AusRAIL, Market Sectors

Election 2010: ?10 second grabs? versus long term vision

<span class="" id="parent-fieldname-description"> Three years seems to come around so quickly and with it, the usual round of vague promises and 10 second media grabs that make up another federal election, with rail usually rating little or no mention. </span> <p>By Mark Carter<br /><br />In many ways election 2010 appears to be one of the dullest in recent memory and once again important issues such as infrastructure are largely sidelined by a handful of leaking boats and relatively minor debt issues.</p><p>And it’s hard to imagine when was the last time Julia, Tony, or any of their minders took a ride on a train in Australia. So to see two major rail projects grabbing headlines on last week’s campaign trial was indeed a pleasant surprise.</p><p>Both announcements conveniently fit the “Nation building” theme so beloved of political campaigning, though cynics will be quick to point out that these promises carry no real commitment to seeing either project through to its logical conclusion.</p><p><strong>High-speed rail</strong><br />The big surprise was serious dollars for a detailed high-speed rail study despite the major parties strongly rejecting a call by the Greens for a full feasibility study less than three months ago. Both have carried out major back-flips and now think such a study is a good and vote winning, idea.</p><p>The Labor Party was first to announce that if re-elected it would spend $20m to look at demand for high-speed rail on the whole Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane corridor.</p><p>The study would build on previous work by identifying potential corridors, undertaking engineering investigations along with financial and economic modelling to determine the project’s viability. No doubt with a view on New South Wales Central Coast constituencies, it would have a specific focus on the geotechnical analysis and preservation of a corridor between Sydney and Newcastle.</p><p>The Liberals were quick to confirm that if elected they too would fund a similar study, also with a focus on the Sydney to Newcastle sector, but carefully avoiding to mention any specific dollar value to be spent.</p><p><strong>Inland Rail </strong><br />Next to be rolled out to the voters was the Inland Railway. Following Labor’s announcement that it will allocate $300m for pre-construction work to commence in 2014, both parties have engaged in a “we thought of it first” slanging match over the Melbourne-Brisbane inland rail corridor.</p><p>While the announcement is highly symbolic, many commentators have pointed out that the realisation of any government commitment to this long anticipated project is at least two elections away.</p><p>Promises are one thing, but bringing them to fruition is another. In the lead up to the 2007 federal election, Labor pledged approximately $800m to rail for the first stage of the North Sydney Freight Line. While to their credit this has been provided for in forward budget estimates, the reality is that progress on planning for the project has been at a snail’s pace and three years on there is no tangible evidence that the project will go ahead.&nbsp</p><p><strong>Moreton Bay rai link<br /></strong>The other big rail announcement has been of course Julia’s pledge to contribute $742m towards the $1bn plus Moreton Bay commuter rail link from Petrie to Kippa Ring in Queensland, which only a few years ago was knocked back as too expensive.</p><p>Naturally the Coalition have mirrored the government’s pledge to the project.</p><p>While there have been calls and planning for such a link for many years, the project doesn’t even rate a mention in Infrastructure Australia’s (IA) May 2010 list of priorities. While such a list of priorities should always be flexible, it is disappointing that this announcement smacks more of policy on the run, rather than any broader vision for public transport in Australia.</p><p>Both Julia and Tony could do well to heed the pre-election call from Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) which calls on both the Government and Coalition to confirm IA’s ongoing role in advancing national infrastructure policies and projects.</p><p>“Infrastructure Australia has identified a long-term, prioritised list of the nation’s most important infrastructure projects. The election campaign should now see a commitment from the Government and Opposition to create an equally robust and long-term mechanism to fund these projects,” IPA said.</p><p>“Australia’s infrastructure backlog is estimated at up to $77bn. Infrastructure shortfalls negatively impact productivity and Australia’s global competitiveness. This election must be about how Australia’s national government can recommit to solutions to national infrastructure challenges.”</p><p><strong>Henry Review<br /></strong>An election campaign always throws up a depressingly selective and contradictory range of policies and promises. Tony has promised a review of Labor’s review of the Henry Review on Tax. Those of us in the rail industry could perhaps clutch at a few straws and hope that such a review would look at Henry’s recommendations on mass-distance charging for heavy road vehicles and congestion charging in major cities. But Tony has already said the resource rent tax will go if he is elected so it is unlikely he would adopt anything from the review that might upset a highly vocal road lobby.</p><p>In the short term it is a good thing that rail is being seen as a vote winner in this election campaign, but it is a major, though unsurprising, disappointment that neither major party seems capable of committing to a sustainable long term vision for infrastructure funding as advocated by IPA.<br />&nbsp</p>