Labor and the Greens may claim mandates for light rail from the 2012 and 2016 elections on the simple basis of announcements before those elections. But they cannot claim informed consent on light rail.
The ethical principles of informed consent were developed in the 1947 Nuremberg Code and have since been generally applied to medical practice and research. More recently, they have been applied through international conventions to indigenous communities considering major development proposals.
It is also not apparent why if a doctor needs informed consent before surgery on a patient, a government does not need informed consent from a community before “surgery” on a city.
The ethical principles of informed consent raise at least two key issues for Labor and the Greens on light rail: the adequacy of the information provided and deception.
Many people are concerned about the costs of light rail and the effects of those costs including increasing rates, reduced expenditure on health and education, and corridors of high density development to pay those costs. Those costs are then a critical issue for informed consent.
In their September 2012 policy statement on light rail, Labor committed to establish a “private sector partnership to plan, finance and develop the first stage of a Light Rail Network for Canberra” and estimated the total cost for the first stage from Gungahlin to Civic at $614 million.
On the last page of their policy statement, they said construction was estimated to commence in 2016, but many did not understand that Labor was committed to spending $614 million on light rail if elected. It was anticipated that those funds would come from the private sector.
The Canberra Times reported that “Labor’s policy has committed just $30 million to design work”. The ABC News also reported “Labor committing $30 million in capital funding”. Both Damien Haas from ACT Light Rail and Amanda Bresnan from the Greens understood that $30 million was the extent of Labor’s spending commitment.
In their August 2012 election initiative on light rail, the Greens committed an initial $200 million of government funding for building light rail. They quoted an estimate of $204 million for the total cost for Gungahlin to Civic.
Light rail was then a key element in the November 2012 agreement between Labor and the Greens to form government. In May 2016, the Labor-Green Government signed the contracts for the first stage of light rail from Gungahlin to Civic.
By May 2016, the costs for that first stage had increased from Labor’s $614 million and the Green’s $204 million to $939 million (present value with discounting of future expenses and now including running costs) and $1.78 billion over twenty years (nominal value without discounting). Those costs are much higher than the understood 2012 pre-election spending commitments and cost estimates. That makes that pre-election cost information seriously misleading.
Labor and the Greens announced in September 2016 that they will proceed with a second stage of light rail from Civic to Woden if re-elected. They have provided no cost estimates for this stage beyond Andrew Barr’s comment that “we anticipate the costs to be similar to the costs of stage one” (ABC news). But there is the possibility that bridging the lake will be expensive.
Labor and the Greens have attempted to minimise the costs of light rail by repeatedly claiming that those costs are only 1% of the ACT budget. But this 1% only applies to the first stage of light rail. It does not include the costs of the announced second stage or other stages of the light rail network. Shane Rattenbury acknowledged this at the North Canberra Community Council ACT Election Forum.
Labor and the Greens have emphasised that light rail will be extended to the whole of Canberra. The Canberra Transport Light Rail Network plan has seven planned stages. The first stage is not viable without the other stages. The second stage from Civic to Woden will also lock in construction of two further stages to Tuggeranong and Belconnen to re-establish a core public transport through route between the town centres.
It is therefore misleading to refer to the costs of light rail as being 1% without including the costs of these additional stages of the whole light rail network.
It is also relatively easy to generate estimates of the costs of the whole light rail network with basic mathematics. If one stage is 1% of the ACT budget, then seven stages would be 7% of the budget.
Similarly, if one stage costs $939 million on present values, then seven stages would cost $6.57 billion. If one stage costs $1.78 million on nominal values (the amounts that will actually need to be paid over twenty years), then seven stages would cost $12.46 billion.
A competent government with access to engineering and estimating expertise could do better estimates. But these estimates are better than none.
The WA Greens have published cost estimates for their complete light rail proposals. But the ACT Greens and Labor are not willing to do this.
Labor and the Greens seriously underestimated the costs of the first stage of light rail in their 2012 pre-election cost information. They have provided no substantive cost information for the second stage to Woden or the overall light rail network. They have attempted to mislead voters by claiming that the costs of light rail will be only 1% of the ACT budget.
Where there should be fully adequate information on costs, the information provided has been seriously misleading and inadequate. Where there should be no deception, there has been intentional deception.
Labor and the Greens cannot now claim informed consent for light rail from either the 2012 or the 2016 elections.