East West: Daniel Andrews must deliver infrastructure to win in 2018, lobby groups say

The Age: East West: Daniel Andrews must deliver infrastructure to win in 2018, lobby groups say Richard Willingham State Political Correspondent for The Age April 15, 2015

A major piece of infrastructure must be launched by the Andrews government this term if it is to convince voters in four years time that ripping the East West Link was a good idea.

Lobby groups, such as the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are disappointed that the toll road has been killed off but are already lobbying for other projects.

Political strategists believe if Labor can deliver tangible projects during this term to relieve congestion, voters will forget about Wednesday’s announcement that the government is paying hundreds of millions of dollars not to build the road tunnel.

Premier Daniel Andrews declared Labor would get on with building the Melbourne Metro project, 50 level crossing removals and the West Gate distributor.

As part of the agreement to abandon East West, the Andrews government also took over a credit facility of $3 billion set up by the consortium and this will contribute to funding for the Melbourne Metro Rail Project.

But critics of this move, including Shadow Treasurer Michael O’Brien, have already called on the government to explain how borrowing from the private sector would deliver a fair deal to taxpayers when the state can directly seek lower interest loans because of its Triple-A credit rating.

Caucus is now relieved that the issues has been put to bed ahead of the budget. The Labor government will ramp up attacks on Mr O’Brien. Using the advantage of government, Labor will hone in on the former Treasurer painting him as the architect of the East West deal and an economic “vandal.”

Meanwhile, Federal Liberal MPs are outraged that the link will not be built, vowing to campaign heavily for East West at next year’s federal election.

Liberals believe that Labor’s decision will help them sandbag vulnerable federal seats in the eastern suburbs – Deakin, Latrobe and Aston.

Politically the blame game damage of paying out the contract should be minimal, says Monash University political expert Paul Strangio.

“People already have a settled position on East West and who’s fault the mess is,” he said. “It is a big test of government to deliver infrastructure over four years that will improve liveability.”

While the Premier is pushing the Metro rail project, it throws up its own challenges, given the complexity of the engineering required to build a tunnel under the Yarra and the CBD.

There is also the huge cost, especially with Tony Abbott refusing to fund urban rail.

Voters will need to see tangible infrastructure works in four years time and Labor’s plan for the project is to begin construction in 2018.

A signature policy at the election of removing 50 level crossings will provide some tangible results if fulfilled, but much of that funding is contingent on selling the Port of Melbourne.

Widening the ring road and fixing other major gaps linking freeways are projects that could attract state attention, and given the Prime Minister’s refusal to fund urban rail he could be lobbied for federal money to ease congestion.

Last month he said he was prepared to look at other congestion-busting infrastructure projects in Victoria.

While the project may have been officially killed off the issue is unlikely to go away quickly.

The state’s financial watchdog will now have his say in the wake of closure of the East West Link project. Auditor-General John Doyle has declared he will investigate the whole East West project as a priority.

1969 First proposed in 1969 by Bolte government

1999 Jeff Kennett proposed it in its current form but lost government.

2004 Bracks government study found the road was likely not needed.

2008 Sir Rod Eddington completes an East West needs assessment. Finds a maximum benefit of 75¢ in the dollar from an east-west tunnel.

2010 Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder dismisses the idea the Coalition will build the east west. Mulder describes the notion as “Laurel and Hardy”.

January 2011 As Victoria’s new transport minister, Mulder repeats his position. “We went to the election to say that we had no plans for the tunnel. And that is our policy.”

March 2011 Linking Melbourne Authority recommends a freeway through the western suburbs.

November 2011 East West Link becomes government’s top transport priority.

June 2012 Tony Abbott pledges, if elected, to give $1.5 billion for the east-west tunnel.

May 2013 In the state budget, premier Denis Napthine announces commitment to fund stage one, the 5.3-kilometre eastern section of the East West Link, from the Eastern Freeway to CityLink, with an estimated capital cost of between $6 billion and $8 billion.

May 2013 In the federal budget, the Gillard government offered $3 billion for the Melbourne Metro Rail project.

June 2013 East West business case summary released, showing cost-benefit of $1.40 for every dollar spent. The government’s initial assessment estimated it would return a loss-making 45 cents worth of benefits for every $1 invested.

December 2013 Protesters disrupt test drilling.

April 2014 Brunswick resident Anthony Murphy (right) launches legal action against the state government over East West Link.

July 2014 Moreland and Yarra councils start legal action in Supreme Court against the state government over East West Link.

August 13, 2014 Opposition leader Daniel Andrews said “a responsible government — a government that actually values our state’s reputation and good name — doesn’t rip up contracts”.

September 11, 2014 Labor vows to scrap East West link if elected. Daniel Andrews said “This election will be a referendum between Labor’s plan for better public transport and Denis Napthine’s $8 billion dud tunnel.”

September 2014 Napthine Government signs multi-billion dollar East West contract with consortium.

November 29 2014 Daniel Andrews elected Premier.

December 15 Andrews government releases the full East West Link business case, revealing it would have taken 56 years to pay for the road.

Feb 5, 2015 Shadow treasurer Michael O’Brien releases the side letter promising to compensate the consortium.

April 15, 2015 Payout deal reached with consortium to end East West Link project.