22 February 2024

Letter from the Editor: from motorsports to rent freezes, a tale of shiny, unlikely election promises

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Canberra drag strip

The old Canberra drag strip in action. Photo: Speedway and Raceway History.

Election season is revving up and with it, a return to the quarter-century long Canberra pursuit of things that will never happen because we’re too small and frankly can’t afford them.

Exhibit A, the Belco Party’s Chic Henry memorial motorsport facility, named for the late co-founder of both Summernats and the party.

After what sounds suspiciously like a bit of doodling on a beer mat down the pub, the Belco Party reckons it can deliver a full-scale motorsports facility that will operate 365 days a year and bring F1 motor racing to Canberra at a cost of between $65 and $100 million.

For reference, the 750-hectare Tailem Bend facility in South Australia cost $150 million five years ago, financed by the family-owned Peregrine Corporation.

The oft-proffered argument is that besides the tourism value, a motorsports facility would reduce dangerous driving. Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry delicately sidestepped this by noting that there was no actual evidence to demonstrate this or indeed justify the cost.

Build a drag strip by all means, renovate the old venue near the airport.

READ ALSO Scrap next stage of light rail to build motorsport facility in honour of Chic Henry, Belco Party says

But while the international Formula 1 operation is doing better these days, the Melbourne event currently costs the Victorian taxpayer between $80 and $100 million per annum. The F1 franchise is no more likely to come to Canberra than run laps on the moon.

Why? Because we don’t have enough people and we can’t afford it.

That answer also applies to a variety of things including high-speed rail between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. It means other, more achievable, things are on the further horizon including a new convention centre and a stadium.

The ACT Government doesn’t escape the temptation to promise big things to voters who can’t add up either.

The proposed new stadium at Bruce has been identified as a “once in 50-year” infrastructure project, along with a convention centre and major works at EPIC.

READ ALSO UPDATED: Barr reveals site preference for new Bruce stadium with announcement imminent on future of AIS precinct

The government campaign messages are all very optimistic about the stadium: there’s $760,000 in funding for technical due diligence as part of an expanded sports, health and education precinct, linking investments in the AIS precinct, CIT Bruce, University of Canberra and the Northside Hospital.

It’s more likely to happen and makes more sense than the motorsport unicorn circuit, but my advice would be not to hold your breath on what will be a 10-year project at the very least.

Labor also wants some baubles to dangle in front of the electorate. Light rail is now a work in progress and won’t change votes. The Canberra Theatre is similarly getting underway, so a bright and shiny new stadium fits the bill despite being unlikely to materialise inside a decade.

Why? Because, again, we don’t have enough people and we can’t afford it just yet.

Similarly the Greens have been floating the idea of a rent freeze as a solution to our mounting housing pressures. Leaving aside the fact that the ACT already limits rental increases to the CPI, and even putting to one side the rights and responsibilities of people who own rentals and have to pay for them, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that rent freezes will most likely reduce the availability of rentals.

Again, we’re not big enough for this to work. We don’t have enough people and we can’t afford it.

READ ALSO Rent freeze would fix Canberra’s increasingly unaffordable rental market, says Greens’ Jo Clay

The Liberals have been very coy about their own infrastructure promises – and even more coy on what they’d cancel if elected. Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee says we’ll find out what they’re promising in June.

They’ll need to produce something: you can’t abandon infrastructure development without seriously compromising the city’s economic growth and workforce amenity. That doesn’t make sense either.

As more and more of this stuff rolls out, voters need to season their voting intentions with a large dose of common sense.

We do pretty well in Canberra and not all economic headwinds are our fault. Issues such as the decline in GST allocation and payroll tax revenue will balance out within a few years and we do need to keep building for a growing city that’s attractive to investors.

But like a child who wants all the glittering presents for Christmas, we just can’t have everything on our wish list. And like prudent parents setting reasonable expectations, politicians are foolish to promise that we can.

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GrumpyGrandpa4:53 pm 25 Feb 24

The Belco Party; bringing F1 to Canberra – seriously? Commit them now.

Greens; freezing rents for 2 years. It might be OK to freeze your broccoli or tofu, but if you freeze a landlords income but allow their expenses to increase, you loose landlords and the housing supply decreases.

ALP; 2B has so many holes – exorbitant cost and too slow in comparison to buses. Debts are rising and services are falling. Seriously, they need to read the room.

Libs; They’ll need to present a good plan and look cohesive, to convince left-leaning Canberra to vote Blue.

Leon Arundell9:32 am 25 Feb 24

In 2012 ACT Labor committed “to increasing the public transport share of all work trips to 10.5% by 2016 and 16% by 2026” and the government committed to “the construction of a light rail network.” In 2016 the mode share was only 8% and in 2021 it fell to 7%. By 2026 we expect to have a single 14 km light rail line. If we can ever afford to complete stage 2 of light rail we will have a single 22 km light rail line, but no network. The government committed “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT to 40% less than 1990 emissions by 30 June 2020.” Its claim that it met that target is based on inflating 1990 “emissions in the ACT” by including emissions that occurred outside the ACT, and on excluding emissions from the 2020 Namadgi bushfire.

Nice puff piece for Labor
We can afford things we already have or have planned.
Liberals won’t provide details and coy.

The real story
Labor feel like they can do whatever they like as they’ll always get voted in.. and are currently doing the bare minimum to long term issues to show they care.

It’s quite obviously an election year.
Act is in a harder spot and faces a downgraded credit rating.

Where is the new ice rink?

The Canberra Liberals have not been at all coy about cancelling Light Rail Stage 2B. It’s projected to cost $4b or more and will significantly slow public transport times between Woden and Civic compared to the existing bus service that is both fast and frequent. Funding for most of the government’s infrastructure promises are out beyond the forward estimates, so this decision by the Liberals gives them a significant capability to deliver other infrastructure that the current government will never be able to pay for. Alternatively, they will be able to deliver an equivalent amount of other infrastructure and take significant steps to get the budget under control. Net ACT government liabilities are already more than $11b and forecast to grow to $18b with an interest bill of $600m p.a. There’s a reason the ACT’s credit rating was downgraded. It’s a signal the budget and debt are not under control, which was reinforced by the recent revelation that the budget deficit has blown out massively.

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