Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Nov 1, 2018

Opinion Piece – Rail can relieve the burden for Western Sydney – Thursday, 1 November, 2018

Australia’s cities are in a state of transition.

There was a time in Australia when you could live close to an Australian capital city CBD in a house on a quarter acre.

But in 2018, strong population growth is taking us into a new era featuring higher population densities and a mix of detached housing, apartments and town houses.

While that transition is manageable, the impediment we face is that in many respects our transport infrastructure is designed for the old Australia, not the nation we inhabit in the 21st century.

That is why traffic congestion is undermining economic growth and eroding our quality of life.

For millions of Australians traffic congestion is a ball and chain that is ruining their lives and forcing them to take long daily commutes, often on expensive toll roads.

Many have no access to public transport as an alternative.

It is a tragedy that many Australian commuters spend more time travelling to and from work in their cars than they spend at home playing with their children.

It is time for governments to work together to confront this serious problem in the national interest.

In the past, too many leaders have chosen to turn away.

For example, when Tony Abbott took office in 2013, he cancelled billions of dollars’ worth of public transport investment that had been put in the Federal Budget by the previous Labor Government.

That included removing funding for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Line that would have been opening soon. That project would have opened up access for Western Sydney to the high-value jobs around Macquarie Park and taken pressure off the Western Line.

Mr Abbott’s reason, as he outlined in his 2009 book Battlelines, was that he believes Australians don’t want to use public transport and enjoy the freedom that comes with being what Mr Abbott called “kings in their cars’’.

This ideological position has distorted infrastructure priorities in Sydney away from public transport, towards toll roads.

And that has meant a rush in planning so that the Westconnex project no longer resembles the priority identified by Infrastructure NSW to improve freight movements around the Port. Indeed it has become a road to more roads under the NSW Liberal Government.

Westconnex has been poorly planned, is massively over-budget and has been imposed upon communities with inadequate consultation.

But putting that aside, the problem for Sydney is that there has not been sufficient investment in rail.

That’s where the Western Metro can help.

The proposal is for a 25km underground rail line with new stations, linking the Sydney CBD to Parramatta via the Bays Precinct and Sydney Olympic Park.

This would be a game changer for Parramatta and the jobs hubs around Olympic Park and the Bays Precinct.

It would not only make it easier for commuters to get to and from work, but would also strengthen links between the Sydney CBD and the Parramatta CBD.

This project can be a genuine catalyst for the creation of more jobs closer to where people live, which is a critical requirement to deal with the demographic pressures we are facing.

It is a good thing that both the NSW Government and the Labor Opposition led by Luke Foley have committed to the project.

As for Federal Labor, our intentions are clear. Labor Leader Bill Shorten has committed $3 billion to the Western Metro plus a further $3 billion for the Western Sydney Rail Line, a north-south link through Western Sydney which will connect the new Western Sydney Airport to the Sydney passenger network.

The Federal Government has yet to match Federal Labor’s commitment.

It should do so now.

Australians are sick of the politics of division. They want practical action on issues that actually matter, such as Australians being able to get to and from work in a reasonable time.

This is an edited transcript of Anthony Albanese’s to yesterday’s (OCT 31) speech to the Western Metro Forum in Sydney.

Oct 19, 2018

High Speed Rail Shouldn’t Run on Party Lines – Opinion – The Herald Sun – Friday, 19 October, 2018

If there is one thing we know about Australian voters in 2018, it is that they are tired of needless political division.

After five prime ministerships in five years and inadequate progress on national interest issues like climate change and indigenous reconciliation, Australians want less politics and more action.

That’s why we should be seeking out areas for cross-party collaboration in the national interest.

One area ripe for bipartisanship is the construction of a High Speed Rail Link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

This project would not only revolutionise interstate travel and boost tourism, but also turbo-charge regional economic development and decentralisation.

While the former Labor Government completed a positive feasibility study on the project in 2013, the Coalition Government has failed to advance it, defying an international trend toward greater investment in fast rail.

However, the Government’s position appears to have changed.

We know this because last month, the Herald Sun was leaked a list of more than $7 billion worth of infrastructure projects, including High Speed Rail, to which the Coalition secretly allocated some funding in this year’s Budget.

