Page 119 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 15 February 2006

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Do not just take my word that this busway is not a good idea. We have had a number of high-profile opponents, and in fact very few supporters, that I can identify. Certainly, groups such as the property council, the chamber of commerce and the business council have spoken very strongly against the need for a busway. Of course, groups like the business council and the property council are not necessarily or as a general rule against the spending of lots of taxpayers’ money on big projects; often businesses benefit. But even they can see that this is a project that does not have sufficient merit, it does not justify the kind of outlay that is proposed, and they have spoken out very strongly against it.

I will quote from a couple of the opponents. The property council is deeply concerned about proposals for a “hugely expensive Belconnen to Civic busway, which cannot hope to ever be sustainable”. In the Canberra Times late last year, the former chair of the Trade Practices Commission, Ron Gilbert, put his position, which I think sums up the opposition to the busway fairly well:

… the cost involved in spending $100-150 million on a road used only by a relatively small volume of bus traffic, and simply “sitting there” unused for most of the time is a shocking waste of resources.

That does sum up fairly well some of the opposition to the busway and why it is actually not a good idea. In the estimates processes and in the annual reports hearings, I have been trying to get some sort of justification—other than a three-minute saving—for this kind of outlay, and to see what kind of patronage figures and things the government has to justify this project. And I have got to say there has been very little forthcoming. So we are talking about $150 million for a three-minute saving.

I have used the term $150 million, but it is always difficult with the government’s proposed expenditure on capital works to estimate what figure we are talking about. I think it is actually a conservative figure, and I will say why. When the busway was announced, it was said that it would cost somewhere between $85 million and $150 million. When officials from ACTPLA were quizzed about this, they talked about it depending on the style of busway, and it does seem that what Mr Corbell would want is the kind of busway that would be closer to the $150 million. But, even if we were to take the lower figure, what we saw in Sydney with the Parramatta to Liverpool busway was a blow-out by about $150 million. We have seen the GDE blow out by, I think, something like 200 per cent.

If a project is announced as costing between $85 million and $150 million and looks unlikely to go ahead for a couple of years at least, I think it is fair to say that, if this project were to go ahead, the ACT taxpayer would be looking at shelling out at least $150 million. What cannot be determined, and is hard to factor in, is how this project might be delayed. We saw the GDE delayed by the Save the Ridge group, and there may well be similar sort of challenges that would, of course, add significantly to the costs, as we have seen with the GDE.

The other reason for moving this motion today is some of the divisions on this issue that are becoming apparent. The minister announced plans for a busway, which he said could

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