Passenger Rail

Trad lashes out over Cross River Rail snub

Queensland’s deputy premier and transport minister Jackie Trad has accused Infrastructure Australia and the Turnbull government of playing “political games” after the Cross River Rail business case was sent back to the state last week for further work.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Trad said that 46 per cent of the federal budget’s infrastructure funding was “pouring into” New South Wales while Queensland received “no new money” for projects to boost the state’s economy.

“Sadly, the so-called independent authority Infrastructure Australia has just become a political tool to be used by the Turnbull government to avoid investing a fair share into our state,” the transport minister asserted.

Trad stated that the Palaszczuk government had previously had extensive engagement with Infrastructure Australia since submitting the 2,000-page business case for Cross River Rail in June last year.

“To be sure they had everything they needed, my director-general wrote to IA on 7 April this year with the final response to the outstanding questions. If any other information was required this letter asked IA to contact my agency, and the response from IA was absolute silence,” she said.

“There was not one word for six weeks until last Thursday when the Prime  Minister claimed that there were still issues outstanding. Then what happened? With behaviour like that it is no wonder the states are losing confidence in Infrastructure Australia and its CEO, Phil Davies.”

Trad said the Turnbull government was playing politics with the state’s “No. 1 infrastructure priority”, and accused it of deliberately stalling the project to help turn its funding into future election issue between the Palaszczuk Labor government and the state Coalition opposition.

“There is one reason why Malcolm Turnbull is not funding Cross River Rail and that is because Tim Nicholls needs a hand up,” she said.

“What that means is that Queenslanders are losing out on jobs. Queenslanders are being held to ransom because Tim Nicholls, the member for Clayfield, the Leader of the Opposition, cannot do his job. He has no cut-through, he has no commitment.”

Shadow infrastructure minister Deb Frecklington shot back, saying that the Palaszczuk government had “bungled the project from the start” and was now merely trying to “rewrite [the] history” of a “half-baked” business case.

“What do we see the deputy premier do here in this house today? We see her not get her own way, so she stands in this house and starts to attack the independent Infrastructure Australia. It is this deputy premier who has been caught out misleading Queenslanders over her sloppy attempt at a business case,” Frecklington said.

The shadow minister then called on the government to make their business case open to public scrutiny.

“She should table the business case in this parliament and let Queenslanders decide whether the project stacks up.”

A recently released survey paid for by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the Infrastructure Association of Queensland, and the Property Council of Queensland showed that 62 per cent of those polled thought that the state’s infrastructure development and investment was being poorly planned and coordinated by all three levels of government.

Property Council Queensland executive director Chris Mountford was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald as saying that a shortage of investment in infrastructure was evidently impacting Queenslanders.

“For too long the state government has delivered the infrastructure Queensland can afford, rather than the infrastructure Queensland needs,” Mr Mountford said.

Writing in an opinion piece for The Courier-Mail on Tuesday, Steve Abson, CEO of the Infrastructure Association of Queensland, laid out two reasons why the Palaszczuk government ought to push ahead with the Cross River Rail Project and commit substantial funds in the state budget.

“First is the impressive wider benefit flowing from the project to Queenslanders around the southeast; and secondly, even with the state’s fiscal constraints, the project is affordable,” Mr Abson wrote.

While the project business case is likely to indicate a cost-benefit ratio (BCR) to be “either slightly above or below 1.0,” he wrote, this would be “in line with what’s expected from this sort of project”.

Because BCRs are indicators of “economic merit”, Abson argued, “projects [can] have a broader social, environmental or economic impact that’s difficult to monetise”, and thus a BCR of less than 1.0 can be acceptable.

Abson also asserted that the project could ultimately be affordable if a public-private partnership was used for the project, enabling the state to inject upfront capital from the private financial sector, with repayments spread across a 25-year concession period.

Nonetheless, Premier Palaszczuk appeared last week to accept Infrastructure Australia’s demand that further work be done on the business case. Moreover, despite transport minister Jackie Trad’s fighting words, it remains to be seen if any other funding path will be laid out for the project in next month’s state budget.