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Election cash splash shows transport planning shouldn’t be left to politicians

Fremantle train
Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

OPINION: Over the weekend we had Bill Shorten promise $10 billion in federal funding for the Suburban Rail Loop proposed by the Victorian Labor government, and Scott Morrison promise $4 billion in federal funding for the East West Link.

With such massive amounts of money being thrown around, you’d think there would be some good planning behind these projects to justify them. But no.

The biggest gap in our transport system is not the lack of a road or rail line in a marginal seat, it’s the gap in our transport planning process.

This means governments and oppositions are able to announce random transport projects when it suits them, something both major parties love to do just before an election.

Premier Daniel Andrews blindsided even his own transport department last year when he announced the Suburban Rail Loop, a $50 billion-plus project that has had no independent or transparent assessment to determine if it’s really the priority public transport project Melbourne needs.

Meanwhile, the East West Link zombie is the project that never dies, not to mention the West Gate Tunnel that’s being built because toll road operator and political donor Transurban wants it, even though it’ll dump tens of thousands of cars into West and North Melbourne.

Victoria even has legislation that says we have to have integrated transport plans that meet specific objectives, including avoiding, minimising and offsetting damage to the environment, promoting forms of transport which have the least impact on the environment, and reducing the overall contribution of transport-related carbon pollution. And that these plans have to be developed with community participation, and pay proper regard to transparency and the precautionary principle.

But we don’t have them. There’s a reason, of course. It’s not an oversight, it’s because the absence of a plan allows government and oppositions to trot out projects that win popularity contests at elections, with the biggest beneficiaries being private corporations that build these projects and political parties hoping to win or retain marginal seats.

This is despite us being in a climate emergency, with our second largest source of carbon pollution coming from transport, mainly from private cars.

The lack of proper process to our transport planning has to change if we are to get anywhere in actually solving our transport woes and shifting to pollution-free transport.

Getting to zero-carbon transport by 2040

The Greens are proposing that, in order to receive federal funding for major projects, state and territory governments should be required to develop integrated transport plans that are consistent with a 2040 zero-carbon transport future.

These plans would be developed with extensive community involvement and transparency. And projects, particularly massive tollway projects, would have to demonstrate that they are consistent with these plans, and not be able to hide behind “commercial-in-confidence” contracts and secret business cases.

Integrated community-driven transport plans would result in sustainable cities with public transport that is fast, frequent and affordable for everyone, and would give people the choice to leave their car at home and onto reliable public transport or safe bike paths.

The Greens plan is to allocate $25 billion over a decade as a priority fund for public transport projects. Any project would have to be consistent with integrated transport plans.

In our view, Melbourne Metro 2 is the next critical missing transport link in our city, connecting Mernda in the north east and Werribee in the south west, with stops along the way in Clifton Hill, Fitzroy and Fishermans Bend. It will decouple two of the busiest lines on the network from the city loop, allowing for more frequent trains, and will provide the starting block for the much-needed Doncaster rail line.

But unlike the major parties, we know that Melbourne Metro 2 would need to stack up in the integrated transport planning process. No pre-election sweeteners. No chasing after votes in marginal seats.

It’s absolutely vital to get transport planning and investment out of the hands of politicians whose main goal is election or re-election, and back into the hands of people.

Senator Janet Rice is Australian Greens transport and infrastructure spokesperson. 


Spinifex is an opinion column open to all, so called because it’s at the “spiky” end of sustainability. If you would like to contribute, we require 700+ words. For a more detailed brief and style guide please email editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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