But rather than release the funding now, the Government has decided to squirrel away these projects for announcement during the next federal election campaign.

That makes no sense.

Instead of delaying action for political reasons, we should just get on with it.

With this in mind, on Monday (September 15) I re-introduced a Private Member’s Bill to Parliament that would create a High Speed Rail Authority.

The authority would conduct advanced planning for the project, finalise the business case and begin to explore options for private sector investment.

It would also work with the governments of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory to commence the important process of preserving the corridor for High Speed Rail before it is built out by urban sprawl.

That’s critical. Even if actual construction of High Speed Rail does not commence in the near term, we can save money now if we prevent ongoing development along the corridor.

We should also be exploring the intense interest from international companies which have experience in building High Speed Rail projects and say technical advancement is reducing the cost of such projects.

These steps can commence now.

There is no reason for delay. As we know from the leak to the Herald Sun, the funding is already available.

The 2013 feasibility study found High Speed Rail was viable and would return more than $2 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.

As Infrastructure Minister at the time, I asked an independent panel to examine the feasibility study and propose the best way forward.

That panel included former National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher, the Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott and the late Bryan Nye, of the Australasian Railway Association.

They recommended exactly what I am proposing in my Private Member’s Bill – the creation of a High Speed Rail Authority to advance planning and corridor protection.

Since 2013, the case for High Speed Rail has strengthened.

Strong population growth is causing severe traffic congestion in our capital cities, particularly in Melbourne, the nation’s fastest growing city.

Part of the response must be to increase investment in urban rail, as well as better roads.

However, another part of the solution is promoting greater growth in regional Australia so it can absorb a greater proportion of increases in our population.

That’s where High Speed Rail can be a game changer.

It would open up significant development opportunities for the regional communities along its path – cities like the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

If, for example, people could travel the 190km journey between Melbourne and Shepparton at 300km an hour, businesses would have greater incentive to establish operations in the regional city, taking advantage of its lower overheads.

This would create new jobs – the essential ingredient to any policy for regional development and decentralisation.

High Speed Rail will require significant public and private investment.

It will also take years to develop, with the job taking a number of electoral cycles.

That’s why it requires bi-partisan support.

But above all, High Speed rail requires vision. We need to think beyond the three-year electoral cycle, envision a better future and take then take the necessary steps to make that vision real.

My Private Member’s Bill provides the platform for bipartisanship on High Speed Rail.

The Morrison Government would be serving the public interest if it jumped on board, supported the Bill, established the authority and advanced the project.

 

This piece was first published in The Herald Sun today: https://bit.ly/2q2t2Cp 

Oct 17, 2018

Government must confront public transport parking crisis – Opinion – The Big Smoke – Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The inability to find a park close to their station is something all commuters unfortunately face. Good government means solving this problem.

There’s nothing new about the idea that greater investment in urban rail will help ease the traffic congestion that is plaguing Australia’s capital cities.

But it is important to remember that even when governments deliver new rail projects, the job isn’t necessarily over.

In parts of Australia in 2018, a lack of car parking at train stations is emerging as an unwanted impediment to efforts to tackle traffic congestion, which costs the nation about $16 billion a year in lost productivity.

Across our big cities, workers who commence their daily commute by driving from home to their nearest train station are struggling to find car parking.

Desperate to catch their trains, the commuters park on nearby streets, causing localised traffic congestion and often inconveniencing local residents.

Take for instance, the community of Mango Hill, in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.

It’s not very long ago that Mango Hill was little more than a pine forest, a few farms and a couple of roadside fruit stalls.

But over the past two decades, intense population growth has transformed the area into a vibrant residential community which Federal and State Labor governments connected to the Brisbane passenger rail network via the new Redcliffe Peninsula Line.

However, less than two years after this new train station opened, demand for its 221-space car park is outstripping supply.

In the same way, when the NSW Government opened the Leppington train station in the city’s south-west in 2015, it took less than a year for the station’s 850 car parking spaces to be full by 9am each weekday.

Unless governments act on parking, we risk creating a situation where commuters give up on public transport because it is too much trouble. That’s the last thing we want.

Federal Labor has part of the solution.

