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PETER Batchelor is Victoria's longest-serving transport
minister. He has been in the job for six years and before that
spent seven years as opposition spokesman on public transport.
And what do we have to show for his stewardship? The very fast
rail project linking regional centres has degenerated into a
billion-dollar fiasco because it saves a few minutes but doesn't
add to frequencies — which the people of Ballarat, Bendigo,
Geelong and other regional cities want to link them with Melbourne.
The Spencer Street railway station imposes a $1.7 billion burden on
future taxpayers without the benefit of one extra train.
In his article in The Age (Opinion, November 8),
Batchelor boasts that "four suburban train and tram extensions have
been completed since we came to office". He might have pointed out
that two of these projects were initiated by the Kennett government
and they are all small projects.
Significantly, he doesn't boast about the $500 million handed
over to yet another private ticketing consortium when he could have
used the money for a simpler system and more staff — which
would have improved passenger safety.
He promises to extend the Broadmeadows line to Craigieburn and
fails to point out that he has built the Merri Creek bypass for
$300 million, which will lock in the two-car-plus family in
adjacent suburbs. Typical. He delivers on the freeway option and
postpones the train option.
Batchelor is the marionette for VicRoads. It is a role he has
seamlessly inherited from his Liberal Party predecessors. It is a
Faustian deal. VicRoads is the public face of the incredibly
powerful road lobby that derives its power from the anger and
frustration of ordinary motorists who can't see beyond the car in
front of them.
His deepest failure is that after 13 years he has no plan. What
he does have is a war chest of $589 million — according to a
footnote in his department's balance sheet. Obviously the money has
been put aside to fund promises close to the next election.
We might ask why it has been necessary to cancel the proposed
rail extensions to Aurora and South Morang in
his electorate, to dismiss a rail connection to Rowville and
Doncaster, and to approach the Dandenong line congestion with a
study rather than a fix.
Batchelor's response to the current passenger congestion and
unreliability (because of the spike in public transport use due to
the oil shock) is to procrastinate. But work by Melbourne
University transport planner Paul Mees shows that the existing
infrastructure could carry more trains if the minister wanted them
run. Instead, Batchelor is condemning residents in his own
electorate and the other outer suburbs to becoming two, three or
four-car families. The Victorian Council of Social Service has
shown that multiple car use has a devastating impact on family
income and prospects.
The Dandenong triplication study is a very expensive political
exercise designed to postpone dealing with Melbourne's real
transport problems while allowing rentiers to brew up another
massive road project. The project essentially involves the building
of a $10 billion road/tunnel tollway from Hoddle Street to the Deer
Park Bypass near Footscray.
This is classic VicRoads salami tactics (one slice at a time).
Once again, VicRoads is creating congestion so it can later pretend
to solve it.
The EastLink private tollway connecting to the Eastern Freeway
will pour an additional 20,000 cars onto Hoddle Street during the
morning peak, which will play havoc in the already choked inner
northern suburbs as the additional traffic struggles to get into
the CBD. VicRoads' solution? Push the traffic jam onto the
Tullamarine freeway and CityLink, even though only about 10 per
cent of traffic wants to go that way.
The toll tunnel proposal — originally put up by the
Committee for Melbourne and Melbourne City Council — has been
sugar-coated with the addition of a passenger rail corridor from
Doncaster along the road/tunnel route. This proposal has been
rebadged with the Orwellian title of the East-West Integrated
Transport Proposal (EWITP).
EWITP is now being pushed by the infrastructure group of the
Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, chaired by a
director of Macquarie Bank, Robert Dunlop.
The rail element of the proposal isn't meant to be taken
seriously. Commuters with a long memory will recall that the
Eastern Freeway to Doncaster was supposed to have a railway down
the middle and the Scoresby Freeway at one stage was marketed as
the South-Eastern Integrated Transport corridor. Why would anybody
from Doncaster want to catch a train to the CBD via North
You can bet that this railway embellishment of the new toll
road/tunnel will last as long as it takes the State Government to
discover that the best way of financing the deal is via a
public-private partnership (because the Government isn't prepared
to borrow the money). Macquarie Bank set up the financial deal for
CityLink and EastLink. It has a legendary deal-making ability that
results in very high profits to the promoters and very high cost
infrastructure to the public. It's not known as the millionaires'
factory for nothing.
is a senior columnist.
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