Labor vow to scrap East West Link ‘reckless’ and ‘destructive’

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Guardian: Labor vow to scrap East West Link ‘reckless’ and ‘destructive’ Gay Alcorn Monday 24 November 2014

Federal Liberal MP Sarah Henderson presents private members’ motion urging support for $18bn cross-city toll road
Daniel Andrews has reversed his position on the East West Link contract.
Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews has reversed his position on the East West Link contract. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

Labor leader Daniel Andrews’ decision to scrap Melbourne’s East West Link road project if elected on Saturday was “one of the most politically reckless, economically destructive actions of any political leader we’ve seen,” it was claimed on Monday.

Federal MP Sarah Henderson, the Liberal member for the seat of Corangamite, based around Geelong, presented a private members’ motion in federal parliament urging support for the $18bn, 18km cross-city toll road.

It led to a fiery debate about the merits of the project, one of the central issues in the election campaign.

The Abbott government has pledged $3bn for the two stages of the link, designed to connect the city’s Eastern Freeway to the Western Ring Road. In a rare visit to Melbourne during the campaign, Tony Abbott called the election “a referendum on the East West Link”.

The contract for the first stage was signed just before the official election campaign began. Labor changed its position that it would honour contracts signed before the poll, and now says the link will not go ahead because the contracts are not valid.

Henderson said the second, western stage of the link was vital to Geelong, Victoria’s second biggest city. About 14,000 people travelled to Melbourne each day from Geelong and faced a “quagmire” of traffic as they tried to cross the city via the West Gate bridge. Henderson has started a petition to support the link.

“Ripping up contracts will expose the state to millions and millions of dollars of liability and signal to the rest of the country and the world that it can’t be trusted to do business,” she said.

The Liberal member for Deakin, Michael Sukkar, said Labor was concerned only with the inner city and had abandoned Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, which were “fed up with wasting their precious time stuck in traffic on the eastern freeway and the Monash freeway”.

Labor’s shadow minister for infrastructure, transport and cities, Anthony Albanese, said major projects needed to be based on independent advice from Infrastructure Australia, which had placed the Melbourne Metro rail project ahead of East West Link on its list of priorities.

State Labor’s top transport priority is Melbourne Metro, a $9 to $11bn rail tunnel under the city, which the federal government has said it will not help fund.

Albanese said refusing to use Commonwealth money for public transport was a “weird ideology” of the government.

“Why is it that the East West Link cost benefit analysis is still not published and still not available?” he said.

Labor member for Chisholm, Anna Burke, said the East West Link would not solve the congestion that her constituents faced every day. It would increase commuting times for anyone not travelling from the eastern freeway to the airport. Most people went from the freeway to the city, she said.

“This is a truck tunnel, an $18bn truck tunnel that will see no other project built in Victoria from here to eternity,” she said. Federal Labor supported Andrews’ decision to abandon the link.

The ABC’s Vote Compass, which allows people to answer policy questions online, found that 46% of respondents did not want the contracts for the link to be scrapped, with 36% supporting the decision. Of the 30,000 people who responded, 20% were neutral or unsure about the project.

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