It must be difficult for Tony Abbott’s loyal MPs to defend him in matters like public transport, where he refuses to fund it, while heavily funding motorways.
But of course they try. What’s fascinating is when they get their basic facts wrong. This morning there was a discussion on Twitter about a Coalition-run forum about Geelong area public transport:
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) August 22, 2015
One of the forum organisers, member for Corangamite Sarah Henderson, responded:
— Sarah Henderson MP (@SHendersonMP) August 22, 2015
Regional Rail Link opened in June 2015. Despite its name, the entire project was within metropolitan Melbourne. It was indeed part funded by the Federal Government — the project web site says: “The $3.65 billion project was jointly funded by the Australian and Victorian governments.”
The only problem with Ms Henderson’s claim is that the Federal funding came some four years before Mr Abbott became prime minister.
As this statement from May 2009 says: “The Federal Government will invest $3.2 billion in this important project.”
Being 2009, that was Kevin Rudd’s Labor Federal Government.
(Amusingly it also refers to the metro rail tunnel as the “East west rail tunnel”)
Essentially, RRL got funding from the Feds (and the state) because it ticked multiple boxes: boosting rail capacity, urban development in Melbourne’s outer west, and as economic stimulus to help fight the GFC. The project had undergone several years of early planning previous to that, and while it had a haphazard start, the project was able to get underway pretty quickly. The first rail closures for major works occurred in mid-2011.
Mr Abbott wasn’t PM until September 2013. Happily for the RRL project, by then the work had been underway for some years — and he couldn’t claw back the money. But he did pull money out of numerous other public transport projects in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and elsewhere.
Note that under Abbott there hasn’t been zero funding for public transport. Indirectly, Canberra’s light rail has got funding via the Federal Coalition’s asset recycling policy. The Gold Coast light rail extension may get funding as part of Commonwealth Games preparations. Any others? I’m not sure.
Ms Henderson may disagree, but given Abbott’s strong anti-PT stance, I sincerely doubt Regional Rail Link would have got any Federal funding at all under his government.
To claim Abbott actually funded it is a distortion of the truth.
Happily, Abbott’s stance doesn’t seem to be shared by his colleagues. Malcolm Turnbull is well known for his support for public transport, and Warren Truss seems to have been supportive of the metro rail tunnel. So even if the Coalition stays in power, things may change for the better, as long as it’s not Abbott who’s still in charge.
- Crikey 26/8/2015: … While Henderson was right that the government was honouring a previous commitment, it’s not like it enjoyed it — Abbott has long said he is against federal funding for public transport infrastructure. … So they won’t commit any money to rail projects, but will take the credit when they hand over the money of someone else’s promise.