In Government we would create a $300 million Park and Ride Fund to work with state and local governments to expand community car parking at public transport hubs.

Already, we’ve announced eight park and ride projects, including at Mango Hill and nearby Narangba in Queensland; Gosford, Woy Woy and Tuggerah on the NSW Central Coast; Riverwood and Schofields in Sydney; and Frankston in Victoria.

The rationale is simple – if we want commuters to use trains, train stations must be accessible.

It’s not enough just to build rail networks. We must also ensure they are easy to use.

In an ideal world, commuters would live within walking distance of train stations and have no need to park and ride.

Indeed, that is the situation in many long-established urban areas of Australia.

But outer suburban areas are often served by a single train line that draws in commuters from far and wide.

When it’s too far to walk to the station, parking becomes critical.

That’s where government needs to step in with practical measures such as our Park and Ride Fund.

Traditionally Federal governments have left car parking to state and local governments.

But after five years of underinvestment in infrastructure by the current Federal Government, traffic congestion looms as a genuine threat to national economic growth and is eroding living standards.

All levels of governments must work together to address the problem.

Responses should include increased investment in rail and roads, job creation closer to where people live, increased population density along established public transport corridors and greater efforts on regional development and decentralisation to take some of the pressure of growth off capital cities.

The emergence of the parking problem points to a broader challenge relating to population growth and development in urban Australia in coming decades.

As our cities continue to grow, much of that growth will happen in outer suburban areas.

The National Growth Areas Alliance, made up of local councils representing such areas, states that their population of about five million is expected to climb to 7.5 million between now and 2031.

That’s twice the national growth rate.

To truly deal with traffic congestion, we must ensure we provide the infrastructure investment needed to support this growth.


 
This piece was first published today by The Big Smoke: https://bit.ly/2P1Xs6c 

Sep 17, 2018

Why Investing in Infrastructure is a Good Way to Fire Up the Australian Economy – Opinion Piece – Business Insider – Tuesday, 18 September 2018

If there is a one thing Australia’s major political parties agree on, it is the need for governments to focus on economic growth and job creation to provide opportunities for Australians.

However, while growth is our shared aim, it is unfortunate that in the current political climate we are struggling to agree on how to create that growth.

If you listen to the rhetoric of the Federal Government, you might think the only way to drive growth is to cut taxes for huge corporations and high-income earners.

For years now, the Government has pursued tax cuts for big companies and criticised Labor because we place a higher priority on investing in health and education.

The problem with the Government’s approach is that it has placed all of its eggs in one basket – tax cuts – while ignoring other drivers of growth.

Take infrastructure investment.

Good rail and road projects boost productivity, which also leads to economic growth and job creation.

If, for example, we were to improve access to ports by expanding rail capacity, businesses would save time and money by getting their products to their customers more swiftly.

They could then invest the resulting savings back into growing their businesses and creating more jobs.

But back in 2013, Prime Minister Tony Abbott dumped the former Labor Government’s sensible plan to duplicate rail access into Sydney’s Port Botany, which, if it had proceeded, would have been nearing completion by now.

Then there is the issue of traffic congestion.

According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, traffic congestion costs the economy more than $16 billion year in lost productivity.

The problem is getting worse each year and is now undermining the Australian quality of life and creating tension in our communities.

But the Coalition has failed to respond.

In 2013, Mr Abbott cancelled billions of dollars of planned Federal investment in public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River project.

Mr Abbott’s successor Malcolm Turnbull talked a lot about public transport, but failed to reverse Mr Abbott’s funding cuts.

Indeed, Mr Turnbull simply refused to invest in Cross River Rail, even though it will provide a significant boost to the capacity of the rail network right across South-East Queensland

The new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, should press the reset button on growth.

Mr Morrison should abandon the Coalition’s previous one-dimensional approach and look at other growth strategies, including investing in productivity-enhancing infrastructure projects.

Judging by his record in drafting the 2018 Budget as Treasurer, the signs are not good.

In the lead-up to the Budget’s delivery, the Government announced support for several public transport projects, including Western Sydney Rail, the Melbourne Airport Rail and the Perth METRONET.

It leaked the details to the media, which duly attracted front page newspaper coverage.

