10 June 2024

Light rail challenge another reason the Feds need to take more of the ACT's infrastructure burden

| Ian Bushnell
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Government building

The Legislative Assembly. Is our model of government capable of meeting all the demands of a growing ACT? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Take a look at the just uploaded precinct plans for light rail stage 2B and you get an idea of the scale of the project, its engineering challenges and the added infrastructure, such as overhead bridges that will be required.

It’s a big, expensive project.

Which is why it will need as much Commonwealth support as possible.

There are good reasons why the Feds should come to the party. This is the national capital, and the Commonwealth should support projects that support its institutions and enhance its liveability and status.

And if the Federal Parliament is going to say yay or nay, then the Commonwealth should be a key funder.

READ MORE Light rail update: Short tunnel proposed to negotiate tight State Circle bend

Light rail Stage 2B will also service the Commonwealth’s growing workforce, increasingly concentrated in the city, Parkes and Barton near the current and future lines.

The Federal Government has decided to develop a national security precinct in Barton, and several agencies, including the Tax Office, are relocating there as well.

In the city, a big new office building on the law courts car park site will house the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, the Department of Education and the Australian Electoral Commission.

This involves thousands of Commonwealth public servants who will need a public transport system that can get them to and from work easily, unless you expect them all to drive or catch buses on roads that traffic modelling shows will become increasingly choked in the decades to come without taking action now.

Canberra will need a mass transit public transport system of some kind and most cities have a mix of rail, bus and active travel.

Undoubtedly, the light rail network is a costly ongoing project that will take decades to build and drain the Territory’s budget.

But it isn’t the only big infrastructure piece Canberra needs.

The pipeline includes the Canberra Theatre precinct development, the Northside Hospital, the convention centre and entertainment pavilion, and, of course, the stadium.

All of these are worthy and much needed.

But the call on the budget means the timeline for actual delivery is like the proverbial piece of string.

How long has the ACT been waiting for a new convention centre and stadium, both of which will require Commonwealth contributions?

Many blame the “tram” for the delay in other allegedly more worthy infrastructure.

But perhaps the question is: does a small self-governing territory with few resources and a limited revenue base have the capacity to provide the kind of infrastructure the national capital deserves?

Even with Commonwealth assistance – the ACT wants 50-50 funding agreements – a truckload of money, mostly borrowed, will be needed to build these once-in-a-generation assets.

Not to mention pay for the roads, schools and services Canberrans demand.

Do we need to face the fact that the notion of self-government based on a state model was flawed from the beginning and that a growing Canberra has reached the stage where how it is funded needs to be reviewed?

The whole point of Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s tax reform process is to provide a more reliable income stream to put the budget on a solid footing once the big projects are behind us, although the extension of light rail will go on for decades.

However, a growing city also comes with demands that the ACT, unless it discovers gold somewhere or becomes Australia’s Silicon Valley, will always struggle to meet.

Land is the currency that keeps the ACT afloat, but that is finite, and the government as a seller and developer is conflicted.

If the ACT is going to have and maintain the infrastructure it needs, the Commonwealth needs to step back in as the key financier of these big projects.

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It does not mean ditching self-government or relinquishing rights but accepting the limitations of the current model and not trying to pretend that the ACT can do what some states, with far greater resources, are struggling to achieve.

To persist as we are means waiting far too long for important projects to be delivered, if at all, an unmanageable debt burden and degraded assets, such as the current Canberra Stadium.

Canberra is the national capital and home to the government workforce. It is a city, not a jurisdiction to be compared with the states.

It is a special case, and it requires a special arrangement.

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Incidental Tourist5:38 pm 12 Jun 24

“Land is the currency that keeps the ACT afloat”? Indeed exorbitant taxing of land explains why ACT became the most expensive place to live. Barr and Ratteburry have created a generation of renters who can never afford buying an empty block of land from the Greens/Labor government let alone a house.

Over budget and still not completed. A thought bubble becomes a policy, becomes a mess. How many times does this ALP/Green coalition government get to do this? Unfortunately because of the predominantly Public Service Electorate of Canberra they won’t ever be held to account. But as for bailing them out……Yeh, Nah, think not.

