Op-Ed: 'Freight link alternative follows worrying pattern'

Opinion Piece

PFO-002/2017

09 February 2017

The Western Australian election offers the latest evidence of a disturbing trend: Labor and the Greens do not seem to care much about the infrastructure needs of Australians who do not live in exclusive inner ring suburbs.

The Barnett Liberal Government in Western Australia, working with the Turnbull Government, has committed to build the Perth Freight Link. This $1.9 billion motorway project will take heavy traffic off suburban streets in south-western Perth, improve safety and community amenity, give commuters in south-western Perth better access to the city, and provide a fast, efficient and reliable connection between Fremantle Port and the Perth metropolitan area.

But the Greens are violently opposed to Perth Freight Link.

Now WA Labor has promised that if it comes to government it will cancel the project and rip up the contracts that have already been signed with construction partners.

This is the same troubling pattern we have seen around the country in recent elections.

In Victoria the Napthine Liberal government signed construction contracts to build the East West Link in 2014. This motorway would have better connected the eastern and inner western suburbs of Melbourne to the city.

The decision to proceed with East West Link followed a lengthy planning process, going back to a review conducted for the Bracks Labor Government in 2006 by businessman and transport expert Sir Rod Eddington. He recommended the construction of what became known as the East West Link.

But Victorian Labor was more interested in holding a couple of inner city seats against a threat from the Greens – and so came into government with a promise to cancel the project.

The result, as the Victorian Auditor General has documented, is that more than one billion dollars of Victorian taxpayers’ money was wasted, including in paying compensation for cancelling contracts.

We saw the same pattern in the 2016 federal election.

Labor Infrastructure Spokesman Anthony Albanese, under pressure from the Greens in his inner city seat of Grayndler, abruptly changed his position on the massive WestConnex project.

This $16.8 billion motorway project will widen the M4 and bring it closer to the city at Haberfield; duplicate the M5 and bring it closer to the city at St Peters; and join the two locations with a free flowing motorway tunnel.

In a 2013 media release, Mr Albanese highlighted the benefits of WestConnex in “helping western and south-western Sydney residents to cut back on travel times and improve the quality of life they can enjoy with their families.”

In 2014 he stated in a media interview that while in government federal Labor had provided $1.8 billion in funding for WestConnex (in addition to $25 million in planning works).

But in 2016 Albanese completely reversed gears, telling a community meeting in his electorate that if Labor came to power, there would be ‘not one dollar from the federal Labor Government’ for WestConnex.

And in an attempt to completely rewrite history, he told the ABC’s Fran Kelly that Labor only provided planning money, saying “We provided $25 million for planning, Fran, that’s the whole point. They say they support planning, we provided $25 million, not for construction, not a dollar, did we provide for construction.”

As our cities get larger, it is vital that we continue to invest in better infrastructure – so that people can move about freely and efficiently, so that freight travels quickly and so that our cities remain some of the world’s most pleasant and liveable urban spaces.

That requires a mix of road and rail infrastructure – which is why as well as supporting projects like WestConnex and Perth Freight Link the Turnbull Government is providing funding towards the massive Sydney Metro rail project, the Perth to Forrestfield rail line and a range of other rail projects.

Affluent Greens and Labor voters in long established suburbs close to the CBD, well served by public transport, may not see much need for improved roads.

But for the millions of Australians who live further out improved motorway networks are vital.

Of course the Greens care very little for mainstream Australians who live in the suburbs – that is not where their votes come from.

Labor is supposed to be a major party. Increasingly though it is being infected by the ideological opposition to motorways which has long characterised the Greens.

The financial consequences of this attitude are troubling enough. Labor is quite happy to tear up contracts even if it means squandering taxpayers’ money.

But even more troubling is the cavalier lack of concern for the transport needs of mainstream Australians.

The lesson for Australians who live in our big cities should be pretty clear: unless you live in an exclusive inner city suburb, do not expect Labor or the Greens to deliver the infrastructure you need.

Originally published at: https://thewest.com.au/opinion/freight-link-alternative-follows-worrying-pattern-ng-b88380871z