Budget spending on roads tipped to send states off the rails

SMH: Budget spending on roads tipped to send states off the rails. May 26, 2014. Jonathan Swan, Jacob Saulwick

Infrastructure: The federal budget funded new urban motorways in every state and territory in a $50 billion package. Photo: Rob Homer

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s insistence on funding only roads and not public transport will encourage state governments to prioritise highways at the expense of railways, the Commonwealth’s top infrastructure adviser has said.

The advice from Infrastructure Australia, set up to provide high-level guidance on major projects, skewers the Coalition’s claim that by helping states pay for motorways the federal government can also help them free the cash for public transport projects.

“Were the Australian government to fund only certain types of infrastructure projects, those types of projects would become relatively more attractive to the state than other projects,” says the Infrastructure Australia advice.

“If you’re a state treasurer … you’d have to be a nong to go with rail”: Opposition transport spokesman, Anthony Albanese. Photo: Janie Barrett

In a response to a question on notice from the Senate, the independent adviser said: “A limited state budget for infrastructure projects could stretch furthest if it focused on the types of projects likely to attract Australian government funding.”

Before the election, Mr Abbott said he would not fund urban rail projects because it was not in the federal government’s “knitting” to do so.

The budget cancelled federal funding for unbuilt train lines including the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane Cross River Rail and light and heavy rail in Perth.

Instead, the budget funded new urban motorways in every state and territory in a $50 billion infrastructure package. According to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the federal government injected $9 billion of “new money” into the budget’s out years.

Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said the Infrastructure Australia statement proved a point he had been trying to make in Parliament for months.

Mr Albanese said that since the Abbott government declared its bias towards roads, “if you’re a state treasurer, and you’ve got a road project and a rail project, you’d have to be a nong to go with rail”.

Asked about Mr Abbott’s priorities this week, NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said federal Labor did not manage to fund any urban public transport projects in Sydney.

“I was the minister for nearly three years under the Labor government and they did speak a lot about public transport but, in the time that I was the minister, I didn’t get a gold coin for public transport projects in NSW,” she said.

Ms Berejiklian said the federal government’s support for Sydney’s WestConnex motorway would leave her more money to spend on public transport – a perspective rejected by the Infrastructure Australia advice.

A spokesman for Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister Warren Truss said the evidence supported the argument that states would be able to fund public transport projects, saying that Victoria was proceeding with the Melbourne Metro and Queensland with the Cross-River Rail Tunnel.

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