increasing and diversifying population?

Well, these buildings can’t just go up, they have to comply with state laws and local laws. Part of those requirements is that there is adequate infrastructure in place to support them.

Hornsby's west side witth four brothels and a sex shop
Hornsby’s west side witth four brothels and a sex shop

You got to remember that Hornsby is a major CBD; you’ve got a hospital here, you’ve got a Westfield here and you’ve got a major train station here. One of the problems we’ve got on the west side is that is has been allowed to fall in to disrepair. If you go over there, there are four brothels and a sex shop, so we need to clean it up. We need to clean it up and the community want us to remove that sleaze from the west side. The way the local council has sought to do that is to provide some incentives to the private sector to come in and clean it up.

The question becomes where do you want our population to grow? This part of Sydney can expect another 600,000 new residents moving in the next decade; that’s a population the size of Canberra being dumped on our doorstep. They have to be accommodated, there’s a massive housing supply shortage, so the question is where do you want them to go?

Should they go in to the back blocks, or should they go where the infrastructure is already in place? My personal view is that around the railway lines, around where the infrastructure already exists is where it should go as it will encourage business development whilst preserving the character and amenity of our suburbs.

You addressed the development of hospitals, but are we also developing schools to cope with this increasing population?

There’s an entire department dedicated to analysing demographic trends and planning accordingly. In our area of Hornsby Shire, we are certainly taking that in to account, but one of the challenges we face is that the schools we have are under capacity. Yes, we are looking at the forward population projections and yes, we are looking at where the pressure points will be, but let’s make sure that our schools get to capacity in the first place.

You have talked about Hornsby being a central hub and a key part of the North Connex tunnel. Considering the North West Rail Link, how do you think it is going to change, or impact the area?

Again, in North West Sydney you’ve got an extra 600,000 residents moving in to the area without a viable public transport system, so the North West Rail Link is a critical piece of infrastructure for the lives of all those residents that are about to be dumped on our door step.

Can you imagine the impact it would have on our roads if we didn’t have this piece of infrastructure being delivered? It would just be a catastrophe.

Can you imagine the impact it would have on our roads if we didn’t have this piece of infrastructure being delivered? It would just be a catastrophe.

So, responsible government is about delivering the infrastructure and services as we have discussed and North West Rail Link is a key part of that.

The North West Rail Link will improve the lives of commuters; it will improve the lives of residents. If you’ve been living out at Dural or any of the outlying areas, you’ve been crying out for a viable public transport solution for decades and finally it has arrived.

Where do you stand on the 10/50 Regulations? Particularly as they relate to the “Leafy North Shore”?

Where I stand is protecting life and property. I will always stand-up for residents in this area and do whatever it takes to keep them from harm’s way. This policy hasn’t arrived out of thin air; this has come as a result of recommendations by the RFS. They have driven this, they are the guys on the front line, they are the guys that understand the danger and the impact this policy will have on protecting life and property. Anything we can do along those lines is a good thing.

Obviously, there has to be protections in place for character and amenity and I think the recent changes (to the regulations) that have been introduced bringing back the area where these regulations apply to 100 metres, go a long way to making that happen.

I read something that said 96% of all properties damaged by fire are within 100 metres of the bush interface and 99% of properties taken by fire are within 350 metres; hence why the first incarnation of the bill came in at 350 metres. That has been reduced back to 100 metres. I think there are other safety measures that can be put in place for the additional 250 metres, but the bulk of properties that will be protected by this measure fall within that 100 metres and that’s where this needs to apply.

We need to be empowering individual home owners to protect their homes and protect their properties; that’s how you make a difference in this space.

Do you believe these regulations have been misused or abused?

Whenever you have laws there are going to be people that push them to the limit or seek to abuse them. That’s not the intention of these laws. The intention of these laws is to protect life and property.

Let me tell you, in this part of Sydney, known as the Bushland Shire, the threat of bushfire is ever-present and we need to remain vigilant. Anything that we can do to protect people and their homes is a good thing and that’s why I stand by 10/50.

Thank you for the time Matthew Kean

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As publisher of The Kuringai Examiner, I have an interest in all things on the North Shore, particularly news, sport and food. I'm always on the outlook for something unique and original to bring to my readers.