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The potential dumping of the Cross River Rail project by a change in government would badly damage investor confidence in Queensland, infrastructure firms say.
South-east Queensland’s $5.4 billion underground rail project faces the axe at the November 25 state election.
It is the fourth time since 2012 that an opposition has disagreed with the project - and in the previous two state elections and the 2016 federal election, the opposition ended up winning government.
Cross River Rail's proposed Exhibition station at Bowen Hills.
Two industry peak bodies have now called on the incoming government to support the project after the election.
Queensland Infrastructure Association chief executive Steve Abson said industry believed the underground rail project should go ahead.
“Industry wants to put the business case development phase behind them and move on to the delivery, which is the stage the project is now at,” Mr Abson said.
“Industry keeps getting dragged back to this core question of whether it should or should not be funded,” he said.
“But what we need now is the certainty that any incoming political party will underwrite this particular project.
“Because companies are spending considerable sums of money now, registering expressions of interest.”
The project would add connections to allow extra trains on the North Coast and the Gold Coast rail lines by adding extra underground rail lines and stations between the Exhibition and Dutton Park stations.
The underground project will proceed if Labor wins the election, but will likely be cancelled if the LNP wins office in its own right, or if it forms a government with One Nation.
The Greens support the underground rail project.
Mr Abson said the risk of another "political backflip" over Cross River Rail would hurt Queensland’s reputation among national and international investment banks.
“The thing that damages our reputation the most among international investors, and the investment community in general, is this risk of political backflip,” he said.
Infrastructure Association of Queensland chief executive Steve Abson with ACCC chairman Rod Sim and IAQ member Jonathan Peacock.
Mr Abson is a past president of the Queensland Major Contractors Association, a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (MAICD) and a Fellow to the Australian Institute of Building (FAIB).
Mr Abson said he had some sympathy for the state opposition’s questioning of the project’s costs.
“When you are in opposition it is appropriate that you hold the government of the day to account,” he said.
"And the LNP have done a good job with this."
“But ... it really dents business confidence if you don’t get incoming governments not standing by these critical decisions,” he said.
Stacey Rawlings, the manager of Engineers’ Australia Queensland division, said its members would be very disappointed if the project was cancelled now expressions of interest had been called.
“Once industry has been called to action it is always extremely disruptive for industry to gear down and then gear up again later,” Ms Rawlings said.
“So it would be a very disappointing outcome if the project was put on hold, or completely disbanded.”
Ms Rawlings said Queensland risked losing engineering skills to other states.
“If we don’t have some of these projects continue where companies have already been gearing up their skills, then we are in the position of continuing to lose these crucial ‘skill sets’ we need for the state.”
The LNP’s former transport minister, now treasurer Scott Emerson, did not directly answer the concerns from industry.
Mr Emerson said the LNP itself had unanswered concerns, raised by Infrastructure Australia in July 2017 over the project.
Infrastructure Australia questioned the Queensland government’s estimated 6.9 per cent rail customer increase in the Brisbane region to 2026 and Cross River Rail’s impact on reducing road congestion.
They were both included as benefits to the project.
“So we still have questions that have not been answered,” Mr Emerson said.
He backed away from saying the project would be “dead in the water” if the LNP was elected to government.
“We have said we are not yet convinced that this is the way to go in line with the Infrastructure Australia report,” he said.
“That is all we have said.
“So we don’t think it stacks up at the moment.”
Mr Emerson said he understood the need for a new heavy rail connection across the Brisbane River and the LNP had developed the BaT tunnel concept, which was cancelled by Labor.
Infrastructure Australia said Cross River Rail was not needed "until the mid 2020s at the earliest".
Labor's existing plan would have work finish in mid-2024.
Opposition infrastructure spokesperson Deb Frecklington said Labor made mistakes in assessing the future passenger numbers.
"Labor have based their projections on the number of train passengers doubling over the next 10 years," she said.
"However, the reality is passenger numbers have dropped by 10 million people over the last eight years."
Brisbane’s LNP lord mayor Graham Quirk declined to comment on the likely cancellation of the underground rail project if the LNP won the election, but said it would not impact the linked- Brisbane Metro project.
“Brisbane Metro would not impacted by changes to Cross River Rail, either during construction or operation from early 2023,” Cr Quirk said.
This article first appeared on www.brisbanetimes.com.au
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