But when the Budget Papers finally hit the desk, we found that 85% of money committed to infrastructure in the 2018 Budget won’t be invested until after the four-year Forward Estimates period.

Mr Morrison has pushed investment off into the Never Never.

This is bad for our economy. We need investment now, not years from now.

The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has already calculated that over the next decade, Federal infrastructure grants to the states will fall from 0.4% of GDP to 0.2%.

Yet Mr Morrison has chosen to delay meaningful investment.

It is time for a rethink. Mr Morrison should get on with it.

 

This piece was first published in Business Insider today: https://bit.ly/2MCrKad 

Aug 22, 2018

Opinion Piece – Rail Investment Needed to Boost Decentralisation – Track and Signal Magazine – Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Anyone who lives in one of Australia’s state capitals would be very familiar with the way in which strong population growth is transforming our cities and our lifestyles.

The national population is growing by about 1.4 per cent a year.

This growth rate makes it essential that governments invest in better infrastructure – particularly urban public transport.

However, while investment will necessarily focus on the capital cities, we must not underestimate the growth potential of regional centres, particularly those close to capital cities, to absorb some of the pressure of urban growth.

Australia needs a serious vision for decentralisation.

It needs to focus not only on greater ease of movement within big cities, but also on transport links between those cities and other population centres.

The current Federal Government’s decentralisation strategy goes no further than moving a small public service office to Armidale and talking about decentralisation in rhetorical terms.

Many Australians are moving to regional centres to take advantage of low housing prices and a less stressful lifestyle.

Others, like contractors or part-time workers, don’t need to go to the city every day and are attracted to the idea of living in a smaller community and commuting for a couple of days a week.

This trend is certain to continue. And governments need to respond.

It’s not solely about people living in regional areas and commuting to the capital cities. Our ultimate aim should be for better transport links to spark economic development in regional centres, encouraging businesses to set up premises in regions, again taking advantage of lower land costs.

Fortunately, there is a blueprint for the type of investment that is needed – Victoria’s Regional Rail Link.

Completed in 2015, this project untangled the regional rail network from the Melbourne suburban network.

It included construction of a new regional train route between West Werribee and Deer Park, new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, as well as upgrades to Footscray, West Footscray and Sunshine stations.

Separating regional and suburban rail lines has significantly improved rail services to centres such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, allowing trains to travel to and from Melbourne more frequently and quickly.

There is great potential to improve services even further as part of the proposed rail link between Melbourne and the Tullamarine Airport.

According to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, if we choose the proposed route that travels through Sunshine, the project will “unlock Western and Northern Victoria’’ by separating more suburban and regional rail lines and could ultimately lead to commuters travelling from Geelong to Melbourne in less than 40 minutes.

Brisbane also needs better links to its surrounding regions – particularly the Sunshine and Gold coasts.

This is why the Queensland Labor Government is proceeding with the Cross River Rail Link, which will provide a second crossing of the Brisbane River in the city’s CBD.

Once complete, Cross River Rail will dramatically increase the capacity of the network.

Cross River Rail was approved by the independent Infrastructure Australia in 2012 and rated as the State’s number one infrastructure priority.

However, the Federal Coalition Government refuses to back the project.

That is a mistake. It should be working with the Queensland Government to expedite Cross River Rail as a critical enabler of further system upgrades to the north and south.

We also need the Federal Government to finally commit to a High Speed Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

This visionary project would revolutionise interstate travel, allowing for three-hour train trips between capitals.

Just as importantly, it would also turbo-charge the economic development of the regional centres along its route, including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, the Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

High Speed Rail would be an economic game changer for regional Australia.

That’s why the former Labor Government completed the business case which said the project stacked up and then appointed an expert panel which recommended we begin to secure the corridor before it is built out by urban sprawl.

This was an example of a government anticipating a better future and putting in place the necessary steps to begin to create that future.

But for the past five years, the Federal Coalition Government has failed to take High Speed Rail forward.

That’s a lost opportunity for genuine nation building.

This piece was first published in the August-October 2018 edition of Track and Signal Magazine. 

Aug 7, 2018

Opinion Piece – As Australia Races to 25 Million People its Infrastructure Must Keep Up – Tuesday, 7 August, 2018

It’s often said, very accurately, that change is the only constant in life.

