Transport continues to be a major issue in the Victorian election campaign in the lead up to polling day on November 29, especially in regard to the East West Link project.
On Monday afternoon, 29 September, the Premier Denis Napthine and Transport Minister Terry Mulder signed the contracts with Lend lease for the East West Connect Consortium to start the $8 billion phase one East West project to connect the Eastern Freeway with the Citylink tollway through inner urban suburbs and Royal Park. This is Victoria’s most expensive infrastructure project ever undertaken, and it is being done with contracts signed just 60 days from the election, 30 days before the Government goes into caretaker mode.
The contract signing took place shortly after High Court justice Creenan ruled against Brunswick resident Anthony Murphy for an injunction to stop the contracts being signed before October 17, when Murphy has a case being heard before the court to ask it to block the acquisition of properties to build the link. The East West Link Consortium will need to voluntarily or compulsory acquire 91 properties to construct the 5.2 kilometer tollway.
— Frere Takver EAM (@takvera) September 29, 2014
“This is the big issue not just of this dark day, but of the upcoming election. Do we want a world class public transport system that reflects a modern, vibrant and sustainable world class city? or do we want a toll road that no one voted for and forced upon us by an un-elected Premier” said Jane Garrett MP, member for Brunswick at the Moreland Transport Forum.
On Monday the Victorian court of appeal granted Murphy a retrial in the Victorian Supreme court of a separate case opposing the project on the grounds the Government had misrepresented the economic benefit. The State Government continues to refuse to release the business case for the project, arguing cabinet confidentiality, although the documents were wheeled into court at one point during August in an unsuccessful attempt to exploit Freedom of information laws.
The East West Link is a contentious project with community protests that have severely delayed preliminary work, supreme court cases questioning the legality and economic benefit, and a high court case.
State Leader of the Labor Party Daniel Andrews and the Labor opposition opposed the project but initially refused to rule out cancellation of the project if contracts were already signed. In early September the Labor Party changed it’s position saying the project would be dumped if it is elected to Government, based upon high level legal advice it had received from former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein, administrative law expert Richard Niall, QC, and contract law expert Siobhan Keating. This advice argues that if the Moreland and Yarra Council case in the Supreme court is successful, then the multi-billion dollar contract would be unenforceable.
The case by the Councils in the Supreme Court argues that the planning process that led to the June 30 approval of the project was not done lawfully as Planning Minister Matthew Guy failed to meet key legislative requirements. “In the event that the Supreme Court holds that the approval decision made by the Minister for Planning … is invalid … any contracts entered into will be beyond power and unenforceable,” the legal advice says according to the report in The Age. The case is listed for hearing in the Supreme Court two weeks after the election on December 15.
I reported in April 2014 that the East West Link was on a collision course for Victorian state election, and the Public transport versus east-west link toll road issue also featured prominently in inner urban electorates during the Federal election in 2013.
The extensive contracts have substantial compensation clauses if the new Government cancels the project, although these may be legally questionable as to their validity given the ongoing political and community opposition and current court cases in the Supreme Court of Victoria and the High Court.
Lend Lease's David Saxelby not commenting on any q's regarding "kill fees", compensation if Labor wins & rips up contracts #springst
— Frances Bell (@bellfrances) September 30, 2014
Moreland Transport Forum
On the same day as the signing of the contracts for East West Link there was a Transport Forum for Moreland held at the Brunswick Town Hall, one of 15 transport forums being organised around Melbourne by Leader Newspapers.
— Frere Takver EAM (@takvera) September 29, 2014
The forum, attended by about 80 people, heard from the Labor Party MP for Brunswick Jane Garrett, the Greens Candidate for Brunswick Tim Read, and Liberal Party No 2 candidate for Melbourne northern metro region Gladys Liu.
You can watch the opening statements of all three candidates at the MTF Transport Forums site: East West Link takes centre stage at Moreland forum where they put forward their respective party positions on transport infrastructure for the election.
