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The federal government should not prioritise roads over rail projects, but should be willing to fund both according to merit, a Senate report has recommended.
The report found that public transport is crucial to raising national productivity by reducing congestion and "should be considered as nationally significant infrastructure", just as roads are.
The Senate report, released this month after a 12-month inquiry, has emerged as new Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Tony Abbott face off over $3 billion of federal funds Canberra has committed to the cancelled East West Link.
Mr Abbott insisted in the days before Labor's election win that the money was "only available for the East West Link", but the stand-off has taken a more conciliatory tone in recent days, with Mr Andrews stating he wants to "partner" with the prime minister on major projects.
"I want him to be part of creating jobs, getting projects away and delivering all the commitments I made," Mr Andrews said last week.
Mr Abbott has conceded his desire to see the 18-kilometre road built will not be met while state Labor opposes the project.
The inquiry, by eight senators in the standing committee on rural and regional affairs and transport - four from Labor, two Liberals, one National and one Green - made several recommendations relevant to the East West Link.
Among them were a call to release cost-benefit analyses for transport projects before allocating funding, a move the former Napthine government resisted with the $6.8 billion first stage of the road.
But the Coalition's decision to publish a short-form business case that gave a positive cost-benefit analysis to East West Link of $1.40 for every dollar spent was endorsed by the committee.
The East West Link only achieved its positive cost-benefit analysis once "wider economic benefits" were factored in.
"The committee recommends that wider economic costs and benefits, including social and economic connectivity, environmental factors, active lifestyle benefits, safety factors and avoided costs and benefits be factored into transport project analysis," the report stated.
However, Coalition senators on the committee issued their own dissenting report that disputed the "underlying assumption" that the Abbott government did not support public transport.
"The former [Rudd/Gillard] government insisted on dictating inner city planning to states and then offered to fund such plans, leaving interstate freight and logistics road and rail networks to languish and turning its back on regional and rural Australia," Coalition senators Bill Heffernan and John Williams wrote.
The report considered evidence that Australia's major cities were the engine rooms of the national economy - generating about 80 per cent of gross domestic product and employing 75 per cent of the workforce - so "ensuring that businesses across cities have access to a range of skilled workers is more important to growth and productivity than ever before".
According to the OECD, Sydney "is so badly connected its economy functions more like a city of 1 million than that of its 4.5 million inhabitants", the committee heard.
This article first appeared on www.brisbanetimes.com.au
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