Page 5503 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 9 December 2009

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The reason is a failure of foresight and the dominance of political expediency over a strategic plan. Government studies published in 2002 warned that the GDE would be busy upon opening and that widening to four lanes will need to be considered relatively soon after the opening of the initial construction. Don’t we know it! And in 2004 the CEO of the Department of Urban Services made the remarkable admission to a parliamentary committee that a two-lane road would provide an extraordinarily good service to people in that part of Canberra for something like 22 hours a day. In other words, Stanhope Labor’s plans for a two-lane road would guarantee the GDE was dysfunctional in peak periods, as we now see.

For too long we have seen cost projections overrun by ever-increasing margins as the Cotter Dam blow-out, the biggest in territory history, shows all too clearly. For years the Stanhope government fought tooth and nail against building any dam. On 28 March 2006, Jon Stanhope told the Assembly:

… it may be that we do not need to think again about whether or not we will ever need a dam. Perhaps we will in 30 years time, perhaps later and perhaps never.

It took until late 2007 before ACT Labor finally conceded that Canberra needs more water storage capacity.

The unfolding saga of the costing of this project is now before the ICRC to try and sort out the drama, but a precis of events shows that in April 2005 Actew Corporation’s future water options report estimated the cost to enlarge Cotter reservoir to 78 gigalitres would be $120 million. By October 2007, Jon Stanhope announced that the Cotter reservoir would be enlarged at a cost of $145 million. In April 2008, the Halcrow Pacific report, commissioned by the ICRC, notes that Actew believes the final target out-turn cost may be up to 30 per cent higher, or $188.5 million. On 18 May 2009, Mark Sullivan told the estimates committee:

In early 2008, the ICRC accepted an estimated cost of $145 million. We are working on an estimate of costs that we warned in that report could be 30 per cent higher on that again.

That is, $188.5 million. On 30 May 2009 the Canberra Times reported Mr Sullivan as suggesting the costs could now be up to $246 million and on 3 September 2009, Mr Sullivan announced that the total out-turn cost would now be $363 million. That is a $243 million blow-out. We still do not know what happened, why, or who was responsible, but this is the pattern we see time and time again: a government that delays and neglects long-term decisions is finally forced to act and leaves us with projects that are over time, well over budget and often fail to meet the requirements of the day, let alone the needs of the future. The plan I am putting forward would help avoid some of these failures.

I announced as part of our election platform and again in the Assembly in my budget reply speech that the time had come to take a holistic approach to infrastructure in Canberra and that the Canberra Liberals would take the steps to make that happen. It is clear that urgent structural reform is needed to ensure that the litany of mistakes and neglect in infrastructure are not repeated in the future. That is why I am introducing the Infrastructure Canberra Bill.

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