An unfazed Chief Minister has shrugged off the Canberra Liberals’ announcement they do not support light rail and will scupper the extension to Woden if elected in 2024.
The Opposition came under fire from Chief Minister Andrew Barr who accused the party of having never supported the infrastructure project “in their heart of hearts” despite public statements to the opposite.
“Even though there is a new Opposition leader, the conservative wing of the Liberal Party has yanked the chain and they have reverted back to a stale and conservative position,” Mr Barr said.
The Chief Minister said his “experienced and mature” government was committed to a holistic infrastructure program where multiple large projects could be managed at the same time as normal spending continued in areas like education, health and community services.
“The announcement from the Opposition reflects they think this is too hard,” Mr Barr said.
The Chief Minister said a growing city meant Canberra would not remain a “20-minute city” unless changes – like building light rail – were made to ease congestion.
Mr Barr also dismissed the Liberal’s claims that his government was funnelling money out of essential services like healthcare, policing and education to fund the light rail.
“We have been investing one in three dollars in the Territory Budget in health. One in four dollars is invested in education. Transport is a relatively small share of the budget, and light rail even a smaller part of that,” the Chief Minister said.
The government has committed to releasing cost estimates for both Stage 2A and Stage 2B once contracts are signed.
But for now, to the ire of the Opposition, it remains tight-lipped on the figures and the timeline.
Mr Barr today wouldn’t confirm how much information – or what information – would be available to the public ahead of the 2024 election.
Those two issues have become key sticking points for the Opposition which has floated an estimate of $3 billion for the Woden extension.
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee told reporters this morning that things had changed since Stage 1 was built from Gungahlin to the city.
“The Canberra community has started to see the real impact of millions of dollars that have been stripped from health, community housing and road upgrades,” she said.
“The fact is, the government cannot do it all.”
Deputy Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson, who led the Liberals to defeat at the 2016 election on an anti-light rail platform, echoed Ms Lee’s comments in claiming things had changed and the Woden extension was different.
“There’s great resistance to the tram. People want good, direct services on their buses. They want to be able to get on the bus and go where they want to go,” he said.
“They don’t want to have to get on a bus and go the tram and then stop 11 or 12 times on the way to the city. That doesn’t make sense.”
Mr Hanson, who is also a local member in Murrumbidgee, said his constituents in Woden and Weston Creek had told him they did not want Adelaide Avenue to become lined with high-density dwellings like Northbourne Avenue.
But chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra Ryan Hemsley said that’s not the case given the popularity of light rail.
A recent survey from The Australia Institute showed 63 per cent of respondents supported extending the line south to Woden.
“The Liberals know light rail is popular and I think that’s why the Canberra Liberals are cynically trying to frame the project as a choice between new, well-located homes for young Canberrans close to jobs, amenities and high-quality public transport and the visual amenity of a limited access freeway,” he told Region.
“I think Canberrans are better than that.”
He questioned why the Liberals had reverted to a policy position that had failed repeatedly.
“We’re stuck in a loop … we’ve seen this movie before. I genuinely do not know why they are taking this route,” he said.
“They’ve never been able to produce a compelling alternative public transport policy to convince the majority of the population to vote for them.”
In a statement this morning, Mr Hemsley said of the Liberals’ policy: “good luck with that”.
The party’s transport spokesperson Mark Parton has promised a comprehensive public transport strategy ahead of the next election.
That’s expected to include a commitment to electrifying the bus network, while alternatives like trackless trams have previously been floated.
Mr Parton stated his public transport strategy would not only be cheaper, but it will also be more forward-thinking and produce fewer emissions.
Ms Lee this morning skirted around the timing of when this full strategy would be released but said the party was committed to being upfront with the public.
Stage 2A (from the city to Commonwealth Park) will likely be completed or nearing completion by the next election.
The early stages of raising London Circuit have begun and road closures are now in place. Years of traffic disruptions are expected in Civic as that work progresses.