Our occasional Face-off series is back to look at one of the most-debated issues around town right now. Plenty of RiotACT readers already have a view on this question, but we decided to give Simon Corbell and Alistair Coe the opportunity to set out their opposing views on what has become a key issue leading into the ACT election later this year:
Does the ACT Government have a mandate to commence construction of its planned light rail network in June?
Simon Corbell, Minister for Capital Metro:
When construction starts on the first stage of light rail in Canberra in June it will be the culmination of nearly four years of work that started with an ACT Labor election commitment prior to the last ACT election.
On 21 September 2012 I stood on Northbourne Avenue with then chief minister Katy Gallagher and made a commitment that if we won the election we would proceed with light rail from Gungahlin to City during our next term.
Our official, publicly released policy document stated that we committed to “establish the ACT’s first large-scale private sector partnership to plan, finance and develop the first stage of a Light Rail Network” with “construction estimated to commence in 2016”.
We provided an estimate for the capital cost of the project, which would be delivered as a PPP and therefore not paid for until after the forward estimates period.
The commitment was clear, we would sign a PPP to start construction in 2016, which is exactly what we are doing.
Any argument to the contrary by the opposition is either mischievous or misinformed.
Meanwhile the Liberals are trying desperately to make this year’s election one about light rail, maybe because they have very little else to offer the people of Canberra.
They ignorantly claim that it is the government’s only priority. In reality the government’s priorities rightly lie in health and education, where we spend more than half of the ACT’s budget every year. In terms of expenditure, light rail is only a small part of the government’s plans. Over the life of the light rail contract, which includes design and construction as well as maintenance and operation for 20 years, the government will spend less than 1 percent of total expenditure on light rail. In the same time we will spend 35 times as much on health and 25 times as much on education.
Alistair Coe, Shadow Minister for Transport:
It’s absolute folly that the ACT Government has a mandate to proceed with light rail before this year’s ACT Election. Prior to the 2012 ACT Election the Labor Party took a $30 million commitment to Canberrans for concept and design work on light rail. That’s all.
The only reason we are in the position we are today, on the cusp of burdening generations of Canberrans with paying back hundreds of millions of dollars for a project that doesn’t stack up, is because after the 2012 Election, Labor slapped together a deal with the sole Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury to build light rail. In return he guaranteed his support for a Labor government.
Since then and with no mandate, the Government has run a spending spree on light rail, not because it’s the best thing for Canberra, but simply to stay in power.
Last week the Labor Party and the Greens confirmed they will hold Canberrans for ransom, by choosing an international consortium to whom Canberra will have a 25-year debt. This is completely unfair and undemocratic. Given how unpopular light rail is in Canberra, the only fair thing for the government to do is take the issue to the 2016 Election. Let Canberrans decide.
This is the biggest infrastructure project in the history of the ACT yet very few will benefit. The Government did not get a mandate to build this project at the 2012 Election, and, we are only months away from the 2016 Election.
Only the Canberra Liberals are giving Canberrans a choice on light rail. The Labor Party and Greens are dictating that it must happen and are preparing to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on their back-room deal.
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