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The City Deals with Geelong and Hobart will furnish provisions for new rail transport projects, federal and state government representatives have said. But the absence of concrete funding proposals has drawn the ire of federal Labor, with Anthony Albanese calling the Hobart deal a mere “to-do-list”.
Promoting the new deals, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said that each would help coordinate infrastructure planning and funding arrangements between federal, state, and local governments, which, he said have hitherto operated “a bit like ships passing in the night”, i.e. without sufficient collaboration.
A memorandum of understanding for the Hobart City deal, signed by the Turnbull and Hodgman governments, is to reportedly work towards a “Greater Hobart Transport Vision”, which will include assessing the feasibility of a light rail network and development plans to support future usage of the northern suburbs rail corridor.
“Transport is a big agenda in every city in Australia and Hobart is no exception. We’re going to be looking very carefully at the plans for light rail, the plans for enhanced ferry services, or indeed additional bus services,” Turnbull said after signing the deal with Tasmania’s premier Will Hodgman.
“We’ve got to look at every angle to make sure that we get that investment. I’ve been familiar with the work on light rail here for some time now, Peter Newman did some good work some years ago. There is a lot that can be done, cooperating with local government and the private sector, to capture value that’s created by transport infrastructure and bring that to bear to support the investment.”
In a later press release, the Tasmanian infrastructure minister, make the case for light rail to be included within the City Deal projects for Hobart, declaring that it would contribute to easing the traffic congestion and help facilitate tourism.
“With urban renewal and greater population density along this strategic transport corridor, the case for light rail will become compelling, and we will continue working with the federal government to progress the detail and bring this vision to reality,” the release said.
However, neither the minister, nor the premier, nor indeed the prime minister, made explicit funding commitments for such a project. Answering a journalist’s question on this very question, Turnbull answered that it was “too early to say” what the total investment would be, but very important that careful planning went ahead to make sure the “maximum bang from the taxpayers’ buck” was achieved.
“Of course, you’ve got to recognise too that with these urban renewal projects – whether it is here at Macquarie Point, whether it is light rail infrastructure for example – there are big opportunities to recover a substantial amount of the investment cost from the improvement in land values, from transport-orientated development for example, in the case of light rail,” he went on to say.
Likewise, at the press conference following the signing of the memorandum of understanding for the Geelong City Deal, details regarding what rail projects would come under its aegis and at what price were scant, with only brief mentions of improved services on the rail line to Warrnambool and “faster rail” provided, respectively, by federal Liberal member for Wannon Dan Tehan and federal Liberal member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson.
Defending the absence of any funding proposals, Turnbull said the point of the City Deals was to establish collaboratively – across federal, state, and local government levels – what projects were to be prioritised, how much they would cost, and by what means the funding would take place.
“[I]nfrastructure projects create a lot of value,” he said. “How can you get some of that, to bring to bear, to support the project. So, it’s a lot of work to do, but again, this is not a theoretical exercise. You can see that we’ve gone through exactly this process with Townsville and Launceston [where City Deals are already in place] and it’s all under way there.”
But federal shadow infrastructure and transport minister Anthony Albanese lampooned the lack of detail in the deals, and claimed the Hobart deal in particular had been rushed out in attempt to feebly prop-up the election prospects “do-nothing” Hodgman government.
“Malcolm Turnbull first floated the idea of a City Deal for Hobart in 2016, however what is crystal clear is that it has taken the upcoming state election to compel him into action,” Albanese said.
“It is extraordinary that it has taken more than a year to produce today’s announcement, which is simply a to-do list with no new funding attached.
“It is an agreement to work on an agreement.”
While supportive of the Hobart deal, Andrew Wilkie, the independent member for the Hobart seat of Denison, expressed regret at its timing and the lack of funding proposals.
“It’s unfortunate that it takes a state election to draw out this announcement, but that’s just the nature of our cynical political culture these days,” he said in a statement.
“The announcement today is just the start because the City Deal itself doesn’t actually contain any funding commitments. It’s now up to the federal and state governments to commit to fund and deliver these important projects in a timely manner.”
This article first appeared on www.railexpress.com.au
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