Change doesn’t come easily to the northern beaches and former Labor premier Barrie Unsworth is doing his bit to fight it, finding an unlikely ally in Liberal Bronwyn Bishop.
Taking aim at the proposed B-Line bus service, Mr Unsworth has tapped into a vein of discontent in the Liberal heartland, which is broadly brewing around the new bus service, council amalgamations and the fears of overdevelopment in the northern beaches.
Calling the B-Line a “Trojan horse” for development, Mr Unsworth has slammed the expected privatisation of the new bus corridor between the northern beaches and the CBD, and the decision to build a new bus stop at Mona Vale’s Village Park.
“We’ve had government bus services for as long as anyone can remember. We’re all happy with the operation of the buses now,” Mr Unsworth told Fairfax Media.
He said the Village Park bus stop would pose “safety issues” for residents disembarking late at night, and the “perfectly good” existing bus stop near on Pittwater Road near Waratah Street should be retained.
The issue has opened an exchange of fire between Mr Unsworth and the local federal member for Mackellar, Jason Falinski, who wrote to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in February in support of the B-Line being operated by a private company.
Accusing Mr Falinski of “interfering in state matters”, Mr Unsworth has thrown his support behind Mr Falinski’s predecessor Bronwyn Bishop, who was rolled in a preselection battle for the seat before the 2016 federal election.
“We live on the northern beaches – we understand the issues. Bronwyn is onside with the issues we’re onside with,” Mr Unsworth told the Herald.
Mr Falinski fired back at the former premier and former transport minister, accusing him of being part of a group trying to stop “even modest improvements to public transport”.
He rejected Mr Unsworth’s bid to link the B-Line with overdevelopment as “hysterical, both in claims and humour terms” and said they “lacked any evidence whatsoever”.
Mr Unsworth and Ms Bishop spoke at a forum of more than 100 residents in Mona Vale last week, which was held to protest the B-Line and the perceived overdevelopment of the Pittwater electorate.
The pair are unlikely allies. Mr Unsworth built his career through the Labor union movement before moving into politics. He served as transport minister in the Wran government before becoming premier in 1986 and, more recently, was chairman of the state transit authority between 2005 and 2009.
Ms Bishop, who resigned as federal speaker after it emerged she had used parliamentary expenses to charter a helicopter to a Liberal Party fundraiser, is a vocal advocate of free enterprise and has been critical of the union movement.
“We’re up against brutalism here in Mona Vale,” Mr Unsworth told the rally on April 9. “The B-Line is going to cause a lot of destruction along its route.”
Ms Bishop, who was in the crowd, then took the stage and made an impromptu 10-minute speech. She avoided the B-Line issue, but said the northern beaches lifestyle was being “threatened” by more people “coming into the electorate”.
“High-density living is what most people who live here have come to escape,” she told the gathering, before voicing her disapproval of the state government’s forced council amalgamations.
In a comment which drew applause from the crowd, Mr Unsworth called out “bring back Bronwyn” – a line that he had road-tested at a rally in Village Park several weeks earlier.
“I’d like to run a campaign [to] bring back Bronwyn,” he told the small crowd last month.
But in an interview with the Herald, Mr Unsworth qualified his support for Ms Bishop, stating it was “just a catchphrase” which was designed to highlight his opposition to Mr Falinski.