Page 2549 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 11 August 2015

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Capital Metro Agency—schedule 1, part 1.5.

MR COE (Ginninderra) (11.17): It is disappointing that once again the opposition is in this place fighting the government on what is an ill-conceived project, fighting the government on their frivolous waste of money on a project that will carry just a few hundred more public transport users than currently ride ACTION buses on the same route. This project is apparently going to carry 3,950 people in the morning peak; however, buses on the same route carry 3,500 people. It is a lot of money to spend for just 400 more additional public transport users. And all that in a city of a mere 400,000 people as of 2021.

The budget provides almost $24 million to the Capital Metro Agency to continue to facilitate the construction of light rail in Canberra. This is on top of the $12 million which will be spent by TAMS this year for the Gungahlin to the city upgrades first announced in last year’s budget. A $375 million capital contribution is also speculated in the government’s budget for the first time this year; however, it is beyond the outyears of this year’s budget so it is, like so many promises the government makes, simply words on paper.

I should reiterate that we on this side respect the staff in the Capital Metro Agency. We respect the work that they are doing and we respect their commitment to carrying out cabinet’s wish that they go ahead with this project. It is just a shame that this government did not task them, the experts, with determining the best route to start a possible light rail network in Canberra. It is a shame they were not tasked with the opportunity to comment on which is the best mode to deliver a mass transit system in Canberra. Unfortunately, these decisions were all political decisions made by the transport supremo, Minister Corbell, with his sidekick, Mr Rattenbury, the transport assistant.

Unfortunately, that is no way to spend a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money. Why didn’t we ask the experts what is the best mode and what is the best staging? We did not. This government simply chose something on a whim following the last election when they did not have a majority. Quite frankly, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you well know, the Labor Party even received fewer votes than did the Liberal Party.

This year’s budget debate gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect on how the discussion around light rail has changed over the last year. This time last year the government wanted to spend $614 million on a tram to carry just one per cent of Canberrans during peak hour. This year, thanks to the release of the full business case, we are talking about a $783 million tram, which will still carry just one per cent of Canberrans during peak hour.

The full business case also increased the estimated annual operating and maintenance expenses, up from $6.8 million to $23 million. Most tellingly, the full business case almost halved the cost-benefit ratio from 2.34 to what is still an ambitious 1.2. Even then, pertinent questions about the assumptions which underpin the business case have been left unanswered by this minister and by this government. To quote Dr Leo Dobes, an adjunct associate professor at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, there is “a disturbing lack of facts on the table”. He said:

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