Feb 12, 2016

Talk without action won’t keep Melbourne moving – Opinion – Herald Sun

Every Melbourne resident knows that when it comes to infrastructure investment, they have been dudded by the federal Coalition Government.

The 2014 Budget cut more than $3.5 billion from Commonwealth contributions to the Melbourne Metro, the M80 road project and the Managed Motorways program for the Monash Freeway.

Those projects had all been recommended by Infrastructure Australia based on cost-benefit analysis that found they represented value for public money and would boost the productivity of the Victorian economy.

The Coalition Government ignored that advice.

Instead, it reallocated $3 billion to the discredited East West Link toll road project, which had not been assessed by Infrastructure Australia and which we now know would have produced a paltry 45 cents in public benefit for every taxpayer dollar invested.

Melbourne residents should be in no doubt the Metro will be the first infrastructure priority in Victoria for an incoming federal Labor government. It is an essential project to lift the capacity of the Melbourne rail network and is expected to boost peak-hour capacity by 20,000 seats.

That is why Infrastructure Australia approved the project and the former federal Labor government provided funding in the 2013 Budget.

It is indeed the perfect example of long-term thinking that gets the planning right and breaks the nexus between the infrastructure investment cycle and the short-termism of the political cycle, which characterised the Coalition’s chaotic 2014 Budget.

It is extraordinary that minister Paul Fletcher argued in the Herald Sun on Wednesday that it was acceptable for Victoria, with a quarter of the national population, to receive only 8 per cent of the national infrastructure budget.

To Minister Fletcher and the Turnbull Government, I say good luck with running that argument to the citizens of Melbourne in the lead-up to this year’s election.

And to Malcolm Turnbull, I say it is good that you’ve taken several rides on Melbourne’s trams and buses to demonstrate solidarity with commuters.

But what people want is a Prime Minister who will fund public transport, not just ride on it to get his picture in the papers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures confirm that since taking office, the Coalition has overseen a 20 per cent decline in infrastructure investment.

This decline came at the very time when the national economy needed more investment to offset the decline in construction in the mining sector.

Those cuts are bad enough, but Senate Budget Estimates committee hearings this week heard the Government will cut another $18 million allocated to actual infrastructure projects in order to fund an advertising campaign designed to obscure its failures.

The Coalition can’t deliver actual infrastructure projects, so it wants to deliver propaganda.

I’m proud that as infrastructure minister, I approved funding of more than $3 billion for the Regional Rail Link project, which represented the biggest-ever Commonwealth investment in a single public transport project.

I’m also proud that the former Labor government allocated more money to public transport than all other previous federal governments since Federation combined.

Just because Mr Turnbull and Mr Fletcher live in Sydney does not mean they should ignore the interests of Melbourne, which is proudly one of the most liveable cities in the world.

Mr Fletcher has made the point that political games won’t get the Metro built.

He’s right. But investment will.

This opinion piece was published in today’s edition of the Herald Sun