Page 75 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 9 December 2008

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Transport—light rail

MS BRESNAN: My question is to the Minister for Transport and concerns the ACT government’s light rail business case and submission to Infrastructure Australia. Is the ACT government committed to a light rail system for the ACT, and what is the government’s contingency plan for developing mass rapid transit in the event that the Infrastructure Australia bid is unsuccessful?

MR STANHOPE: I thank Ms Bresnan for the question. Everybody is aware, as the government announced, that we placed light rail very high on the list of priorities that we believe Infrastructure Australia should support through the Building Australia fund. I think the attitude that each of us has taken, and that successive governments in the ACT have taken, in relation to light rail is that it is potentially very expensive infrastructure for a jurisdiction the size of ours. Some of the estimates that have been provided through previous studies that have been undertaken—the studies and estimates that have influenced the view and attitude of successive governments of both Labor and Liberal persuasions over the last 20 years—have, of course, impacted on the decisions that each respective government has taken.

We as a government saw an opportunity which matched our commitment to sustainable transport and the need for a rapid transport, but sustainable public transport, system to meet the needs of a growing Canberra. But the Infrastructure Australia program, and the request by the commonwealth government for suggestions for investment in each of the states and territories, did provide a window of opportunity for pursuing again the possibility of light rail.

I have to say in response to the question that I do not believe at this stage, particularly having regard to the level of investment made in public transport in recent years and the level of investment which public transport, through ACTION, will require for years to come, that we can piggyback, and continue to maintain significant and growing investments in ACTION, our bus network, while at the same time seeking to fund the roll out of light rail.

Some of the numbers that have underpinned the previous studies are, of course, in the order of billions of dollars. I think it starts at a billion dollars for a bare spine of a system throughout the ACT. I anticipate that the light rail study that is not yet completed but which has been undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers will reveal again the level of investment that is required for an operational light rail system within the ACT. That is if the government is serious about light rail. We are serious about public transport; we are serious about sustainability. We are serious about dealing with the impacts of climate change, and we know that public transport and the needs of the transport system are fundamental to any genuine effort we make in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. So, yes, we are serious, we are committed, but we are also realistic. And we are also realistic in that, with an annual budget in the order of $3 billion, which reflects the size of this jurisdiction, and with our other capital projects and priorities—for instance, a billion-dollar investment in health infrastructure which we have committed to over the next 10 years—there is, in the context of light rail, an equation that we have to grapple with; that is, the size of our budget and the capacity to roll out infrastructure as expensive as light rail.

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