1 November 2022

'They are speculating': ACT Transport Minister defends timeline-less light rail, 'pork-barrelled' funding changes

| Lottie Twyford
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Sandford Street light rail stop

Light rail is coming to the Southside. But no one knows when it will get further through the city. Photo: John Mikita.

ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel has defended the Federal Government’s decision to axe funding from road projects to fund the tram, accusing the former Coalition government of having pork-barrelled them in the first place.

Mr Steel also refused to confirm a January 2026 delivery date for light rail Stage 2A, which had been given in Senate estimates by government officials last week.

The Transport Minister has come under increasing pressure to confirm a timeline for each element of the light rail from both the Opposition and the Greens as their fears of a long wait mount.

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Early works to raise London Circuit – which must occur before tracks can be laid for Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park – are now underway.

That project will take around two years.

Stage 2B, probably the most challenging stage of all, will take light rail to Woden.

For this stage, a works approval application must be obtained from the National Capital Authority.

Chris Steel

Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said he’d rather give the community certainty about light rail’s arrival rather than “rubbery” figures. Photo: ACT Government.

Mr Steel said he does not want to give the community “rubbery” figures about a delivery date and, therefore, will not provide one until next year after the procurement process has been completed and a contract has been signed.

He’s also stressed the complexity of the project is such that giving a deadline for its construction could compromise it commercially.

Elizabeth lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee and her transport counterpart took aim at the government over its lack of a timeline for light rail. Photo: Region.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee and spokesperson for transport Mark Parton questioned Mr Steel in annual reports hearings on Monday (31 October) about how it was possible the Federal Government had a timeline for the project when the Territory did not.

In response, Mr Steel said federal officials were “speculating or forecasting what they think” about the date.

“They are forecasting what they think, but the reality is that it will be determined through the procurement process,” he said.

“That’s probably around the date but it’s probably not exact and we want to provide the community with certainty.”

Mr Parton said it was astounding that Mr Steel had been unable to confirm the timeline for the light rail.

“The responsible ACT Minister cannot and will not be upfront with the public,” Mr Parton said.

He accused the government of failing to be transparent with the community about the entirety of the project, which he said was being “shrouded in secrecy”.

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It was also revealed in Senate estimates on Friday (28 October) that the South West Corridor ($50.9 m) Kings Highway upgrades to Pialligo Avenue ($30 m) and Boboyan Road project ($5 m) had been axed, with the same amount allocated to light rail, with the last payment in 2029-30.

Mr Steel also sought to cast doubt on this timeline for the payments. He said he had received alternative information from Infrastructure Minister Catherine King, who had written to him.

But he was unsure if he could table that letter.

He said there had been “some misrepresentation” of the Commonwealth funding schedule and the reality was that exactly when this funding would be rolled out would be confirmed in next year’s Federal Budget.

Mr Steel said the Commonwealth Government ultimately decided to axe funding for those projects.

“[It] engaged with all states and territories .. with a focus on reviewing projects which may have been considered pork-barreling,” he said.

“The South West corridor was one which came up because it’s been very clear from the beginning that project was ill-defined, didn’t have any particular deliverables and seemed to be a thought bubble.”

When asked why he had welcomed the Federal funding, he said he welcomed all Commonwealth funding but had tried to have the money re-diverted to what the Territory government saw as the city’s major bottleneck – Parkes Way.

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Federal funding for the duplication of Athllon Drive had been retained and the ACT Government is still committed to completing the Boboyan Road subject to future funding allocation under a new deal.

Mr Steel said the government was also still investigating future upgrades to the South West corridor but “more holistically” with a view to what could be done to Parkes Way as well.

He also argued the Pialligo Avenue upgrades may not have been the most useful if that road eventually has to be moved to allow for the future extension of the runway at Canberra Airport.

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HiddenDragon7:41 pm 02 Nov 22

“The South West corridor was one which came up because it’s been very clear from the beginning that project was ill-defined, didn’t have any particular deliverables and seemed to be a thought bubble.”

That really is world class irony – this fiasco in (very) slow motion is looking more and more like an epic episode of The Hollowmen or Utopia, with lines that the Working Dog team would wish they had written.

Instead of arguing with the media, I wish Mr Steel would publicly address his own Auditor Generals concerns that Light Rail stage 2A wouldn’t even meet its unbelievably low 40 cents in the dollar cost benefit ratio. Or respond to the Auditor Generals concerns that the business case lacked a methodology, lacked estimated user data, didn’t contain an economic model and didn’t apply proper quality assurance.

If Mr Steel really wants to be open and honest with the Canberra public, he might also want to tell us how badly Light Rail stage 1 is currently performing against its original business case projections.

How can we have trust in government when they are doing the ball under a cup game.

Exactly right BJ.
I honestly can’t believe he could say some of these comments with a straight face considering the decisions his government have taken on light rail.

You do have to wonder if Jack D and Chris Steel aren’t the same person. Both seem to dodge questions based on published data and evidence. Then instead they throw out cliches, buzzwords and false platitudes from the Light Rail marketing brochures and promotional business cases. Why can’t we just have honest non-political appraisals of taxpayer expenditure.

Vegans are triggered by the image of a barrel of salted pork, the woke term is tofu-barrelled.

Being open and accountable also includes detailing where no planning exists and how loose the figures are.

“Federal funding for the duplication of Athllon Drive had been retained and the ACT Government is still committed to completing the Boboyan Road subject to future funding allocation under a new deal.”

There was no intention to upgrade Athllon Drive.
There was an intention to use it as an election promise with the government installing signs as soon as any threads of the project existed.
However, the upgraded bus stop and lack of planning show its all for show and they didn’t want to spend any money in Tuggeranong.

The planning for the duplication was scheduled to start immediately after the last federal election date. As soon as the election was called the notice on the infrastructure changed from duplication to waiting for light rail to happen sometime in 2070.

All those that got up in arms with sports rorts are suddenly quiet.

Even if you don’t agree with the works of the update, no one should be happy with this being used as a fake pork barrel to get election votes, then assuming everyone in the area will just forget by the next election. See this for what it is, a dead canary in a coal mine.

It’s good of Mr Steele to outline how the ALP government needs to cancel all of the previous governments pork barrelling.

How else would they afford to fund their own pork barrelling without it?

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