As legendary American author Mark Twain noted, action speaks much louder than words, just not nearly as often.
In the past six months Australians have heard many words about the importance of Commonwealth involvement in improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities.
Those words are a refreshing change from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s insistence that the Federal Government had no business involving itself in urban Australia.
If cities are not efficient, they inhibit economic and jobs growth and compromise the quality of life of the four out of five Australians who call them home.
However, before we get too excited about the new policy bipartisanship, there is unfinished business – undoing Abbott’s ill-considered cuts to Commonwealth investment in public transport.
Late last year Infrastructure Australia pointed out that traffic congestion will cost this nation more than $53 billion a year in lost productivity by 2031 unless we take action to tackle the problem now.
For anyone who is serious about improving Australian cities, public transport is the only possible starting point.
And for anyone who understands the social and economic challenges of southeast Queensland, the long-proposed Cross River Rail project must surely be the most-urgent public transport project in the country.
Brisbane’s CBD has only one bridge crossing the Brisbane River that is capable of carrying trains – the Merivale Bridge.
That bridge is running out of capacity. It can take a maximum of 24 trains an hour. But within five years, demand will reach 28 trains an hour.
Failure to provide a second crossing by that time will reduce the state’s productivity and economic growth.
Declining economic growth equals fewer jobs for Queenslanders. It’s that simple.
The former Labor government proposed a new rail crossing including a 10km tunnel between Yeerongpilly and the CBD, as well as four new underground railway stations at Woolloongabba, Boggo Road, Albert Street and Roma Street.
In 2013, we allocated funding for the project on the advice of the independent experts at Infrastructure Australia who in 2012 listed CRR at the very top of the organisation’s national priority list, classifying it as “ready to proceed’’.
However, the incoming Mr Abbott withdrew funding, forcing the Newman state government to set about designing a cheaper alternative – a second-rate solution for a first-rate city.
The incoming Labor State Government has since gone back to the drawing board, last week producing plans for a new incarnation of the project and promising to produce a business case by the middle of the year for consideration by Infrastructure Australia.
While the new design must go through the proper process of Infrastructure Australia assessment to ensure it represents value for public money, the Commonwealth must work with the state to deliver action on public transport in southeast Queensland.
Time is running out.
That’s why the project is on federal Labor’s list of 10 major infrastructure priorities, announced by Bill Shorten at the Brisbane Media Club late last year.
Investment in public transport in Brisbane is not just an economic necessity. It’s also a quality-of-life issue.
Too many hardworking Queenslanders are spending increasing periods of time driving to and from work on clogged roads – a situation worsened by the fact that jobs growth is increasingly concentrated in and around Australia’s central business districts, where many average income-earners cannot afford to buy homes.
Instead, they live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they can afford a home but where jobs are scarce. The daily commute is getting longer.
Every weekday morning and evening too, many Queenslanders are literally watching their quality of life passing away from them like the white line in their rear vision mirror. Addressing this problem through better public transport, in conjunction with better city planning and design, will not only help secure a prosperous economic future, but also make real improvements in the way average Australians experience their lives.
Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Cities
This piece appears today in The Courier-Mail http://bit.ly/1VqA1AJ
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.