5 December 2022

Barr brushes off 'stale and conservative' Opposition as it drops support for light rail to Woden

| Lottie Twyford
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The Gungahlin Light Rail terminal

The Canberra Liberals say they cannot support light rail to Woden and would not proceed with the project if elected in 2024. Photo: Damien Larkins.

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.

three people in a field

Deputy Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson, Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee and Opposition spokesperson for transport Mark Parton made their light rail position clear this morning. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

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.

READ ALSO Alleged victim, murderer in Canberra Hospital death case have names released

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”.

READ ALSO Plans unveiled for 280 apartments and shops in heart of Gungahlin on the light rail line

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.

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The Chairman2:40 pm 06 Dec 22

When you can’t do it anymore for what you said it would cost surley its acceptable to reconsider. This was also pre-covid. Another example of the current government being out of touch with Canberra’s Education and Healthcare needs.

ChrisinTurner2:20 pm 06 Dec 22

As the subsidy is >$35 per boarding how can anyone say it is efficient (Action is $7 and Stage 1 LR about $15).

This is the key argument that makes you wonder exactly what interests the “Public Transport Association” is pushing. (We know the Labor/Greens Gov is pushing the interests of high-rise property developers.) As an actual supporter of public transport, in the short term I advocate abandoning the tram expansion and using part of the saved capital to add more routes, buses and bus stops, and using operational savings from electrifying the entire fleet to eliminate the costs associated with collecting and enforcing fares: net fare revenue is an insignificant part (< 10%) of Transport Canberra's expenses.

Make public transport good and make it free – can the so-called ""Public Transport Association" get behind that?

The huge cost of Stage 2A and B sucks money away from actual public transport now and, with the perpetual and ludicrous per-boarding costs paid to the 'public-private partners', forever. The ACT Gov has already let contracts valued at over $500M for the planning and preparation for Stage 2, and spent untold millions in "agency costs" within the ACT public service. and this is before any contracts for construction of the actual line, stops, bridges, electrical services, road modifications, … That money alone would have electrified the entire bus fleet (or built over 1000 houses for rent-to-buy for lower-income families). But it is a sunk cost – throwing more good money after after bad never helps.

The Public Transport Association are nothing of the sort.

They are a light rail lobby group (they used to be badged ACT Light Rail), who changed their name to have wider appeal despite keeping all of their previous, narrow positions on what type of public transport options should be considered.

What’s with the 20 minute city comments. Light rail is going to be hours from one end to the other?

Liberals would support light rail if it

Worked.
Was costed
Had a timeline
Was value for money.
Wasn’t just timed with the election cycle.

However there are other options. like trackless trams.

Libs really need to commit to public transport. Make it free, make it ubiquitous.
It’s cheaper to have free buses than paid light rail.
No one complains about free stuff, (even if taxes pay for it).

Why stop something already in place? We also keen for when or if the fyshwick route is a green light. We are one of the resident benefitting from the tram. We got rid our second car and use the tram. No more petrol, car service, rego and parking! It saved us some money and the kids can have some extracurricular activities.

How do you get the kids to the activity?

Must be a fun life only being able to travel between the City and Gungahlin

Ironic that a once traditionally pro-development party is opposed to the tram, while a once anti-development, pro-conservation party is pushing the tram. If the tram had been a Liberal project, would rusted on voters support or oppose it?

William Newby9:05 pm 05 Dec 22

Labor and the Greens need to go.
This tram isn’t needed, we’ve already wasted too much money exploring this elephant.
It’s time for a change!

That picture above says it all about who calls the shots in the Canberra Liberals!

So a photo with two men and one woman standing together with the woman in the middle shows that the “boys” are in charge?

Showing those deep misogynistic traits again Jack, do better.

It’s just hilarious to see the light rail boosters on Facebook still claim that Light Rail is a success due to high patronage and berate others about the “facts”.

They do know that patronage numbers are freely available right?

Numbers that show that patronage collapsed during covid and has not recovered and won’t due to the changed working conditions of WFH.

Stage 1 is currently running at around 2/3 the patronage numbers that were in the Government’s business case for transport benefits.

The numbers that they crow about are the numbers that disprove their arguments.

LOL, talk about inconvenient facts.

https://www.data.act.gov.au/Transport/Light-Rail-Patronage/x7dn-77he

100% of the patronage is because there is no other public transport option. ie: no buses. If there were bus options like pre Tram then for speed and convenience most people would take the bus.

Gerald Olive6:01 pm 05 Dec 22

Sounds a tad worried. I would be too. Come election time it will be 23 years in power.

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