ACT transport minister Fitzharris steps down

ACT minister for health and transport Meegan Fitzharris has announced that she will resign from her role on July 1.

Minister Fitzharris announced that her decision was spurred by a desire to better balance her family life and spend more time with her children. She will leave the ACT Legislative Assembly and ministry in the coming weeks. Fitzharris has held the role since 2015, and was re-elected in 2016. The ACT’s next election will take place late next year.

“I hope to continue to make a contribution to our amazing city in life after politics. I will continue to be a working mum, something my husband and I have balanced since each of our children were born,” Fitzharris said. “Now is the time for a new balance and new opportunities.

Fitzharris added that she hoped other “working mums and dads” of all ages and backgrounds would consider running for public office. Some of the major projects she has worked on under her tenure as Transport Minister include the Canberra Metro light rail project and a new bus network in Canberra, both of which launched in April this year. 

She thanked Chief Minister Andrew Barr for his support, as well as members of the community for sharing their “views, ideas and encouragement”.

Fitzharris will be succeeded by Chris Steel as Minister for Transport and Rachel Stephen-Smith as Minister for Health.

Stephen-Smith referred to Fitzharris on Twitter as “an outstanding Minister, representative and colleague [who] will be greatly missed by Cabinet and Caucus”.

Canberra light rail arrives late but under budget

Stage one of the Canberra Light Rail project has come in $32 million under its contracted budget for a final cost of around $675 million.

The project was built as a collaboration between the Australian Capital Territory Government and Canberra Metro and launched to the public last month.

The saving is even larger when compared with the original business case proposed for the 12km line — also referred to as the Capital Metro project —  released in 2014.

The full business case for the project estimated that it would cost $783 million and open in 2019, and referred to analysis from Ernst and Young to suggest the project would return $1.20 for every dollar spent. Since the project came in under budget however, this has been revised to a return of $1.30 for every dollar spent.

The initial business case budget was later revised downwards by 9.7 per cent in the project’s final stage one contract released in 2016 to $707 million. This contract also moved the start date forward to 2018, a deadline the project would eventually not meet.

The final breakdown of the $675 million spend was split between $589 million for base design and construction costs and $85 million in contingency costs.

The project links Canberra’s city centre to a terminus at Gungahlin in the city’s northern suburbs. Stage two of the project is planned to extend the line to Woden in the south.

ACT Government Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris said that patronage on the rail line was greater than the predictions set out in the business case.

“Light rail is proving to be hugely popular already, with more people using it every day, and as a result we’ve added more frequent services during peak times to manage this demand,” she said.

“Along the light rail corridor the benefits are plain to see: with light rail getting people to work, opening up new customers to local businesses and seeing hundreds of Canberrans employed on building and construction projects along the alignment that are already using their proximity to light rail to attract buyers.”