East West Link electoral ambiguity may be done, but at what toll

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The Age: East West Link electoral ambiguity may be done, but at what toll? September 30, 2014. Richard Willingham, State Political Correspondent

ANALYSIS

Papers have been signed. Glossy plans have been released. And sparkling videos have been screened displaying the government’s signature policy in its complete animated form.

Less than two years after it was announced by new Premier Denis Napthine the East West Link has been inked.

The project is now reality.

Not for Labor and Dan Andrews.

The premier-in-waiting maintains that the contracts are not worth the paper that they are written on.

“They are not legally binding,” he said during a press conference in Clayton where he was talking about automotive job losses.

He will not say how much not honouring these contracts will cost the state, because in Labor’s view they do not exist.

Andrews did concede on Tuesday that there would be modest compensation, similar to what the losing bidders for the contract received.

The Premier’s signature gives Labor ammunition in the next 59 days to tell Victorians that a vote for it will see contracts ripped up for the “dud tunnel” and the money spent on other services.

The choice is clear, there is no ambiguity.

Now that the Coalition has sealed the deal, it can properly ratchet up fear among voters that Andrews could expose taxpayers to more than $1 billion in compensation if the contract is shredded.

If it had not signed, this powerful weapon would have been lost.

And for Napthine and his troops the route, design, videos and sparkling graphics provide valuable campaign fodder.

The East West Link has never been far from controversy and some serious election-year questions remain for the Premier, particularly on the politically vexed issue of how much the tolls will be (although he did say it would be comparable to CityLink).

And given the political mileage the Coalition has made out of regular payments to desalination plant operators, not disclosing how much the state will pay the tunnel consortium every quarter will provide Labor the chance to paint the East West Link as the Coalition’s desal.

Pre-election uncertainty over the road’s future is gone; now it’s up to voters (and possibly the courts) to decide the road’s fate.

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