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.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.