The Age – Editorial – This excuse doesn’t stop here any more. April 28, 2014
There is every good reason to call the proposed Southland railway station, which has been mooted for almost as long as the Channel Tunnel, Groundhog Station. That we’ve-been-here-before feeling has never quite gone away; and it can usefully be applied to other policies: many plans, many promises, but where are the details?
Groundhog Day re-occurred last week with the state government’s announcement that ”early works” will soon begin on the Southland station, and that it is now set to be completed in 2016. The point here is not so much that construction at last appears to be a reality – although ”soon begin” can be an elastic concept – but that it has taken so long to reach this stage, and that the government expects us to believe we have never heard this news before.
There is no difficulty in guessing why the subject has resurfaced. Four years ago, during the state election campaign, a station for Southland was high on the agenda of both the Coalition and Labor, with each side promising it would be built in the first term of government. Well, the November 29 election approaches – where’s the station?
On the way. But in slimmed-down form. As Transport Minister Terry Mulder confirmed last week, the station will not have all the amenities that were promised four years ago. No waiting room, lifts, bike cage, bus interchange, or drop-off and pick-up zones. Oh, it will also cost $21 million, not the $13 million the government said it would cost when it was campaigning in opposition.
Back then, the Coalition mercilessly mocked the then Labor government’s more expensive, $45 million proposal. Mr Mulder (then shadow transport minister) unwisely, as it turns out, said ”there will be a garage full of Porsches for construction industry bosses from this project alone”.
Last September, after we reported the Coalition’s embarrassingly underestimated cost of building the station had caused it to move to a ”no-frills” model, The Age said commuters were being fobbed off with the equivalent of a cheap suit. In between the promises of 2010 and those of election year 2014, the Southland station has become a sort of talisman, as well as emblematic of how political strategy can come off the rails.
Of all election policy areas in this state, public transport has been the most inflammatory and, in election terms, the most influential. The Brumby government’s defeat in 2010 was due, in part, to the Liberal swing in five seats along the beleaguered Frankston line, including the marginal seats near Southland. So, four months into an election year, with just seven months to go, the Napthine government is understandably anxious about winning or retaining these seats. But is regurgitating a four-year-old promise to build a train station due to be finished halfway through the next term the best way to win voter confidence? Not when the station should have been finished by now.
Earlier this month, the state government committed to an airport rail-link (another long-running saga), but it will not tell us how much it will cost until next month’s state budget. Likewise, the Metro rail tunnel and the business case for the East West Link, both of which were first recommended in the 2008 Eddington report on Melbourne’s transport system. As we have said, taxpayers deserve to be kept properly informed at all times, not just when it is politically convenient. The old excuses and delaying tactics do not fool anyone.
As we approach polling day, The Age will, as ever, be scrutinising the policies of all parties. We expect – as do the voters of Victoria – that these policies are fully detailed and costed. Anything less is not conducive to making a proper democratic choice.