Andrew Clarke1:52 pm 11 Jun 24

Getting the tracks to Adelaide Avenue is only the start of the problem. That central strip is prone to waterlogging so there will be lot of drainage / stabilisation work to be done before tracks can be laid to Woden. Next problem: most people are not going to walk across to the middle of Adelaide Avenue to catch the tram. They’ll go to Woden Interchange. By bus …

The ACT Labor/Green Government has had more than ten years since it first announced the proposed Canberra wide Light Rail network. In all that time they have still not come up with a realistic and practical way for getting from Commonwealth Avenue onto Adelaide Avenue and on to Woden.
You would think that any reasonable politician would have insisted that those details would have been worked out before even thinking of building stage 2A.

Well written!

So Ian Bushnell wants all Australian taxpayers to subsidise the poor planning and political decisions of local politicians.

But of course, he doesn’t want the ACT Government to cede any of the responsibility for the making of those decisions in the first place.

Makes sense.

The ACT Government has massively increased its revenue over the last decade, so the idea that the money isn’t there is laughable. Other taxpayers shouldn’t be conscripted to subsidise wasteful spending on unviable projects, no matter where they are.

Stop voting for the clown show!!!!

HiddenDragon8:20 pm 10 Jun 24

Dream on.

Aside from the then fashionable concepts of regionalisation and devolution, the primary motivation for ACT self-government was to save costs for the federal budget.

Those were times of real fiscal restraint and cut-backs, so the search for savings was constant, and there was an added factor – federal ministers were thoroughly fed up with dealing with the demands of Canberrans for services and facilities which were better than in other parts of the country (including in the electorates represented by many of the ministers in that government). The latter point would be equally relevant to many ministers in the current government.

It is almost certainly the case that the ACT is fiscally unsustainable, and that was probably always the case – certainly once the relative austerity of the era in which it was created was discarded, and replaced with an entitled attitude of puffed-up grandiosity and extravagance which is now too often on display.

For the obvious reason that the ACT is a reliable provider of left-of-centre MPs and Senators in an increasingly tightly-contested parliament, federal Labor will want to keep the little ACT sideshow rolling on for as long as possible, and the federal Coalition would be correspondingly reluctant to take the otherwise logical step of reducing the ACT to the Parliamentary Triangle and thus injecting a few hundred thousand lefties into the NSW electorate – but sooner or later, something serious will have to be done.

In the meantime, look forward to an ever-higher taxation burden and stretched services and facilities.

Haha imagining Canberra as part of NSW, how less special would its inhabitants feel?

Another reason the Commonwealth should give greater assistance to the ACT is that prior to self-government the public transport system was very much neglected due to the then prevailing cult of the motor car. Also, because Canberra is relatively young, unlike the other major cities, we don’t even have the legacy train systems from the era before the car.

old canberran3:49 pm 10 Jun 24

Thanks to Hawke and Keating, the feds abdicated their responsibility for manging and paying for our Capital in 1988 despite a no vote from the residents and handed it over to a bunch of amateur politicians, developers and real estate agents to create a concrete jungle off apartments. They should take it back as it is their responsibility. The tram is a very expensive folly in a city never designed for it.

I agree. Canberra is the National Captial, but the National Government since Hawke has done nothing (no investment and nothing new) for the Captial City. I think the feds should take back state level responsbility and relegate the ACT goverment to local council responsbility

Julie Lindner2:39 pm 10 Jun 24

Gosh finally someone with a brain. Canberra, Australia’s capital city is a shadow of what it once was due to the formation of self-government.

Bushnell finally concedes ACT self-government has failed for what should be Australia’s showpiece capital city; driven to this conclusion by the ineptness of the Barr/Rattenbury experiment with infrastructure.

Graham Byrne12:02 pm 10 Jun 24

I must agree. Other capital cities have entire state resources but Canberra’s primary industry is Federal government. Seems unfair for Canberrans to shoulder the costs disproportionately.

Yeah, make all Australian taxpayers foot the bill for Rattenburys overpriced train set.

Or maybe have the ACT clown council spend within its means. Canberrans who keep voting for these clowns deserve the constant rate and fee raises. Maybe taxing them to the poverty line will wake people up.

Give it a rest. Recently reported data shows how successful the Light Rail is. Pejorative terms such as ‘train set’ and ‘toy train’ are now just tiresome.

Yes, Light Rail stage 1 is successful. Construction was fairly straight forward and costs were unacceptable(ish).
Get in you car and drive along the proposed routes, someone with even a tiny bit of engineering and logistics knowledge will see what a complex and expensive task it will be.

Hopefully we’ll get rid of these clowns. I wonder how many others are sick of increased rates and taxes with zero improvement in service delivery.

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