Passenger Rail

A solution for rail: Listen to Tony Abbott

Kwinana Freeway. Photo: Creative Commons / Arno Kohlem

OPINION: State governments need to get serious about dealing with Tony Abbott’s infrastructure ideology, and stop funding roads.

In early 2013, Tony Abbott was the leader of an Opposition party which looked destined to storm home at a September election, over a dysfunctional Labor Government which was about to have its second leadership change in three years.

Abbott, speaking at a press conference in Melbourne, uttered a pair of sentences which have since resulted in billions of dollars-worth of funding decisions.

“The Commonwealth Government has a long history of funding roads and no history of funding rail,” the then-Opposition leader told the gathering.

“It’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure, is roads.”

At the time, a long history of bent or broken pre-election promises from both sides of politics told us that just because Abbott said that, it didn’t mean he would stick to it after the election.

But this commitment has so far held true.

In fact, were it not for his promises of funding for both the Cross River Rail and Moreton Bay Rail Link prior to the 2010 election, you could almost call Abbott a man of his word when it comes to infrastructure.

Indeed, in a world where rail’s role in development is at the forefront of so many academic and otherwise influential minds, Abbott’s refusal to fund public transport has been jarring.

And boy has it been stubborn.

Before this year’s Federal Budget, several state governments called on the Commonwealth for rail funding.

Queensland transport minister Jackie Trad asked for Abbott to look at the now almost complete Moreton Bay project, as a prime example of federal, state and council funding coming together to do something good.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, having cancelled the East West Link tollroad, looked to use funding already committed to that project by the Commonwealth for other projects.

Shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese and unsurprisingly, the Australasian Railway Association, called for Abbott to re-think his ideology, and to start funding new urban rail projects again.

In the Budget, Trad and other state ministers were ignored. The Commonwealth asked Daniel Andrews for its East-West money back. Albanese wrote in Rail Express that he had never seen a federal Budget with so little to offer for rail. And the ARA said it predicted rail to fall off a “funding cliff” as a result.

Abbott’s refusal to fund urban rail has been a hard one for states to deal with. But perhaps the solution to their problems can be found by actually adhering to what the prime minister has called for.

Rather than a model where roads and rail are jointly-funded by states and the Commonwealth, Abbott wants states to handle urban rail, while he takes care of roads.

So it’s simple. The states need to take him up on that offer.

They need to stop funding roads.

WA’s recent state Budget included funding to ease traffic congestion on metropolitan roads. Victoria’s Budget includes $574 million to fix congested roads, and more money to improve road safety and maintenance.

NSW’s biggest ongoing road project, WestConnex, is being jointly funded by the Commonwealth and NSW governments.

But why are the states pitching in for those projects, if Abbott himself has claimed responsibility for them?

Perhaps if the states took that money and put it towards the rail projects they say they desperately need, Abbott would have to put his money where his mouth is.

5 Comments

  1. Are you stealing my ideas. I have been saying this exact same thing on many facebook groups and pages. I have also been suggesting to the hsr community that if Japan and or germany are that desperate for us to have a high speed rail system that maybe they should fork out for it instead of us tax payers. From what I understand, the Japanese government may actually be willing to do something along these lines.

  2. Hi Craig
    You havent been alone in that idea, far from it. It makes sense.
    Stop The Roads! (that’s for Prime Minister for Infraroadsstructure, not you!)
    cheers

  3. No I’m not talking about stop the roads as I am not against that. I’m talking about the idea of the state governments telling Tony Abbott that if they have to pay for upgrades or new passenger rail lines then he had better start forking out for all of the roads without state funding. Basically tell tony that we are spending on railways and if you want us to proceed with the east west link or similar such roads then he had better open the purse strings to fund it fully without state government assistance.