Cash still on table for East West Link, says PM Tony Abbott

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Herald Sun: Cash still on table for East West Link, says PM Tony Abbott 15 Apr 2015

Prime Misiter Tony Abbott tells a Sydney business lunch Victorians will “suffer” after the East West Link project was scrapped.

THE Federal Government has vowed that $3 billion promised by Canberra remains available for any future Victorian government that wants to build the East West Link.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs said Victorians would “suffer’’ as a result of the Andrews Government’s “reckless’’ decision.

“There is no alternative to the East West Link in Victoria,’’ Mr Abbott said.

“It is the only answer to easing Victoria’s traffic congestion. The Victorian Premier has today destroyed 7000 jobs.’’

But Mr Abbott and Mr Briggs promised that “$3 billion from the Commonwealth Government remains on the table for any Victorian government which wants to build the East West Link’’.

The stage is set for the Coalition to use the decision as a key plank of its federal election campaign, with motorists stuck in peak-hour traffic likely to be bombarded with radio advertising reminding them it was Mr Andrews who axed the road.

Mr Abbott did not appear to accept Mr Andrews’ claims that the payout cost would be $420 million, telling a business lunch in Sydney that Victoria’s Labor Government had “just decided to spend at least a half a billion dollars not to build a road and to destroy hundreds of jobs that had already been created’’.

Canberra handed over $1.5 billion to the Napthine government last year to put ­toward stage one of the East West Link.

It promised another $1.5 billion in future years for stage two. The first payment is sitting in the State Government’s bank account, where it has so far earned more than $30 million in interest.

While the Abbott Government could in theory take that money back by reducing grants payments and GST receipts, it is unlikely to do so. It wants the money to be spent in Victoria to build infrastructure and create jobs.

Mr Abbott said the Federal Government was “dismayed’’ by Wednesday’s announcement.

“The unprecedented announcement that the Victorian Government would rather pay hundreds of millions to a consortium than build the East West Link is a massive setback to Victoria,’’ Mr Abbott said.

“The decision to abrogate contractual responsibilities sets a dangerous precedent for future projects and threatens further investment in much-needed infrastructure in our country.

“ … Australia can’t afford to discourage private investment in infrastructure because government alone cannot afford to build the infrastructure that our country needs.’’

While Canberra will continue to talk to Victoria about future projects, Mr Abbott and Mr Briggs said the only major “shovel-ready project’’ in the state was the East West Link.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was a “good thing’’ Mr Andrews had kept his election promise.

“I know that state Labor went to the election with a policy of Metro rail which would see the amount of track in the underground increased,’’ he said.