In the 21st century, with change accelerating faster than ever before, managing it in the public interest has become one of the greatest challenges for government.

This is particularly important when it comes to infrastructure in our cities and regions, which must be constantly reviewed and renewed in accordance with those changing needs.

We must not only anticipate the future, we must take appropriate steps to shape it.

Australia’s population will hit 25 million today. Such strong population growth and changes in work patterns are fundamentally altering the face of Australia’s capital cities.

Cities are booming.

They are expanding outwards and upwards amid strong population growth and jobs growth in and around their central business districts.

Governments need to invest in the railways and roads required to accommodate this growth in order to alleviate traffic congestion, which undermines our quality of life.

It’s a pity that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott lacked vision when, in 2013, he cancelled all federal investment in public transport projects in our cities.

Indeed, the experts tell us that traffic congestion is costing the nation more than $16 billion a year in lost productivity, with the figure expected to hit $53 million a year by 2031 unless we take action now.

While Mr Abbott’s successor Malcolm Turnbull offers rhetorical support for public transport, he has refused to reinstate Mr Abbott’s cuts to Federal investment.

Mr Turnbull likes to take selfies on trains and trams; he just won’t invest in trains and trams.

Instead of seeing public transport as a photo opportunity, Mr Turnbull should understand it for what it is – an essential public service that will become increasingly important as our population continues to grow over coming decades.

We need to invest now. In spite of this, 85 percent of the investment the Coalition says it will make in public transport in coming years won’t appear before the next two elections.

We need to look beyond immediate politics and towards the need of a dynamic future.

Better public transport is only part of the equation when it comes to less congested, more successful cities.

A great way to ease pressure on capital cities is to promote growth and economic development of regional centres.

When it comes to Australia’s east coast, genuine decentralisation should include construction of a High Speed Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

High Speed Rail would revolutionise interstate travel on Australia’s eastern coast, allowing people to travel between capital cities in as little as three hours.

But it would also turbo charge the economic development of the regional cities along its route, including the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

High Speed Rail could make it possible for people to live in regional areas and commute to the city. Even better, it could enable companies to establish their offices and factories in regional centres, where they could take advantage of lower overheads while also knowing their capital city markets were just a short train ride away.

A feasibility study conducted by the former Labor Government found High Speed Rail was viable and would return more than $2 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.

We also appointed an expert panel which recommended the creation of a High Speed Rail Authority to commence detailed planning and begin to acquire the corridor before it was built out by urban sprawl.

But again, Tony Abbott dumped the idea. And again, Mr Turnbull, who presents himself as a rail enthusiast, has failed to put it back in place.

High Speed Rail will happen one day. The need for decentralisation makes it inevitable. Even if we don’t want to build it tomorrow, we should secure the corridor now so it can proceed in the future.

In fact, we should have started securing the corridor back in 2013.

In the same way, we should be acquiring the corridors for other rail and road projects that we know will happen in the future.

Indeed, the independent Infrastructure Australia produced a report last year calling for a formal program of corridor acquisition for future infrastructure projects.

But nothing has happened.

There’s an old saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

This piece was first published by Ten Daily today: https://bit.ly/2KtYwJH

TUESDAY, 7 AUGUST, 2018

 

Jul 12, 2018

Opinion Piece – Cities need true partnership, not simple “deals” – Daily Telegraph – Thursday, 12 July 2018

One of the great challenges of life in 21st century Australia is the way in which strong population growth is transforming our cities.

Urban sprawl, traffic congestion and the shift toward greater population density are all challenges that will not be overcome without genuine collaboration between all levels of government.

Otherwise, uncontrolled growth will damage our economy and our quality of life.

Labor has engaged on urban policy since the 1970s. We seek to work with local communities, particularly through their local councils, to develop responses to the challenges of growth.

By contrast, the Coalition is a newcomer to the urban policy space. In 2013, it dismantled the former Labor Government’s urban policy framework, including our Major Cities Unit.

This changed in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull established his City Deals Program as a vehicle for greater inter-governmental collaboration. Under City Deals, federal, state and local governments agree to a shared vision for the future and ways to achieve make their vision real.

