Leaked texts have suggested NSW Transport Minister David Elliot was aware of the potential shutdown of the state’s rail network late on Sunday night but simply went to sleep without telling Premier Dominic Perrottet.
The government has conceded the standoff and withdrawn its application seeking an end to the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU)’s industrial action in the Fair Work Commission. It announced on Tuesday it would negotiate with them instead in a bid to get the trains back up and running ASAP.
It is a major backdown just one day after Elliott accused the RTBU of “terrorist-like activity”, despite the government making the call to shutdown the train network for all of Monday.
Trains remained on a reduced timetable on Tuesday and the RTBU said it was expected they’d be running as normal by next Monday.
In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon the transport minister insisted he was not aware of the decision to shut down the network ahead of time because he went to bed between 11pm and midnight on Sunday, before the department reached its decision at 12:43am Monday.
He said he was under no obligation to stay awake and officials in his department didn’t call him because “I may not have answered the phone”. Usually we stan a king who prioritises sleep, but maybe not in this particular situation.
“We pay these people to do their job and I accept the fact that at 12.43am it was their judgment call; as executives they needed to use their discretion and close the system,” he said.
He told reporters he had an “inkling” of the shutdown, but had not informed Perrottet because he didn’t have confirmation. Honestly, the fact he could even sleep with that much work drama going on is actually kind of impressive?
But in parliament NSW Labor leader Chris Minns read a text message he said was sent by Elliott’s chief of staff to a senior transport official just before 11pm on Sunday night that said Elliot had been “briefed on the major disruption from the looming shutdown” and was “comfortable” with the decision.
Elliot immediately denied this and said there was “no way in the world” he could’ve known because the official decision was recorded after midnight.
But Perrottet is very cross with Elliot for nodding off and for not telling him about the shutdown before it happened, if he did in fact know about it.
TL;DR: this is one big, embarrassing mess.
Perrottet ordered an investigation into the timeline of events that led to the shutdown, which found text messages sent between ministerial staff and the rail agency in the hours leading to the decision to switch off the network.
It’s just been #revealed in a secret government dossier, who signed off on and shut down our train network.
It was Dominic Perrottet’s own Government.
— Chris Minns (@ChrisMinnsMP) February 22, 2022
An anonymous senior government source told the Sydney Morning Herald: “Dom was pissed off that no one called him at whatever hour of the morning to let him know what faced commuters when they woke up on Monday.”
Senior government ministers have said Elliot’s handling of the situation that has seen hundreds of thousands of commuters disrupted means his position as transport minster is now “surely untenable”.
Stay tuned for the next episode of Real Ministers of NSW.