Dec 16, 2015

Court overrules Turnbull’s flawed Perth Freight Link

Malcolm Turnbull’s credibility on infrastructure development is collapsing around his ears, with the WA Supreme Court today ruling out his proposed Perth Freight Link toll road on environmental grounds.

Today’s court ruling came just days after the Australian National Office of Audit condemned the Government for ignoring departmental advice in 2014 when it provided $3 billion in funding for the now-discredited East-West Link toll road in Melbourne, which would have produced only 45 cents of benefit for every dollar invested.

And that came after new figures showed the cost of the Government’s other big road project, Sydney’s Westconnex toll road, has blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.

When the Government announced plans to build the Perth Freight Link in the 2014 Budget, it surprised even the WA Government, which was unable to provide any details about the proposal.

At the time, Labor warned that the proposed road would pass through an environmentally sensitive wetland.

But the Government arrogantly ploughed ahead, despite having committed to the toll road without any cost-benefit analysis and without having sought advice on its merits from the independent Infrastructure Australia.

Today’s court decision to throw out the WA Environmental Protection Agency’s draft approval of the project should finally convince the Government to reconsider its approach to infrastructure.

It must start listening to expert advice and use the expertise available at Infrastructure Australia to properly assess projects before committing funding on the basis of political whims.

The collapse of the Perth Freight Link and the East-West Link means the Government’s infrastructure program is in tatters – a fact further highlighted in the Mid-Year Fiscal and Economic Outlook document, released yesterday.

MYEFO showed that in recent months the Government had committed $1 billion in spending for three new projects  – Stage II of the Gold Coast Light Rail, Perth’s Armadale Road upgrade and Adelaide’s Northern Connector – despite having no additional funding.

Instead, it will raid funds from other projects which it failed to name in yesterday’s MYEFO.

It is no wonder the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that after two years of Coalition Government, public infrastructure investment has collapsed by 20 per cent.