History repeats as toll road becomes key issue for WA election
Cameron Jewell | 9 March 2017
All signs point to the Labor Party winning Western Australia’s state election this weekend, even with an eyebrow-raising preference deal struck between the Liberal Party and One Nation.
But where does this leave the built environment and sustainability, and what are the key issues voters care about this election?
Roe8, stage 1 of the Perth Freight Link road project, is shaping up as one of the key battlegrounds for the election (mirroring the last Victorian state election). The road – which is being built through the Beeliar Wetlands – and the larger Perth Freight Link project, have been criticised for being based on bad economics and because it threatens biodiversity.
The current Barnett government is trying to ram through the project while Labor has committed to tearing up the contracts and putting the money into other projects, such as its Metronet rail project.
A critical federal senate inquiry report into the project released this week recommended Roe8 construction works be immediately halted until environmental conditions of approval have been met; that governments in future work to create economically viable infrastructure projects; and that the Australian National Audit Office conduct an audit of the Perth Freight Link to determine whether federal money was spent in the interest of taxpayers.
Federal Greens senator Scott Ludlam said it was the most damning report he’d seen in his time in the senate.
“It makes clear what a disaster the freight link has been from the outset,” he said.
“The evidence the committee heard about repeated breaches of environmental conditions at the Beeliar Wetlands is impossible to ignore: work on site must immediately cease.”
The Liberal Party says scrapping the project will put at risk $1.2 billion in federal funding, and cost more that 3000 jobs, both of which statements have been disputed.
Labor has committed to building the Metronet, a rail project designed to connect suburbs and allow for east-west travel without having to go through the CBD.
It says the project will help to relieve Perth’s congestion. Costs have been estimated at $2.5 billion for the first part of the plan.
“It’s congesting-busting, it’s affordable, it’s achievable, it’s financially responsible,” Labor leader Mark McGowan said.
Labor will also put $27 million into cycling infrastructure over four year, with all Metronet stations having end of trip facilities, and require cycling infrastructure to be considered in all Main Roads WA projects.
The Liberals have also committed to cycling, announcing a “scenic cycling network” around Perth landmarks. It will see an additional $47 million committed to cycling infrastructure and $9.3 million for mountain bike trails. They also want free public transport on public holidays.
Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute research fellow Jemma Green told The Fifth Estate the Liberal Party did not presently have a plan to expand the public transport system in Perth since the MAX light rail fell off the forward estimates.
A recently released Transport @ 3.5 Million plan said the government would increase the rail network from 180km to 300km.
Environment, carbon and renewables
Aside from public transport the election seems to be light on sustainability and environment commitments
The two major parties have neither committed to a state emissions reduction target nor a state renewable energy target.
Labor last year had talked of a 50 per cent renewables target, but have now reneged.
Ms Green said the attack against renewables since the South Australian blackout could be a factor in Labor stepping away from a target.
Regardless, she said that both the Liberal and Labor parties were quite “pro renewables”, and an “almost bipartisan support” meant that it had not become a major election issues.
She said energy markets in the state needed reforming, however, and that neither of the two parties had detailed a reform agenda yet.
The Greens are the only party to have a solid renewables pitch, with a 50 per cent tax rebate for battery storage proposed (up to $5000). Families earning less than $80,000 would also get a $5000 grant for solar panels.
The Energy 2030 plan targets a 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, which it says is achievable and cheaper than business as usual. It includes a $100 million clean energy transition fund and a $474 million package for renewables and retrofitting rental properties.
Fracking and mining
Fracking has been another issue on the electorate’s mind.
Labor has said it will ban fracking in WA’s South West, Peel region and the Perth metropolitan area. One Nation has also entered the fray, promising to amend the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967 to give landowners the right to veto any fracking developments on their land.
The Nationals key policy platform is a mining tax they want to impose on Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Both companies pay 25 cents per tonne of iron ore mined in WA, however the Nationals want that figure raised to $5. It has been a key cause of the schism between the Nationals and the Liberals.
Privatisation of electricity assets is another key election issue, with the Barnett government planning to sell off 51 per cent of Western Power to raise $3 billion and to get $8 billion of debt off the books. The government had previously said it could fetch up to $16 billion.
Labor is opposed to the plan, as are One Nation and the Greens.
However some commentators see this as a sensible option, as state debts are soon expected to rise to $40 billion, and privatisation is not expected to lead to price rises for consumers.
Planning and DAPs
Development Assessment Panels, state-appointed development approval bodies that have taken away council powers on large projects, last year looked to be a hot election issue, but seem to have fallen by the wayside.
Labor promised to outline a revised policy before the election, however it seems nothing has changed.
The executive director of the Planning Institute of Australia for WA and SA, Emma de Jager, told The Fifth Estate both parties had committed to retaining the controversial planning panels, despite heavy community opposition.
Planning minster Donna Faragher told a recent PIA election forum that DAPs were “here to stay”.
On other issues to do with planning Ms de Jaeger said there was not much between the two parties, aside from on transport.
“There’s nothing really differentiating the two parties in the planning and development space,” she said.
“One thing it would be good to see is parties conveying the messages of good planning and good design.”
The PIA put out an election statement urging parties take planning seriously.
It said issues critical to the future of the state included: aligning land use planning with infrastructure delivery; promoting and facilitating the provision of diverse dwelling types and densities; and renewing focus on public transport.
“Definitely the key issue is public transportation, and getting better integration between land use planning and transport,” Ms de Jager said, “as well as new models of infrastructure funding to get the development we need.”
She said the integration of transport and planning had been a strong focus of Labor’s Metronet, with development proposed around stations.