A former top transport bureaucrat has revealed more details about his mysterious sacking.
The former boss of Transport for NSW has revealed he was “very uncomfortable” with the safety implications of a controversial rail corporation established by the state government.
Former transport secretary Rodd Staples, who was fired under mysterious circumstances, told a parliamentary hearing he had aired concerns over the Transport Asset Holding Entity (TAHE) to multiple powerful people in the months before his sacking.
Those included the Auditor-General, then-premier Gladys Berejiklian, and Andrew Constance, who was transport minister at the time.
Mr Staples said he was thinking of quitting over the issue, which he told Ms Berejiklian at an August 2020 meeting.
Three months later, Mr Staples was told by Ms Berejiklian’s top bureaucrat he would soon have to leave his role.
Mr Staples would not be drawn on why he thought he was fired, stating simply he was terminated without reason.
“(Mr Constance) had decided that he wanted a new direction with a new secretary,” Mr Staples said he was told by the bureaucrat, then-Department of Premier and Cabinet Secretary Tim Reardon.
Mr Staples, who left his role in February this year, said he had begun to doubt whether he could “stand up to say to the workforce that (TAHE) is a good thing”.
Mr Staples said he was worried rail safety and customer service would suffer because it was unclear who was responsible for maintaining the tracks and trains.
“That has potential safety ramifications,” he said.
He said he asked for the meeting with Ms Berejiklian in part because he wanted to foreshadow that might have to leave his role.
“I wanted not to surprise her at some point in the future,” Mr Staples said.
He also raised his concerns about the potential safety and fiscal implications of establishing TAHE.
He recalled Ms Berejiklian had a very “thoughtful” response and that she made some kind of commitment to “examine it further”.
But when Ms Berejiklian convened a meeting the following month to discuss TAHE, Mr Staples was not invited.
“The Premier was unequivocal that TAHE will go ahead,” wrote a KMPG consultant in his notes from the meeting, which was attended by Ms Berejiklian, then-treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Mr Reardon, and Treasury Secretary Michael Pratt.
Mr Staples said on Monday that in his view, the rail corporation appeared to have been established to achieve a “fiscal objective” for the state’s budget.
The parliamentary committee previously heard a KPMG consultant involved in setting up TAHE believed NSW Treasury “essentially made up the benefits” it used in a cabinet submission to justify the move.
That consultant, Brendan Lyon, said he was “bullied” by Treasury officials and pressured to water down a report that would have shown the state budget was $10 billion worse off than previously claimed.
It was revealed on Monday that Mr Staples had also been asked to have the KPMG report changed.
Mr Staples said he had not complied with the “surprising” request from Mr Pratt, the Treasury Secretary.
When asked if he thought it was appropriate for Mr Pratt to ask Mr Lyon for the same thing without telling Mr Staples about it, he answered: “No, it wasn’t.”
Labor’s treasury spokesman Daniel Mookhey, who took part in Monday’s questioning, said the timing of Mr Staples’ firing was curious.
“He didn’t think TAHE was safe, he told the premier, nothing happened – and all of a sudden he’s out of a job,” Mr Mookhey told NCA NewsWire.
NSW Treasury and Mr Pratt have been contacted for comment.