29 June 2023

'Missed opportunities': Promises for reform outlined in Liberals' budget reply, but light rail's gotta go

| Claire Fenwicke
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Jeremy Hanson

Acting Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson delivered the Canberra Liberals’ budget reply in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday evening (29 June). Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

“We have gone backwards.” That’s the catch-cry of the Canberra Liberals’ response to the 2023-24 ACT Budget, stating outcomes in health, education, justice, city services, public transport, housing, cost of living and the budget are not up to scratch.

Acting Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson argued the budget wouldn’t fix a Territory that had so much that was “broken”.

“I’ve been here 15 years now, and I’ve just seen this community go down and down and down – the only thing that’s gone up is the amount of rates we pay and the debt that this Territory’s got,” he told Region.

“How long can they keep trying to fool the community? Andrew Barr, how many times has he promised surpluses and how many times has he delivered them?

“That’s the same with most of their promises, and if you believed the spin, you’d think [this budget is] fantastic, but you’ve got to look at this budget in the context of what’s happened over a decade – a decade of decline.”

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Light rail – or ‘tram’ as the Liberals refer to it – has always been a sticking point for the party, and it has previously stated, if elected, it would stop progress on stage 2B and any future stages.

Mr Hanson said this was about directing money away from discretionary expenses back into core needs for the Territory.

“You’ve got to think of [it like] a household budget. You’ve got a lot of fixed costs, and that’s no different to a Territory budget,” he said.

“Your discretionary amount of money is limited by the end of the week, right? … So when you look at the billions on trams as part of discretionary funding, that’s where you get into trouble.

“Obviously, not every cent’s being spent on trams, but a big proportion of the discretionary money that could otherwise be put to better services, schools [etc].”

No costings have been released in relation to light rail stage 2A or 2B, with negotiations still underway for contracts.

But the Liberals have claimed consultations they’ve had with engineers and others have estimated the cost of stage 2B to be anywhere between $3 billion and $4 billion, depending on whether it gets to Mawson or Woden.

Mr Hanson said while Gungahlin had a “genuine congestion” problem, and so light rail could be justified as one option for the north, the same couldn’t be said for the south.

“In fact, the congestion we’re facing now is caused by the tram works,” he argued.

“If you talk to most people out in my electorate [of Murrumbidgee] and south, what they actually want to see is better maintenance of roads, better maintenance of schools, lower rates, better health system, and so on.

“And when they look at the tram, they go, ‘hang on, the bus from Woden to Civic is 15 minutes and the tram will be 30 minutes, what’s the point of it?'”

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Mr Hanson also used his speech to outline some key promises the Canberra Liberals would take to the next election.

He argued that while the city may be “broken”, it had the potential to be fixed.

“I think what we’re talking about is missed opportunities. It’s not to say Canberra’s, in any sense, a bad place. It’s a wonderful place … but think about how much better it could be,” Mr Hanson said.

“What I’m saying is there is a better way.”

By not proceeding with light rail, he said there would be money to fix issues with health, education, police, city services and buses.

He said the party would, among other things, hold a Royal Commission into health, wouldn’t impose an extra tax on GPs, have an independent review into sentencing, end heroin and meth decriminalisation, release more land for houses, have sitting days dedicated to local community matters, keep Stromlo Forest Park free and accessible, build a Molonglo police station and create a Molonglo town centre, have a men’s health plan, address declining literacy and increasing school violence, ease tax and regulation on rental properties, and deliver “fairer” rates.

“That’s just a taste of the sort of things we will do because we won’t be spending endless billions on trams,” Mr Hanson said.

“We will turn around the decade of decline.”

But we’ll have to wait until closer to election day to learn the exact detail of how these promises would be achieved.

Mr Hanson said that’s because things could still change between now and then.

“We still want to keep, for example, the City Stadium on the table, but we’ll have to see where we’re at towards the end of next year as to whether that’s feasible or not because of decisions that are being made by the government, right here right now.

“The detail of exactly where [the cancelled light rail] money will go, where those priorities are, will be further announced next year and beyond by Elizabeth Lee.”

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HiddenDragon9:00 pm 29 Jun 23

Whether it’s called a tram or light rail, the costs will only be going in one direction, with news today that the NCA has discovered that the ACT government’s preferred route through the Parliamentary Triangle is “proving technically difficult” –


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