Borrow to build rail network: Kennett Backflip

'There's not a major city in the world that doesn't have one (an expanded metro system)': Kennett. Photo: Jason South

‘There’s not a major city in the world that doesn’t have one (an expanded metro system)’: Kennett. Photo: Jason South

The former Victorian premier who made his political mark as a debt-busting crusader for small government and privatisation has urged the Napthine government to borrow whatever it takes to build a comprehensive underground rail system for Melbourne.

Former Liberal leader Jeff Kennett told Fairfax Media that an expanded metro network was Melbourne’s top infrastructure priority. ”There’s not a major world city that doesn’t have one.”

He said future generations would appreciate that earlier governments had had the foresight to borrow while interest rates were low and build public transport. ”In 100 years people won’t care about how much it [the rail system] cost.”

In comments likely to rile the Labor adversaries he flayed for fiscal profligacy, Mr Kennett said debt was good if used for infrastructure, and money was cheap. ”The public sees debt as a no-no. The public needs to be educated about debt.”

But his transport vision is also an uncomfortable reminder to the Napthine Coalition government of its 2010 election promises for new rail, including a commitment by former Liberal leader Ted Baillieu to build a train line to Doncaster.

In office the Coalition has deferred a $9 billion plan for a metro rail tunnel to link the western and south-east suburban rail networks, and has all but abandoned Doncaster rail. Instead it has opted for the controversial east-west road tunnel to link the Eastern Freeway with CityLink at a cost of up to $8 billion. On Sunday, Fairfax Media also revealed a VicRoads proposal for the widening of Punt Road to six lanes through Prahran and South Yarra.

Mr Kennett stopped short of arguing for underground rail ahead of the east-west road tunnel, instead urging the government to seize the ”opportunity” of cheap public borrowings and do both projects. He said because… read

Royce Millar, The Age, August 12, 2013