Tony Abbott has always said roads should be at the top of the government’s infrastructure list.
“I’d much rather spend money now to get better outcomes tomorrow, rather than in 40 years’ time,” Mr Abbott said during the lead up to the election.
And he plans to spend a lot of money. A massive $18.5 billion has been promised to major road works.
This includes a $1.5 billion commitment to the eastern section of the East/West link in Melbourne, which is already subject to intense controversy.
The “East West Preliminary Assessment” used publicly available designs to conclude that up to 6 per cent of Royal Park, worth an estimated $207.5-million, is likely to be permanently lost if the link road goes ahead. Meanwhile 10 sporting clubs and more than 1000 players are set to be displaced.
In conjunction with this is the fact that the Coalition will not fund urban commuter rail.
But successful cities need both road and rail.
The Australasian Railway Association chairman Lindsay Tanner has expressed concerns over cutting funding to urban rail schemes, instead calling for greater investment in these projects to boost integration of roads, rails and ports.
Failing to provide adequate finance for rail will “put the brakes” on Australian economic development, he claimed, noting that the average passenger train takes 525 cars off the road, reducing carbon emissions, accidents and congestion.
The main project that needs addressing is the Inland Rail, a huge infrastructure scheme that will see freight connections developed from Melbourne through to Brisbane.
Mr Tanner stated: “The Inland Rail has the potential to unblock an infrastructure bottleneck that currently sees Brisbane to Melbourne freight unnecessarily travelling through Sydney, congesting road and rail networks alike.
“With $300 million of funding already committed over four years to this vital project, the foundations are there – now more than ever we need to keep the momentum moving forward and not lose sight of this nation building project.”
This, at least, has been promised too by the incoming Coalition government.
A Coalition Government would, like its Labor counterpart, allocate $300m to kick off the development of the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project.
“The Coalition has a vision for developing a stronger nation, and that includes a better and more efficient freight network supporting a five-pillar economy which includes the mining and agricultural sectors,” said Warren Truss, who will be deputy Prime Minister.
“This project will help ensure that our transport network is ready to do the heavy lifting required to meet Australia’s growing freight transport task of the next 50 years.”
Of course promising is one thing, following through is another.
The Coalition will require Infrastructure Australia (IA) to develop a 15 year rolling plan with a new unit within IA to assess finance options for nationally significant infrastructure projects. But industry association, Consult Australia has warned infrastructure funding could become a casualty of spending cuts by the incoming government if proper funding mechanisms are not established.
Consult Australia Chief Executive, Megan Motto said that the lack of a secure schedule of work has left the industry hanging on tenterhooks and that it’s time to get smarter.
“We have already seen certainty in the infrastructure pipeline as a casualty of the election campaign,” said Ms Motto.
“The fact is there is just not enough funding available under current Commonwealth and state government arrangements.
“To fund the full list of projects canvassed across both sides of politics, we must move beyond the patchwork of grants and look at alternate policies.”
Consult Australia, in conjunction with Sinclair Knight Merz, has released a publication, which sets out the ten success factors for value capture in Australia; establishing a new reference point for a whole of government approach that realises new funding and better value for investment in infrastructure and urban renewal.
“The return on investment from our highways, rail and urban public transport infrastructure is clear. With estimates suggesting some $2.85 for every $1 invested, that alone is a persuasive indicator of the potential for infrastructure to drive productivity,” said Ms Motto.
“In this context, the potential for value capture mechanisms to contribute to Australia’s urban renewal and public transport funding shortfall is enormous.”
“Alongside calls from across industry for a National Urban Fund, providing seed finance for an infrastructure bond scheme, these types of mechanisms must be explored and adopted,” said Ms Motto.
Tony Abbott wants to be known as ‘the infrastructure Prime Minister’. It now remains to see if the Coalition will put its money where their mouth is to secure stable and secure infrastructure pipelines to support the built environment industry, Australian communities and the national economy.