Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Freight Rail, Passenger Rail

WA Election: Toll road could be scrapped as Labor crushes Coalition

A $450 million toll road contract may be ripped up, and a major rail build program could soon begin, after the Labor Party overthrew the Coalition at the WA election.

When the dust settled on Saturday night, Labor had thrashed the Liberal National Coalition in Western Australia’s 40th state election.

ABC experts have 40 seats going to Labor, and 19 going to the LNP.

If that estimate holds, it will be a 19-seat swing compared to 2013.

Outgoing Liberal premier Colin Barnett made his concession speech less than three hours after polls closed.

“Politics is a brutal, harsh business,” Barnett said.

“We ran, in my view, a great campaign, but time was probably against us.”

Victorious Labor leader Mark McGowan praised voters, saying they “voted for hope and opportunity over desperation and division”.

“Today we showed we are a state of decency and intelligence, not a state of stupidity and ignorance,” he said.

The implications for the transport sector are yet to be seen.

Prior to the election, McGowan said he would cancel the Perth Freight Link toll road, and would redirect Commonwealth funding into Labor’s Metronet urban rail plan.

But Roe 8, the first 5-kilometre section of the Perth Freight Link, was contracted to a consortium of CPB Contractors, Georgiou, WA Limestone, GHD, AECOM and BG&E in October last year.

Labor said it would have to consult with its legal advisors over negotiating the termination of the $450 million contract.

Further complicating matters, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is adamant the $1.2 billion in federal funding for the Perth Freight Link project may not to be spent on another project.

“If any future state government in Western Australia were to decide not to proceed with this project then obviously the money allocated to that project would no longer be available,” Turnbull said in February.

The situation is reminiscent of the Andrews Government’s cancellation of Melbourne’s East West Link toll road project after it won the Victorian state election in 2014.

Then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott slammed the move, which saw hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on a cancelled contract.

Abbott said the Commonwealth funding for East West would not be redirected to other projects.

But after lengthy talks between Victoria and the Commonwealth, the federal East West funding was eventually redirected to a range of road and freight rail projects.

McGowan has pointed to the saga as evidence his new WA Government should be allowed to redirect the Perth Freight Link funding.

“We would expect the same treatment as Victoria received and I would not take any notice of the blusterings of ministers, federal ministers, before the state election,” McGowan said prior to election day.

Federal Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese on Sunday said the election was a vote against the toll road.

“This was a vote about a dud project,” Albanese told ABC Radio the morning after the election.

“The Perth Freight Link – thought up by Tony Abbott and Mathias Cormann in their 2014 Budget … didn’t have a business case, didn’t have an environmental impact statement, [and] doesn’t actually take freight to the port [of Fremantle].

“People saw that for what it was and they wanted Mark McGowan’s plan for Metronet.

“When Malcolm Turnbull threatened West Australians by saying ‘unless you voted for the Liberal Party we will rip $1.2 billion away from Western Australia’, [voters] reacted badly to that,” he added.

Australian Greens senator Janet Rice said the election was a victory for communities who stood up against “toll road agendas”.

“We can now add Roe 8 to the growing list of absurd private toll road plans that have undone governments, including the failed East West Link in Victoria,” Rice said on Sunday.

“Malcolm Turnbull must realise that the knocking at his door will only go away if he starts investing in public transport, not great big polluting toll roads that rip through local communities and green spaces.”