At the Liberal Party Conference on 30 June, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared that a Liberal Government would commit $4bn to road projects in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. For Sydney, this translated to $1.5bn for the M4 East.
“Almost nothing builds confidence more than seeing cranes over our cities and almost nothing signifies progress more than new roads.” – Tony Abbott (30 June 2012), Leader of the Opposition
This decision was clearly made on political criteria, rather than planning and transport criteria. It funds the projects where the benefit flows primarily to the marginal electorates, rather than where the the benefit is greatest. And unfortunately, it’s a bipartisan pattern that is emerging in Commonwealth-State infrastructure funding, with the Gillard Government making a similar mistake when it declared that it would provide $2.1bn of funding towards the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) prior to the 2010 election.
In that case, Julia Gillard at least consulted with the state government first and got them to fast track the PERL. But Mr Abbott hasn’t done this prior to his announcement, and the NSW Government currently appears to be planning to build the M5 East duplication and F3-M2 Link rather than the M4 East.
The other problem with Mr Abbott’s offer is that it represents only a fraction of the total cost. While the majority of the cost of the PERL ($2.6bn at first, though later blowing out to $4.5bn) would be borne by the Commonwealth, the M4 East has a price tag of between $5bn (for a short route between Strathfield and Ashfield) and $10bn (for the long route that also links it to the airport at Mascot). This leaves the state government out of pocket by $3.5bn-$8.5bn, compared to $0.5bn-$1.9bn for the PERL.
In both cases the problem remains that the Australian government seems to want to pick the infrastructure that the state should build, rather than trying to fit it into the long term metropolitan plan the state has developed for the city. The ridiculousness of Federal Labor insisting on funding the PERL over the NSW State Government’s preferred Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) can be seen in comments by Infrastructure Australia in which it declares that the PERL is an inferior choice than NWRL (its concerns surrounding the NWRL aside).
Mr Abbott’s proposal in particular is concerning in that it reverts to the view that transport funding should favour road over rail, private transport over public transport. It fits in with the liberal view of individual liberty and freedom – and the private motor car provides this much better than a centrally planned public transport system designed “for the people”. In his book, he dismisses the need for any vehicle larger than a car:
“…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.” – Tony Abbott (Battlelines, p. 174), Leader of the Opposition
The NSW Liberal Government takes a different perspective on the role of public transport, having not only made the NWRL its centrepiece but also buying the monorail and light rail, reverting them from private to public ownership (albeit still privately operated). They’ve done this presumably out of a realisation that roads do not have the capacity of public transport, and that congestion is costing the economy in potential output.
When it comes to a second airport for Sydney, the 3 most powerful Liberals from Sydney: Mr Abbott, Shadow Treaurer Joe Hockey and Shadow Cabinet Minister Malcolm Turnbull all support a second airport in the Sydney basin. Only Mr Hockey has named a preferred site so far: Wilton. None seem to be pushing for Badgeries Creek. However, Nationals Leader Warren Truss, who is also the Shadow Transport Minister, doesn’t think Sydney needs a second airport, putting him in NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s camp. Should Mr Truss hold on to that portfolio in government, then it seems unlikely that Sydney will see a second airport while he and Mr O’Farrell control the levers of power.
The Federal Coalition also supports completing the construction of the Pacific Highway. The completion of this project is currently uncertain as the NSW government insists that funding continue to follow the 80%-20% split where the federal government contributes the majority of the funds, while the federal government is insisting that past 2014 all federal funding would only match state dollars. Mr Truss has mentioned he would consider the suggestion by NSW to transfer the $2.1bn earmarked for the the PERL towards the Pacific Highway, which would cover the shortfall. This again suggests an anti-rail bias by the federal Coalition.