However, more than 18 months after the first deal was signed in Townsville, it is clear City Deals have fallen well short of their stated objectives.

The program is a poor imitation of the United Kingdom model it seeks to replicate. Rather than providing a framework for collaboration, it seems to be based on a top-down approach in which Canberra determines priorities and requires other levels of government to march to its tune.

A Labor Government will overhaul and replace City Deals.

Our City Partnerships model will foster more genuine collaboration, transforming the existing top-down system into one in which councils are seen not as casual stakeholders, but genuine partners in urban policy.

A key problem with Mr Turnbull’s City Deals is that there are no clear guidelines about how they work. City Deals have either been in marginal electorates framed around single election commitments or are simply missing depth and detail.

This is the case for the Western Sydney City Deal, which excluded Blacktown Council for no good reason. And the deal’s centrepiece – a north-south rail link through Western Sydney – is still unfunded.

The Coalition’s model also limits engagement with the private sector.

But most worryingly, there is no review process for Mr Turnbull’s City Deals – no independent mechanism to determine whether they are working.

Labor will address this deficiency by re-establishing the Major Cities Unit within the independent Infrastructure Australia and requiring it to use transparent measures to assess the progress of City Partnerships.

The Major Cities Unit will also refresh the National Urban Policy that Labor released when in government to ensure City Partnerships align with its objectives, for example, in areas like sustainability and smart technology.

Labor accepts that City Partnerships must be tailored and flexible.

But we expect them to set out a strategic vision that aligns with the National Urban Policy and delivers on pre-determined performance indicators.

The importance of a bottom-up approach was rammed home for me last month, when I met many mayors from around the nation who were in Canberra for the Australian Local Government Association annual congress.

Mayor after mayor told me of their desire to co-operate with other levels of government, other councils in their regions as well as the private sector to achieve positive change in their communities.

Yet the Government seems to have little interest in using its City Deals regime as a vehicle for this collaboration.

For example, in the Hunter Valley – Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Stephens and Cessnock councils are seeking $13 million from the Commonwealth to deliver the next stage of the Glendale Interchange.

The project will create 6000 jobs and unlock $700 million of private sector investment, including an expansion of Stockland Glendale.

This sounds like a perfect opportunity for collaboration with the Commonwealth.

In the same way, the Council of Mayors for South-East Queensland, which encompasses ten local government areas, has been working together for years on issues of common interest.

The Federal Government is not involved. But it should be.

 

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph today: https://bit.ly/2JfKyKB

Jun 29, 2018

Opinion Piece – ‘Traffic Congestion: The Problem We Can’t Ignore – Business Excellence, the Journal of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Friday, 29 June 2018

If someone told you Australia could boost its economy by $16.5 billion a year, you’d probably assume they had somehow stumbled upon a very big money tree.

But according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, $16.5 billion a year is the annual value of lost economic activity caused by traffic congestion in Australian cities.

With the population steadily increasing, our major cities, home to four out of five Australians, are becoming seriously congested.

Commuting times are getting longer. Too many Australians who live in outer suburban areas spend more time in their car travelling to and from work than they spend with their children.

Although Australia has a wide range of challenges in the transport sphere, moving people around our cities is the most immediate.

It cannot be ignored, because it affects so many people’s daily lives and because it as acting as a hand brake on productivity and economic growth.

The problem requires significant and sustained investment in better roads and public transport, whether it is heavy rail, light rail, or busways.

And on that note, the 2018 Federal Budget failed to deliver.

It did not include a single dollar of new investment in infrastructure.

Any funding allocated to new projects was already in the Budget and 85 per cent of that funding won’t be spent before the next election or the election after that.

Victoria in particular continues to be shortchanged.

This financial year, the state is receiving 8 per cent of Federal infrastructure grants, despite being home to a quarter of the population. While Victoria’s share will increase marginally over coming years, the Forward Estimates have it peaking at 18 per cent in 2021-22 – still well short of a fair share.

The Budget did include a promise of $5 billion to construct a rail line to the Melbourne Airport by way of an off-budget equity injection.

Under Budget rules, off-budget projects must be able to make a return to the Budget.

Given that public transport does not generate enough revenue to cover its operating expenses, let alone its capital cost, this approach won’t work for this project.