Much of the talk was focused on East West Link, while the Government’s proposed Melbourne rail and airport link received little discussion. The Napthine Government’s rail projects are expected to cost $11 billion and are unlikely to be started until the East West Link project is completed. The rail projects, if they proceed, are not expected to be operational until 2026 at the earliest. These projects are in competition with Labor’s Metro rail project, which has been assessed by Infrastructure Australia as a higher priority project than East West Link which will add substantial network capacity to Melbourne’s rail network through the city.
The Liberal Party were elected in 2010 on a platform to build more public transport, particularly the Doncaster rail line which was expected to cost in the region of $1 billion and provide public transport out to the eastern suburbs down the middle of the eastern freeway, thus providing an impetus for less congestion. Rail extentions to Rowville for Monash University and the Mernda extension in the northern growth suburbs are also badly needed to expand Melbourne’s rail network.
For the Doncaster rail line Tim Read said if the Government was keen to build this, then construction could perhaps start within a couple of years. Gladys Liu said the Government was still committed to Doncaster Rail but only after East West Link, Melbourne Rail and Airport link were all completed. The Doncaster Rail Line was originally proposed in 1890 according to Wikipedia. The latest Doncaster Rail study was done for Public Transport Victoria in March 2013 and included separating and providing a new alignment of the South Morang line for new stations at Fitzroy, Parkville and Flagstaff Gardens for a total estimated cost of $3 billion to $5 billion.
So there was major differentiation on priorities between road and rail emphasised by the major parties. Garret outlined that Labor has undertaken to remove 50 level crossings throughout Melbourne through grade separation, including removing the Moreland and Bell Street crossings on the Upfield line and the Barkly St and Glenroy Rd on the Caigieburn line. Garrett also said Labor were committed to running the public transport system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and extending this to Ballarat and Bendigo regional services.
Labor also plans to extend and duplicate the South Morang line to Mernda at a cost of $400 million to $600 million. The Principle bicycle network strategy will receive $80 million in funding under Labor with bicycle infrastructure planning being mainstreamed, with Vicroads required to consider cycling infrastructure in all planning and construction projects.
Tim Read’s contribution was a quieter presentation but very thoughtful talking initially about the problems of urbanisation and urban development from the 1950s and the importance of development of transport options.
“Public transport should be a solution. It is an equity issue. It gives access to isolated outer suburban income earners to jobs and employment in the centre of town. It promotes walking and hence health. It gives us a quiet safer city and a safer climate. The answer is not freeways that encourage driving and create congestion” he told the Forum.
Read also has a nice sardonic sense of humour welcoming Labor in joining with the Greens in cancelling the East West Project if Labor forms government. “We are delighted to welcome Labor to our position” he said which was met with a measure of audience applause.
The duplication of the Upfield line past Gowie and possible electrification of the existing track to Craigieburn was raised by Tim Read, the only candidate to do so, which would close a transport loop to Craigieburn and allow greater capacity and frequency of services on the Upfield Line.
Gladys Liu said she was a big fan of public transport. She put the blame for the poor state of the public transport network at the feet of the former Labor Government over 11 years. She stressed the increased services and timeliness of services being provided under the Liberal Government, and the increased Protective Service Officers patrols to increase safety.
I got the feeling that Liu knew she was before a respectful but hostile audience here in Brunswick, and Tim Read commented that her presence was welcome after the Federal election campaign in Wills in 2013 where the Liberal candidate failed to attend one forum for public scrutiny.
Addressing the Vulnerability of public transport to climate change and heatwaves
There were 8 questions asked from the audience. Those who RSVPed to the forum had an opportunity to post a question with other forum attendees able to rate each question. Only some of these questions were posed to the panelists. The top rated question was one by Andrea Bunting on how to ensure transport can cope with climate change and heatwaves?
