Taxpayers on the hook for decades unless contracts annulled, says PTUA
The ‘reckless haste’ to sign East West Link contracts before November’s State election has been slammed by the Public Transport Users Association, who warned the decision could torpedo the state’s transport policy for decades.
“Premier Napthine is attempting to tie the Victorian public’s shoelaces together with this grubby deal,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “It is a time bomb that blocks necessary improvements to public transport, and local and regional roads for decades, while making congestion worse in the suburbs and providing no time savings at all beyond its first decade of operation.”
“But even worse, the government has signed up to mean and tricky guarantees in the hope it’ll scare Victorians out of defusing this time bomb after the election. We aren’t scared: we’re furious that people who voted for public transport in 2010 are now saddled with this boondoggle, that will poison decades of transport budgets if we don’t void these contracts once they’re proved illegitimate. The Premier has put the interests of the Melbourne road lobby ahead of the interests of the people of Victoria and it seems likely to cost him the election.”
The $5.3 billion contract is for ‘Stage 1’ of the Eastern Freeway extension through Fitzroy and Parkville, and excludes a previously mooted ‘Port Connection’ running parallel to CityLink. Previous incarnations of the road were ruled out by Liberal Premier Dick Hamer in the 1970s and the Northern Central City Corridor Study in 2003. Published figures indicate the return to Victorians is just 50 to 80 cents per dollar spent, and no full business case has yet been made public.
“Our biggest concern is the financial impact on all Victorians,” Dr Morton said. “The ongoing impost on the taxpayer could be around half a billion dollars every year for the next quarter century. That’s similar to what it costs to operate the entire Melbourne train system, yet we’ll all be paying that for a single road. As the late Paul Mees said, this crowds out the ability to spend any serious money on any other major transport infrastructure for decades.”
“This contract is a bucket of sand in the face for people in the west who need the Melbourne Metro tunnel, for people in the east who need Doncaster or Rowville rail, for people all over our suburbs who are sick of running one car for every adult household member while buses run once an hour, for people in regional Victoria who need their road bridges, freight railways and V/Line services fixed,” said Dr Morton. “Melbourne in future will be choked and lose its liveable city reputation, all because this government promised a Vancouver future for the city and is instead delivering a Detroit future with no mandate to do so.”
“The community will go on fighting this project,” Dr Morton said. “Labor, the Greens and independent candidates in the November election have all committed to unwind these contracts, and to take transport policy in the healthier direction that Victorians have backed in every opinion poll this century. That means bringing our train network into the 21st century, extending our tram and bus services, investing in regional roads and rail, and getting serious about walking and cycling. And most importantly, making transport planning something that the community and independent experts work on together, rather than a series of dodgy political favours for business cronies.”