As the Grattan Institute’s Marion Terrill has noted: “If infrastructure projects are never going to make a commercial return, the Government should stop pretending they will. And if they are worth building at all, the Government should fund them transparently on Budget.’’

Such trickiness does not augur well for the timely delivery of projects that will reduce congestion.

Victoria and the nation can’t afford to wait.

Each year, the economic cost of inaction on infrastructure increases. It is expected to hit $53 billion a year by 2031 unless we act now.

The Federal Government should be partnering with states now to build projects like the Melbourne Metro, Western Sydney Rail, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and light rail in Adelaide.

Congestion can also be addressed via greater concentration on better planning.

Part of the reason traffic congestion is worsening is that in recent years, jobs growth has shifted from the suburbs to the inner cities.

With inner-city housing prices outside the reach of average income earners, there is a mismatch between where people work – increasingly around central business districts – and where they can afford to live.

While better public transport is critical, governments can also act by seeking to promote job growth in suburban areas.

In part this can be achieved by investing in research precincts around hospitals and universities, just as the new Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek has potential to create tens of thousands of jobs closer to residential areas.

Governments must also consider the possibility of increased housing density, particularly on established public transport corridors.

This presents a real challenge. We must collaborate to ensure that increased population densities do not come at the expense of quality of life.

Governments are happy to accept the higher revenues that come with an increasing population, but they have a duty to invest some of that income to ensure that railways and roads are adequate to meet community needs.

Failure to do so will not only erode the Australian quality of life, but reduce long-term economic growth and job creation.

 

This piece was first published today in Business Excellence, the journal of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: https://bit.ly/2IBunr0 

 

Jun 11, 2018

Opinion Piece – Ignore Driverless Cars and We’re Rejecting the Future – Herald Sun – Monday, 11 June 2018

By Anthony Albanese and Ed Husic

The ever-accelerating pace of change in the 21st century demands that regulators be quick on their feet. Science and technology move so quickly that the moment we’ve settled the regulations governing the latest emerging sector, circumstances change, requiring that we revisit the regulatory framework.

For example, the internet has developed so quickly over the past two decades that governments have failed to keep pace with emerging problems regarding privacy, bullying and cybercrime.

We should learn from this when it comes to the approach of what will be one of our biggest changes in decades: the emergence of automated vehicles.

Driverless cars are not science fiction. They are coming.

Hundreds of trial vehicles are already on the road around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe, but also in Australia.

With change already beckoning, governments must think hard now about what changes, if any, need to be considered with regard to regulations in areas like liability, insurance and, most importantly, public safety. In Australia, we are not doing enough to face such challenges.

For instance, recent Senate Estimates hearings were told that Australia’s National Transport Commission is undertaking work that could make Australian non-compliant with the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic.

The NTC is responsible for advising state and federal ministers on issues to do with road rules and driver licensing. It creates model laws, which states and territories base legislation.

While the NTC is working on model laws concerning automated vehicles, it is not attending United Nations talks aimed at thrashing out an internationally consistent approach under the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. That is a mistake. We must take a global approach and not isolate ourselves.

An important practical advantage of being a signatory to the Geneva Convention is that it allows Australians who travel to have their driver’s licences recognised in other nations.

However, if Australia reaches a position where our road rules are not consistent with the Geneva Convention, Australian licences might not be recognised overseas, which would inconvenience travellers.

Australia must be fully engaged with the international community on such matters. And since the experts are predicting autonomous vehicles could be available for use by 2020, there’s no time to waste.

We must prepare for what will be a transformation in transport. And in a globalised world, we must prioritise collaboration with other nations, not just for the sake of consistency, but also to pick up good ideas we might not have thought about.

It’s not just about driver’s licences. For example, while autonomous vehicles offer advantages of increased safety and reduced emissions, they will also displace people.

Hundreds of thousands of Australians drive cars and trucks for a living. The government should be working hard right now to consider how it can help people who lose their jobs to automation with retraining.

Yet the Turnbull Government is asleep at the wheel. It is cutting investment in training, reducing apprenticeships and gives little indication that it is thinking any further than the next election. It seems to operate according to the demands of the 1950s, when change occurred at a glacial pace and governments had ample time to anticipate its effects and plan necessary responses.

