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Brisbane's multi-billion-dollar underground rail project is not funded by the regional infrastructure fund tied to the Gillard government's mining tax so it is misleading to link the two issues, a federal government source says.
The revamped $4.5 billion cross-river rail project is currently before the federal government's funding advisory body, Infrastructure Australia, for consideration.
Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan has previously threatened to dock states some of their federal GST or infrastructure funding if they raised state-based mining royalties.
Mr Swan is yet to clarify whether he will follow through on his threat following the Queensland government's decision last week to increase coal mining royalties to raise an extra $1.6 billion over four years.
Coal miners that have to pay the federal Mineral Resources Rent Tax can claim a credit from the federal government for the state government royalties incurred, meaning the Newman government's decision could cut revenue bound for the federal government and further jeopardise the national budget's chances of returning to surplus.
Queensland Transport Minister Scott Emerson said yesterday he would be worried if the federal government played “political games” over funding for important infrastructure such as the cross-river rail project.
“I think that if the federal government is talking about holding public transport commuters to ransom over this project that is very unfair and very unwise for the federal government,” he said.
“This is an important project that needs to be funded.”
However, federal government sources said it was misleading to link the two issues.
A federal government source said today the proposed cross river rail project was not funded by the Regional Infrastructure Fund.
That fund, supported by the federal Mineral Resources Rent Tax, is linked to projects such as the Gladstone Port Access Road, Townsville Ring Road and Blacksoil Interchange.
Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has previously voiced strong support for the cross-river rail project, originally costed at $8 billion and planned by the Bligh government.
Yesterday, Mr Emerson said he believed Mr Albanese understood the project was a “vital piece of infrastructure” and “beyond politics”.
“I don't think Mr Albanese's going to do that [pull funding]. I think he understands how important this project is,” Mr Emerson said.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Albanese said the state government had submitted a revised version of the project last month and it was currently under consideration by Infrastructure Australia.
“Until they've done their assessment we don't intend to comment any further on the merits and the like,” he said.
Mr Albanese's spokesman said he did not expect an update to the Infrastructure Australia national priority list until mid next year.
“We are currently committed to funding public transport – the Moreton Bay rail link and Gold Coast light rail are examples in southeast Queensland,” he said.
“I think Scott Emerson is going to have some issues if there's a change of [federal] government next year because [federal Nationals leader] Warren Truss said they would not be funding public transport.”
The comment was a reference to Mr Truss's remarks on Sky News last weekend.
“But it is a fact that the commonwealth over the years has traditionally funded roads and rails, the national transport network and freight network, rather than urban public transport,” Mr Truss told the Australian Agenda program on Sunday.
“Now, we have, and Labor have funded some projects in for urban public transport but in reality that has always been fundamentally the responsibility of states and local government.
“The commonwealth cannot fund all of the transport projects in Australia and our particular responsibility has been in the interstate transport network, including road and rail and the national highways to deliver that freight task.”
The cross-river rail project was planned by the former state government but previously derided by Premier Campbell Newman as an “$8 billion unfunded fantasy” that would not proceed in that form.
In June, Mr Emerson unveiled the government’s revised long-term solution, similar to the former Bligh government’s proposal, to build two rail tunnels between Yeerongpilly and Victoria Park Golf Complex and four new underground stations at Woolloongabba, Boggo Road, Albert Street and Roma Street.
However, the new proposal, costed at nearly $4.5 billion, no longer includes upgrades to other existing rail stations and removes plans to boost freight capacity south of the city, changes the government says will save between $2 billion and $3.9 billion compared with previous costings.
Mr Emerson, who says the majority must be federally funded, said the state had managed to cut the cost of the project to $4.45 billion by removing some of the above-ground rail upgrades.
He encouraged Queenslanders to put pressure on the federal government by ringing up their local members to urge them to back the cross-river rail plan.
“If they don't come to the table, if they ignore Queensland, ignore this real issue ... we'll have to go back to the drawing board. But I'm hoping the federal government ... will see the wisdom of what we're doing and back our plan.”
Robert Dow, from commuter lobby group Rail Back on Track, said he was encouraged by Mr Emerson's comments in support of the project, which was crucial to address the southeast's public transport needs.
“I've got no doubt the project's got merit. Although the LNP prior to the election would not give a commitment, we always felt they would support it,” he said.
“It's going to have to happen otherwise Brisbane's just going to fail.”
Mr Swan's office has so far refused to comment on whether the government will follow through on its threat to withhold funding as a result of Queensland's royalties decision.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard also dodged the question while she was in Brisbane for Queensland Labor's state conference on Sunday.
This article first appeared on www.brisbanetimes.com.au
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