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NSW Election: No easy choice for voters

Elections - Photo Bidgee

MARK CARTER: With New South Wales election campaigns in full swing, once more it has quickly become obvious that transport policy in Australia is something that is usually dreamt up on the run to suit the current electoral cycle, with sometimes no thought for what might actually be the best outcomes for long-suffering commuters.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has attempted to sift through the various commitments and promises from the major parties, with a full list available here.

To be honest, I’m largely uninspired.

Most of the Coalition’s major policies have already been announced in various forms; which is not necessarily a bad thing. I may not agree with all their rail policies, but to be fair they are getting on with the job and to an extent have broken the nexus of changing policy every time an election comes around.

The cornerstone of their rail policy remains the North West Rail Link and its part in creating the Sydney Rapid Transit ‘brand’, with a second harbour crossing for rail coming eventually, which will link up with a converted Bankstown line.

Very big ticket items; the latter two only happening if voters succumb to the emotional blackmail of selling of half of the State’s electricity assets. I suppose there would still be half left for the next round of big ticket items a few years down the track, but after that it’s anyone’s guess where the money will come from.

Labor says it will allocate $3.4bn for a second Sydney Harbour crossing subject to rigorous cost benefit analysis.

The Coalition has made a big deal of the opening of the South West Rail Link (SWRL) while at the same time accusing Labor of not having opened a single rail line during its 16 years in power from 1995 to 2011.

Of course this is all a bit rich given that the SWRL was initially planned and started by the previous Labor administration.

The ABC reports transport minister Gladys Berejiklian as being dismissive of the opening of the Epping-Chatswood line, calling it only ‘half a railway’ because it the Parramatta to Epping section of the line never went ahead.

This is surprising, as Ms Berejiklian conveniently forgets to mention it was the incoming NSW Coalition government that effectively ruled against proceeding with the Parramatta extension, despite some $2bn plus in Federal funding being available for the project.

Funny game politics?

Berejiklian would also be aware of the old adage, “What the government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.”

While the Coalition has been making the most in spruiking the opening of a new railway in the shape of the SWRL, reportedly under budget and ahead of time, this has coincided with the closure of the heavy rail link to the Newcastle CBD.

If the Newcastle link really had to go, then surely it should only have been after the planned light rail alternative was in place. Policy on the run once again.

Personally I’m still yet to see anything from the Coalition that they are serious about light rail in Newcastle and the whole debacle may well cost them a seat or two at the weekend.

Of course the beads and trinkets have come out for country voters with opaque promises of an upgraded fleet to replace the XPT trains on regional routes and even the spectre of ‘tilt’ trains raised again after a 20-year hiatus.

No surprise either to see the Federal Government announcing less than three weeks before the state election the first tenders for preparatory works associated with the Inland Rail project, a large part of which will pass through regional NSW.

Given the $300m currently available for the project has been sitting in the bank for four years now, and there is still no genuine indication of how the project will be paid for, will this $300m end up being used as the biggest political slush fund in Australian history?

Voters in NSW may well find themselves between a rock and hard place if rail transport policy is one of their key deciders.

As I have already suggested, despite some contentious decisions the incumbent Coalition government have initiated a number of rail related projects with a few to the future, including the SRT and further light rail expansion.

Despite my earlier defence of Labor’s past record, it has to be admitted that it prevaricated over its public transport policies for much of its time in office and while many of its plans could be viewed as positive, it regularly failed to deliver, the various ‘metro’ proposals being a case in point. I’m not seeing much yet that will lead them out of that wilderness.

I should add that this lack of bi-partisan long-term transport is not something exclusive to New South Wales and in a future column we will take a look at some of the policy reversals going on in Queensland, Victorian and Western Australia – not always generated by a change of government either.

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