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The ACT government's response to COVID-19 has been based on independent experts' advice and facts, and has been risk-averse. This all is welcome.
It contrasts with some of their decisions in recent years; particularly on Light Rail Stage 1 (that required $1 billion of what amounts to borrowing) and the proposed Stages 2a and 2b (perhaps a further $1.5 billion).
With the light rail, a political deal was done some time after the 2012 ACT Election. Since then the government has used its political weight and "carefully deployed" technical experts to push through Stage 1 irrespective of the facts.
With respect to cost, we have been repeatedly (at least until recently) assured that Canberra's ratepayers could easily afford the light rail, despite rates rising much more quickly than wages. While there has not been any sense the government's spending (reportedly $126 million) on the health crisis has been constrained by a lack of finance, the virus has shown $2.5 billion is a lot of money to bet on one project.
Light rail is inherently risky financially because, while most of the expenditure is upfront, it is meant to provide transport services over succeeding decades.
The sudden, virus-induced switch to working and learning from home has shown how quickly this demand can dry up.
A smart move would be to hit "pause and rethink" and commission an open and expert study into alternatives such as buses.
This article first appeared on www.canberratimes.com.au
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