Is Dubbo getting the best bang for its buck when it comes to transport spending?
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However, the announcement of the new services has drawn scrutiny from shadow minister for regional transport Sam Farraway.
Speaking at Budget Estimates on Wednesday, November 1, Mr Farraway drew attention to a pre-election fundraiser the minister and now premier Chris Minns held with the bus industry which raised $36,310 in donations.
In attendance at the May 2022 fundraiser were representatives of Buslines, the company running some of Dubbo's bus services.
Mr Farraway asked the minister if she thought it was "appropriate" to take donations from bus operators when she is the public figure who announces new services.
"Minister, it's a pretty clear timeline: donations received, appointment as a Minister, meetings as given in evidence today, and public announcements of services and contracts," he asked.
"Do you really think this passes the pub test?"
Minister Aitchison - who was a senior director of a coach charter business before entering Parliament in 2015 - acknowledged that she did receive donations from the bus industry but said they've all been disclosed in accordance with her obligations.
"My role as regional transport and roads Minister is also to encourage people to take up the opportunities offered by Transport to use bus services more broadly, particularly in regional cities," she told estimates.
"[In Dubbo] we heard from a person who lived in a retirement village that it was the first time they'd had a direct service. A person talked about the first time they'd had a direct service to the hospital and the first time they'd had a seven-day week service in Dubbo.
"These are things that the community won't know unless I actually tell them."
She said the 16 Regional Cities Program, which the increases to Dubbo's bus services came as a part of, started under the previous state government.
"Mr Farraway, I'm just checking: The 16 cities program, which these services were rolled out on, was actually initiated under your government," she said.
"Are you trying to put forward the proposition that your policy was not to put on one single service?"
The first changes to Dubbo's bus network under the program were announced by the coalition in 2020, with Mr Farraway in 2022 inviting the community to have their say on how the network can be further improved.
The Daily Liberal contacted Mr Farraway for comment about his remarks but was informed by Nationals leader Dugald Saunders that the party had to be careful what they said outside the protections of parliamentary privilege.
He said the exchange in estimates speaks for itself.
Minister Aitchison maintains she has "always acted with integrity" and said her relationship to the bus industry was scrutinised extensively before she became minister.
"I have been very, very clear with the community. They know what my background is," she told estimates.
"The information and knowledge that I have over many years in the industry has been helpful in terms of understanding how we could better deal with public transport in the state."
Minister Aitchison, Dubbo Buslines and Transport for NSW declined to comment.
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