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Bill Shorten will vow to “unclog” major rail lines and roads in a $175 million commitment today that intensifies his policy contest with Malcolm Turnbull over transport funding, amid a dispute over Labor’s plans to raise new finance for big projects.
The Opposition Leader will campaign in Sydney today with a pledge to voters to duplicate a freight rail line to the city’s busiest port, holding out the hope of helping industry while also cutting congestion for commuters on the surrounding roads.
The proposal comes a day after Mr Shorten announced $500m for an Adelaide tram network. The Adelaide plan, which sparked an attack from the federal Coalition, falls far short of the total investment needed for the Adelink expansion, tipped to cost $3 billion.
Today’s announcement will tell Sydney voters that carrying more containers on the rail link to Port Botany will improve the M5, the choked motorway that connects the city to its southwestern suburbs and the Hume Highway.
In a move that avoids deepening the deficit, Labor plans to make the $175m commitment as an equity injection into the Australian Rail Track Corp.
The freight line duplication was named a “high priority” in February by the federal government’s top adviser on major projects, Infrastructure Australia, and is backed by the Baird government.
Labor aims to gain an edge with a financial commitment that could woo voters in electorates including Barton, where candidate Linda Burney hopes to wrest the seat from the Coalition.
Tackling road congestion around the port could also improve Labor support in nearby Grayndler, where opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese is fighting off the Greens.
Labor notes only 14 per cent of the containers sent to Port Botany are carried by rail. However, National ICT Australia researcher Daniel Harabor and others believe the duplication is not needed because the existing line sits “idle” more than 60 per cent of the time.
Today, Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher will challenge Labor on transport funding, warning of a “conflict of interest” in Labor’s plan to turn Infrastructure Australia into a $10bn fund for new projects rather than an adviser.
Mr Fletcher will warn that the “concrete bank” would go from being a “coach” to a “player” in backing major projects, given Labor policy is to allow the agency to provide guarantees, loans or equity investments.
“Now one problem with this idea is that it creates a fundamental conflict of interest for Infrastructure Australia,” he will say in a speech to the Australian British Chamber Of Commerce.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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