During heatwaves in Melbourne in recent years air conditioning on public transport has broken, rails have warped, and major delays and cancellation of services have occurred which have had a major impact on economic activity. Rising temperatures due to climate change and the urban heat island effect has made our transport system vulnerable. How did the candidates deal with this curly question?
Garrett called it a profound question and launched into a discussion of the necessity of pricing carbon. She didn’t really answer the question posed about how to reduce the vulnerability of our transport systems to climate change induced heatwave temperatures, although she did take a swipe at the Greens for voting in the Senate against the first iteration of the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation.
Read was the only candidate who listened to the question and who endeavoured to answer it. He emphasised the need for getting more people to use public transport and also increase renewable energy in Victoria to 40 per cent by 2020. He made the point that our governments need to stop considering heatwaves as ‘acts of god’.
“Many government services are really ill prepared for heatwaves. I have just read through Victoria’s Ebola fever plan. We are better prepared for Ebola fever in this state than the next heatwave. Ebola is unlikely in Victoria… but a heatwave is pretty much certain. … I favour an enquiry into how all levels of government respond to heatwaves. It has really been haphazard. A lot of responsibility has been put on Councils. We want Public Transport Victoria to require operators to build and maintain track to a standard where it will survive.” Read said.
For roads Read advocated the importance of more trees to shade surfaces, “Trees are extraordinarily good at reducing temperatures, not just underneath them but for a considerable area around.”
Gladys Liu noted that “the weather has changed a bit”. She didn’t really answer the question on addressing transport vulnerabilities to heatwaves but did say that icy poles are no longer handed out to hot commuters during heatwaves and attributed this to the work her government had done in improving the public transport.
Bicycle traffic jams – cycling infrastructure needed
A question on increased cycling infrastructure is highly relevant to Moreland with increased cycling numbers. Cycling in inner Melbourne is booming to such a degree that often cycling traffic jams are occurring at peak times, with over 2000 cyclists being countered on the Upfield Path during the morning peak period. The Liberal Government cut funding for cycling infrastructure projects and the Principle Bicycle Network.
As noted previously Jane Garret said Labor are prepared to make a substantial $80 million commitment to funding and mainstreaming cycling infrastructure.
The Greens Tim Read, as a commuting cyclist, also emphasised the need to expand cycling infrastructure, and not just in Melbourne but in regional areas encouraging more cycling and including ensuring better compatibility with taking bikes on V-Line services.
Liu made no extra funding commitments for cycling infrastructure, but talked about improving train services. “I came from the city this evening and I was so happy to see so many people riding bikes”. She also claimed credit for the Coalition Government for the increase in cycle lanes. The Government have also incorporated cycling infrastructure in East West Link project.
Labor leads Coalition in polls, while Greens challenge in inner north
While the next state government will be formed by either the Labor or Liberal and National Parties, the electoral contest in inner northern suburbs of Melbourne will be hard fought between the Greens and Labor. Four electorates in particular are vulnerable for Labor MPs including Melbourne, Brunswick, Richmond and Northcote. On election night they will be key electorates to watch for Labor and Green supporters.
According to the latest Essential Poll the Labor Party has a two party preferred lead over the Coalition of 52 per cent to 48pc. This has decreased slightly from a 53-47pc margin in March. The poll indicates that the Coalition government’s poor economic record and broken promises and poor record in public transport continue to be major issues in the campaign. The Galaxy poll conducted in August showed a similar lead to the Labor Party.
The Government has already spent more than $3million on Moving Victoria advertisements bombarding Melbourne television viewers with slick animations. The East West project has sparked debate in Ballarat with country areas concerned expenditure on such a large road project in the city will rob funding from essential regional road upgrades
In a taste of the campaign to come there is already some nasty campaigning on public transport with a leaflet not clearly attributable to a party being handed out to commuters that compares the Government’s to Labor’s public transport plans, according to this report in The Age: Libs launch attack ads based on ‘fantasy’ rail line.