In the 21st century change happens fast. Governments must anticipate that change and get ahead of the curve.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for all governments in this country is to get better at managing change generally, not just in terms of regulation, but also in managing its effects on people.

Governments must accept that they have a responsibility to take a proactive approach in managing its effects, in the public interest.

 

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Transport. Ed Husic is the Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy.

This piece was first published in today’s edition of The Herald Sun, 11 June 2018.

May 31, 2018

Opinion Piece – Infrastructure Funny Money won’t get Projects Built – Thursday, 31 May, 2018

by Anthony Albanese

When it comes to infrastructure, budget 2018 was a triumph of spin over substance.

In the lead-up to the budget’s delivery, the Turnbull government pretended it was about to deliver “an infrastructure budget“, telling journalists it would fund projects like Western Sydney Rail and Melbourne Airport Rail.

While the “leaks” attracted front-page newspaper coverage in Sydney and Melbourne, the actual budget included no money for construction of either project.

In fact, the budget did not include a dollar of new infrastructure funding anywhere, simply allocating money already in the budget to new projects.

But most of this spending won’t happen for years. Only 1 per cent of this year’s allocations will be spent in 2018-19. Three quarters won’t be invested until beyond the forward estimates.

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This means that Australians will have to re-elect the Coalition not once, but twice, before the bulk of the money will appear.

Put simply, the government has sought public praise by pretending it is committed to building new railways and roads, but has pushed their delivery off into the never-never.

In the meantime, actual federal infrastructure grants to states and territories are falling off a cliff.

In 2017-18 the government promised to distribute $8 billion in infrastructure grants to the states.

But the budget documents show grants will fall year on year to $4.5 billion by 2021-22.

Across the four- year forward estimates, this year’s budget is more than $2 billion less than last year’s projections.

It’s even worse than a year ago, when the independent Parliamentary Budget Office calculated that over the next decade, federal infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP will halve from 0.4 per cent to 0.2 per cent.

Australia needs an increase in infrastructure investment now, not four to eight years from now.

Investing in the right projects now will boost economic activity and create jobs in the short-term, while lifting productivity and economic growth in the medium to long term.

As cover for its cuts, the government is continuing to promote its attempts to attract more private investment to deliver public infrastructure as a viable alternative.

Must provide a return

While private investment is welcome, the government’s endeavours in this area have yielded little.

Its push began three years ago with the creation of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility. It has failed to deliver a major new infrastructure project.

Then there was last year’s new idea – the Infrastructure Financing Unit, which was designed to use “innovative financing” mechanisms like value capture to secure private investment.

After a year of operation, the IFU has not produced a project.

Undeterred, the government used this budget to resort to complete fantasy by claiming it will provide $5 billion in off-budget funding via an equity investment for the aforementioned Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Off-budget funding can work for some projects. Indeed, the former Labor government used an equity funding model to deliver the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal.

But the golden rule for projects to be taken off-budget is that they must be able to provide a return to the budget. That return must cover not only operating expenses, but also a commercial return on the capital investment.

There is no doubt that the right public transport projects can boost productivity and generate economic growth. However, they do not produce revenue streams sufficient to cover the cost of their operation, let alone the cost of construction.

There’s an old saying to the effect that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The idea that infrastructure like the Melbourne Airport Link will somehow build itself without any taxpayer funding is too good to be true.

This is sham funding. It is a funny-money political narrative, not a genuine plan to deliver productivity-enhancing, congestion-relieving infrastructure.

This is why independent experts have questioned the government’s approach.

For example, the Grattan Institute’s Marion Terrill has warned: “If infrastructure projects are never going to make a commercial return, the government should stop pretending they will. And if they are worth building at all, the government should fund them transparently on-budget.”

Adrian Dwyer, the head of peak industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, has a similar view: “There are only two ways to pay for infrastructure – tickets and taxes. We can’t finance our way out of a funding problem.”

During its five years in office, the Coalition has cut infrastructure investment across the nation, particularly for public transport.

In budget 2018, it sought to shift its rhetoric to pretend it was ready to reverse its cuts. But once you get beyond the spin, nothing has changed.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Cities.

 

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