Abbott reckons the Commonwealth doesn’t fund railways… Of course they do. Here are some examples.

“We spoke to Infrastructure Australia and their advice was that the most pressing road priority in Melbourne was the east-west link,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Frankston on Thursday.

“Now the Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”

The Age

Perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does.

Commonwealth Railways locomotive

Several urban rail projects are currently being built with Commonwealth funding:

Moreton Bay rail link (Qld) — $742m from the Commonwealth, $300m plus land from the Queensland government, and $105m from the local council.

Regional Rail Link (Vic) — which despite its name, is entirely within Melbourne, and will serve two new suburban stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. $3.225 billion from the Commonwealth government, and about a billion from the state.

Perth City Link — is a sinking of one rail line in inner-city Perth, with $236 million of Commonwealth funding for rail infrastructure.

Adelaide rail electrification is a $400 million project, which includes Commonwealth funding.

Not heavy rail, but certainly urban: the Gold Coast light rail project includes Commonwealth funding.

In recent times, other projects have gained Commonwealth funding. In Victoria alone there’s been $95 million from the Feds for inner-Melbourne rail freight upgrades, $30 million for level crossing upgrades (some in regional areas, some metropolitan), and $40 million for planning work for the Metro rail tunnel… with rumours today that the tunnel will get more funding, presumably if Federal Labor is re-elected.

Going back a few years, Melbourne’s Cranbourne line was upgraded and electrified in the 90s with money from the Commonwealth’s Building Better Cities scheme.

Commonwealth funding was also used for the “4D” double-deck development train.

These are just the projects I found during a quick search around on Google last night. No doubt there are others.

Despite what Abbott thinks, the real distinction (which is more relevant to PT than to roads) is that the Commonwealth gives once-off funding. What they don’t generally do is recurrent funding — required to actually run public transport, but also required to maintain roads — in fact people often forget that the rough cost of roads maintenance is about 1% of the construction cost per year.

The Commonwealth can fund what they like

It might be convention for conservatives not to fund urban rail, but there’s no reason they can’t. It’s entirely up to them.

I think all but the most car-centric person would see that in modern growing cities, you can’t move everybody around by road — that rail, particularly in inner-city areas, is much more efficient.

Unfortunately unlike some of his Liberal colleagues (and unlike conservatives in such places as the UK), Tony Abbott does appear to be the most car-centric person.

It comes down to this: if you want more people on public transport, provide more public transport. If you want more people on the roads, build more roads. Abbott is clearly backing the latter.

In the 21st century, with car use waning and urban public transport booming, this is a regressive stance, and should make people think twice about voting for the Coalition in September.

A few thoughts on the carbon scheme

New for June… a Lego house with solar panels on the roof.

Lego house 5771 - with solar panels

Here’s a few thoughts on the carbon scheme announced yesterday:

1. I simply don’t understand how the deniers can continue to be taken seriously by anybody when the vast majority of climate scientists agree there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

It also seems a peculiar view that the world’s population can continue to burn fossil fuels in huge amounts with no consequences.

2. It’s true that Australia represents only a small fraction of overall global emissions. But people are are watching, and influence is important. On any issue, people look to those who are leading the world. Here’s a small example: while I’m not even sure I agree with it, it turns out that inner-city Melbourne has been hailed as a world leader in pedestrian-friendly streets. If we have any hope at all of convincing others to do something about reducing emissions, we have to get our house in order.

3. The scheme sounds like a pretty good start. If the modelling is right, it’ll have a minimal effect on the overall economy (0.1% of GDP) while providing a good price signal that big companies in particular need to find better ways of doing things.

4. The Opposition’s view on this doesn’t make sense to me. A plan of direct action? There seems to be agreement from economists that this is less efficient than a pricing scheme:

The main finding of the research is that the experience from these six schemes indicates that a general price on carbon emissions is preferable to specific measures. – markets are generally more efficient in encouraging innovation than direct government intervention. — CPA blog

And wouldn’t direct action be far more like a socialist response than letting market forces figure it out? Interesting quote from Alan Kohler about just who wants what:

For what it’s worth, what I think is that the entire scientific, business, bureaucratic classes – all the serious people – are in favour — Alan Kohler on Twitter

Those against carbon pricing are the Shadow Cabinet (and not even all of them) plus some attention-seekers. That’s all. — Alan Kohler on Twitter

5. There’s some niggles. The Australian Railway Association notes that with petrol exempt and heavy (road) vehicles exempt for some time, railways, which should provide a less carbon-intensive way of moving people and freight, will be disadvantaged by not being exempt. One estimate is that it may push up public transport fares by about 2%.

6. The second niggle (but a political reality) is that the scheme is aimed squarely at the big emitters, and with lots of compensation to individuals, there’s little or no incentive to change personal behaviour. Hence, petrol is exempt (but as Phil Hart from ASPO said at a recent PTUA member meeting, including it wouldn’t have made much of a price difference compared to what will happen when peak oil really kicks in).

7. Personally I’m not sure if I’ll end up ahead or behind in economic terms. The Estimator tool on the government web site told me “The household situation described by the information you have entered is not covered by the scenarios used by this Estimator.” Oh well.

From the looks of it, wealthier people can’t count on the tax changes to get all their costs refunded. But then, they are precisely the people who can afford to cover their roofs in solar panels themselves to cut their electricity and gas costs, and cut their direct emissions and costs that way.

8. Niggles aside, I do think it is important to get the ball rolling on reducing emissions, and it does seem to me that putting a price on pollution sends an important market signal that will get that process underway.