Things to Chase up After the Federal Election - Compiled by Editor
This is not a push for one side of politics. Practically the same article could have been written no matter who won the Federal Election. We have a government for some three years, who have, like all parties, made promises about transport. We have a role (no matter who is in power) of constructively ensuring that good programs are implemented because, or perhaps despite, of what was said in the lead up to the election.
The ABC satirical program Utopia is described as ‘The multi award-winning satirical comedy about a group of people charged with building this nation – one white elephant at a time”. The lead character Tony Woodford (played by Rob Sitch) is the boss, and is constantly exasperated by his inability to achieve anything other than meetings, studies and reports. One of his reflections on election promises was when he noted that “Very fast trains only run in election years”.
How much money do we have to spend?
Transport promises for election 2019: the good, the bad and the downright ugly
No matter who wins Saturday’s federal election, you can expect to see more cranes on the skyline and hi-viz vests on the roadside. Both major parties are promising to spend big on transport infrastructure: A$42 billion for the Coalition and A$49 billion for Labor. However, many of the favoured projects are unlikely to be completed for years or even decades to come.
In reality, the expenditure for 2019-20 is absolutely normal. At 0.37% of GDP, it’s close to the midpoint of spending on transport under treasurers Scott Morrison, Joe Hockey and Wayne Swan. In each of the past ten budgets, annual transport spending in the year following the budget has been 0.26-0.53% of GDP.
What is different is the extent of promises that lie beyond the forward estimates period. The move to a ten-year pipeline of promises might be fine in theory, but an interested elector can rely only on what’s in the budget papers. And from that they would conclude there’s nothing unusual to see here.
Important strategic ideas have slipped through the cracks
Election promises are all about “My projects are bigger than yours”. What would be more effective is to identify the systemic issues we have with how we are collecting and spending money. We need to look at system approaches rather than the grand amount of funds that will be spent on a few selected projects.
Things to consider
Reform of taxing mechanisms and revenue raising. In November 2016 the government took a bold step by committing to hold an inquiry into road-user charging. Nothing has happened.
Many projects are announced before a business case has been conducted.
We define the cost/benefit of individual projects rather than looking at the cost/benefit of spending a particular amount of money.
The collection and management of data is a shamble. Time pressures and a universal push to reduce costs makes sure the most critical element of a project, understanding what is going on at the moment, is cut to the bone. There are hardly any budgets to check the veracity of data and to ponder its broader meaning. How much effort is spent on modelling, based on skimpy and potentially erroneous data. Compilation, management and providing availability of data are not part of the everyday processes.
We see Big Data as the brave new world because it is based on a lot of numbers, but we are not committed to ensuring it represents what we think it does and that it represents the real world.
There is little or no honest review of the real impacts of projects once they have been built
Community consultations are more show and tell than conversations about the real needs and impacts of a community.
It is still important to be carrying out specific projects. In the lead up to the election the Coalition promised to spend, over an extended period of time:
$2 billion ($50m to 2023) for a fast rail from Melbourne to Geelong.
$7.1 billion for infrastructure projects in Western Sydney including road and rail projects with a strong emphasis on the new airport at Badgerys Creek.
$6.7 billion towards programs to upgrade regional road corridors and new road safety packages. Programs include Roads of Strategic Importance (ROSI), Black Spot Program, Roads to Recovery, and Bridges Renewal.
$1.6 billion over the next four years (for a projected total of $4 billion) to the Urban Congestion Fund
$9.3 billion to Inland Rail Project, a 1,700km freight rail line from Melbourne to Brisbane.
$4 billion in funding for Melbourne's East West Link.
$1.75 billion in funding to Northeast Link Melbourne, which will connect the M80 with an upgraded Eastern Freeway.