The campaign to save all four Manly ferries was debated in the NSW Parliament on Thursday (25 March).
The debate was triggered in response to a petition to the NSW Parliament which received 22,074 signatures asking that all the Freshwater-class ferries be retained in service.
The petition was started by Northern Beaches Council Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham in response to the announcement that all but one of the iconic Freshwater-class vessels would be withdrawn from service and replaced with newer Emerald-class vessels.
Member for Manly James Griffin won a concession from the NSW Government that two of the Freshwater-class vessels would be retained for use in weekend and public holiday services.
A group of around 40-50 people led by Northern Beaches Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham travelled to Parliament House to hold a protest prior to the debate which was addressed by Maritime Union of Australia Deputy Secretary Paul Garrett and Shadow Minister for Transport Chris Minns.
In the parliamentary debate, Mr Minns said the government supported jobs in China rather than local industry and the motivation for the change was privatisation.
“The Northern Beaches has discovered there is $500m of tourism flowing into the Northern Beaches every year, catching the Freshwater was the fourth most cited thing to do.
“In 2020, 52 percent of visitors used the Manly Ferry to get to Manly. Visitor spending accounted for 12 percent of all of the jobs created on the Northern Beaches. This is an economy that relies on tourism, where does the tourism come from? The ferries. Who’s getting rid of the ferries? The same member who is supposed to be representing these people,” said Mr Minns.
He also said that data showed the new Emerald-class ferries would be cancelled more often than the current Freshwater-class ferries due to heavy seas.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Yasmin Catley described the new Emerald-class vessels as ‘junk’ which had been built offshore for the lowest price.
“The Berejiklian government knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The suggestion that one or two boats would be kept for summer holiday trips is just fanciful. In practice these boats will be scrapped by the Liberal government the moment any costly maintenance or repair work is required.
“We have seen what happens when a replacement fleet is built offshore for the cheapest possible price. We get a floating bunch of junk. There is no way we’ll get 40-50 years of reliable service out of this cheap junk that Andrew Constance has lumbered this state with,” said Ms Catley.
Minister for Transport Andrew Constance thanked local member James Griffin and credited him with saving two of the Freshwater-class ferries.
“The initial decision was to take them all away. One of the reasons for that was because of the reliability requirements for commuter services. As the community has come forward, the need to maintain them for tourist purposes on weekends and public holidays is what we’ve done. In saving those two, it will be for that tourism focus that they are being retained.
“If you actually go and look at transport data in relation to the ferry services, we did want to increase services in terms of ferries. Which is why we are now delivering an increase of 256 services to the commuters of the Northern Beaches. We are also seeing a big shift away from ferries to the B-Line as well, which happened from 2017-2019.
“We have a drop in patronage, you don’t have full capacity in terms of the use of the Freshwaters during the busy peak periods because a lot of those commuters want to get on fast services into town and want to get on a fast service back home,” said Minister Constance.
In a fiery exchange, Ms Catley was removed from the chamber for repeated interjection during Minister Constance’s address.
Member for Manly James Griffin said that the Freshwater-class ferries were running below capacity, even before the COVID pandemic had hit, but were an icon that should be retained.
“I have campaigned alongside others in my community to retain the Freshwaters and while I have not secured all four, two of them will continue to operate every weekend of the year and public holidays for many years to come.
“Wouldn’t it be great if the other two ferries could stay on the water? The government welcomes interest from organisations to continue operating the remaining two ferries for tourism and heritage purposes.
“The Northern Beaches Council has vigorously campaigned and set out how easy it would be to retain a Freshwater ferry. I am advised that the decision by Transport for NSW is final. I am calling on Transport for NSW to provide as much support as possible to the Northern Beaches Council for them to undertake a feasibility study or business case for the Council to retain and operate one or two of the remaining Freshwater-class ferries.
“In line with their campaigning to save all ferries, I have written to the Council encouraging them to undertake a business case or feasibility study. This would be a real and meaningful action on their behalf.
“The Freshwater-class ferries are an icon of Sydney Harbour. The compromise of retaining two of them will not please everybody but year round, for years to come they will remain on Sydney Harbour,” said Mr Griffin.
Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham called the suggestion that Council take over running two of the ferries ‘ludicrous’.
“Perhaps he would like the Council to also look into operating the state schools and hospital in our area too! That suggestion is just as ludicrous. The 22,000 signatures is a great achievement and shows how passionate people are about the Freshwater ferries. We are only the second group to ever hit the required number of 20,000 signatures,” said Deputy Mayor Bingham.
The full debate in the NSW Parliament in response to the petition can be watched below.
Images: Good For Manly
Video: NSW Parliament