Oct 9, 2015

Truss off track on cities and infrastructure investment

The collapse of infrastructure investment by more than 20 per cent since the election of the Coalition is unsurprising given Infrastructure Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss’s extraordinary ignorance of the most basic details of his own portfolio.

Yesterday, in response to Labor’s policy announcement of a $10 billion infrastructure investment facility to be run by Infrastructure Australia, Mr Truss claimed no research had been conducted into important public transport proposals like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link.

In a media release bizarrely titled, Shorten’s infrastructure thought bubble set to go poof,  Mr Truss said: “While projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane Rail and the rail link to Badgerys Creek and around Western Sydney are to yet to be planned, have no business case and the costs are unknown. They have not been through any Infrastructure Australia or detailed assessment process.’’

This is simply wrong.

In fact, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Project was the first priority listed by Infrastructure Australia in its 2012 priority list and was funded in the 2013 Budget.

And the former Labor Government invested $40 million in planning for the Melbourne Metro in 2009 and funded the project in the 2013 Budget.

But the incoming Coalition Government scrapped the funding of both of these projects line with its refusal to fund any public transport project anywhere in the country.

In the studies commissioned by the former Labor Government into Sydney’s aviation needs that led to the adoption of Badgerys Creek as the location of a second Sydney airport, the connectivity that would be possible by connecting the south-western line at Leppington through to the western line near St Marys via Badgerys Creek was an important factor in the site being chosen.

All of this information is available on the websites of Infrastructure Australia and Mr Truss’s own department, yet the Minister appears to have no understanding of the most basic facts of his own area of administration.

Mr Truss’s negativity stands in contrast with new Treasurer Scott Morrison’s statement yesterday that Labor’s new infrastructure policy has merit.

Mr Morrison’s comment is a positive sign that genuine infrastructure investment in the national interest can be progressed on a bipartisan basis.

Mr Truss’s position is also at odds with the positive response to Labor’s plan by organisations including Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the Property Council, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group.

I also welcome the comments of the chairwoman of the Committee for Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, who yesterday supported the idea that Badgerys Creek should be connected to a railway line from the day that it opens.

This comment is consistent with the views of every planner who has looked at the project and understands the importance of the new airport to the economy and job creation in western Sydney.

It is unfortunate that while the Government’s appointment of a Minister for Cities is positive, Mr Truss is still in charge of Infrastructure and Transport and there is no administrative structure such as the Major Cities Unit to support the development of urban policy.

And despite supportive talk about public transport, it remains the case that the Coalition has throughout its history never supported a public transport project.