Who profits from WestConnex?

WestConnex is a $15 billion dollar project to expand Sydney’s motorway system. When I look at this project, as a Sydney local, I wonder why our Government is so keen on it?

The stated goal of the project is to improve Sydney’s bad traffic, but the Government’s own traffic analysis says it may not solve congestion and an independent study says it will make it worse.

An urban planner who’s worked on the project told me that the consensus in their professional community is that WestConnex is bad planning. They say expanding the public transport system is the logical approach to improve our city for the people who live in it.

I’m no expert on traffic or planning, so I look at all this and wonder, why WestConnex? If it’s not there to help the people living in Sydney, then who benefits?

A few months ago I decided to find out who profits from WestConnex. I was advised to do some searches on tenders.nsw.gov.au to see who’s being paid to work on the project. It’s a pretty boring website, and the contract listings get removed as soon as they are completed so you can’t get the full picture of who is working on a long running project like this.

Rather than go check that site every few days I did some web scraping and hacked together a little website to collect and store the information I was after: a growing list of companies who are working on WestConnex and some basic information about their contracts.

You’ll find the list of WestConnex contractors at whywestconnex.herokuapp.com.

I hope this list is useful to people trying to understand the project and gives them new avenues to ask questions and demand answers. The site has now collected 70 contractors with 158 contracts worth over 150 million dollars. It doesn’t include some of the really big contracts, or ones smaller than $150,000, because of deficiencies with NSW’s Government Information Public Access Act (GIPA). I hope to write more soon about my experience trying to collect these basic records and some of the problems I’ve found with GIPA and tenders.nsw.gov.au.

While the contracts list is limited, it does include a whole lot of companies that you don’t hear about in the official press releases. Companies like The Trustee for Iris Works Unit Trust who we gave almost $700,000 for graphic design of the much anticipated business case, which would have been nice to see before construction started. That’s a lot of graphic design for a seemingly secret document.

Wendy Bacon and I spent some time looking a bit deeper into one contractor, AECOM. AECOM are contracted for “Environmental Assessments”, a task you would assume requires independence from the project. They also have contracts for design, management, business, and “Communications Services”. In fact they’re the company who’ve taken the most in contracts in this list.

AECOM got a $700,000 contract for “Traffic Director” services—even though some simple Googling shows they’re are being sued in Queensland for their involvement in incorrect traffic projections on a motorway project. They’ve just paid out a massive settlement of over $250 million on some cases and are still being sued by hundreds of investors.

This is just a couple from seventy contractors the site has collected so far. You might look into some of the others. I suggest The Connolly Partnership Pty Limited, a PR company getting at least $1 million for their role as “Strategic Advisor”.

Even with the limited information I’ve collected—the contract descriptions provided are often vague—I was amazed to see the extent to which planning, management and oversight of WestConnex has been outsourced. If you’re looking for more information about the project, calling these companies and asking them specific questions could be one way to get it. Time and time again we see people inside companies and governments handing useful public interest information out, to help us understand the realities behind the PR. I suspect that some of the smallest contractors may be the most approachable.

I hope this resource is useful to you. Please let me know if there is other information you would like to know about these companies or contracts. Maybe I can help.

If you have more public interest information about these contractors, contracts or the WestConnex project, please use the contact information at the bottom of the website.