Toxic Sydney rail land deal sent to ICAC

Tiffanie Turnbull
·2-min read

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance has referred his government's purchase of contaminated land to the state's corruption watchdog, after revelations it was bought for three-times its estimated value.

The land at Camellia, near Parramatta in Sydney's west, was bought for $53.5 million in 2016 to stable and maintain the future Parramatta light rail.

The deal delivered its previous owner a $15 million windfall just months after it had bought the site.

However, it was far less lucrative for Transport for NSW, with the site clean-up estimated to reach $100 million.

Mr Constance last week referred the matter to the state's auditor-general to investigate, and at the same time wrote to the Independent Commission Against Corruption asking it to probe the purchase.

Transport for NSW was outbid for the property in 2015, but decided to compulsorily acquire it in 2016 for $15 million more after confirming it was the best site for a tram yard.

The site is contaminated with a range of chemicals including asbestos and hexavalent chromium, and Mr Constance has told parliament he knew the land was contaminated.

"Well duh, have you ever been Camellia," he said in question time on Wednesday.

He defended the cost of remediating the site, saying the entire area was contaminated due to historical heavy industrial practices.

The $2.4 billion Parramatta Light Rail, due for passengers in late 2023, will connect Westmead to Carlingford via the Parramatta CBD.

A proposed branch to Sydney Olympic Park through Camellia wasn't allocated a cent in the 2020/21 budget papers, renewing fears it will be abandoned three years after the route was first announced.

It comes as NSW's transport chief announced his resignation after three years in the role, during which he oversaw the construction of the country's biggest transport project.

Prior to his role as secretary, Rodd Staples worked as a leading engineer and was head of the Sydney Metro rail project.

Mr Constance said Mr Staples had a "unique place" in Sydney's history thanks to his stewardship of the Metro project, but would leave his role in February as the department would "head in a new direction"

"Rodd has seen the agency through the toughest of days, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer's bushfires, but now is the time for a new focus on delivering our record infrastructure program and innovation as NSW emerges from recession," he said in a statement.

Mr Staples was not in the top job at the time of the purchase of the Camellia property in 2016, and his resignation had nothing to do with the matter, Mr Constance's office said.