Article – East West link still on drawing board despite $1.5bn clawback

13 May 2015
Annabel Hepworth
The Australian

The government will claw back the $1.5 billion in federal funds earmarked for Victoria’s dumped East West link, while booking a commitment to the project as a contingent liability in case it goes ahead at a later date.

In a move likely to inflame tensions with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, the budget papers reveal the government has revised the forward estimates to include the return of $1.5bn, which the state had wanted to use towards a Melbourne toll road proposed by City Link operator Transurban.

Making good on Tony Abbott’s promise to put $3bn allocated for the project in a “locked box”, the government has made the money a contingent liability so that a Victorian government could still build the project.

The detail was one of few “announceables” on infrastructure in the budget. The main surprise was a $5bn facility for ports, railways, pipelines and electricity generation in northern Australia. Other new promises include $150,000 each year for two years for every electorate and $101.3m over four years for cattle roads in Northern Australia.

The government talked up last year’s budget promise of a “record” $50bn commonwealth investment in infrastructure, which goes through to 2019-20. The $50bn figure includes the $3bn for the East West Link.

This means that the bulk of bigticket projects have already been announced — in some cases by Labor — and are ongoing.

In line with this, the message from Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs was that “bulldozers are on the ground”.

“Our record infrastructure investment is helping to create tens of thousands of jobs, eliminate congestion in our cities, increase the economic capacity of our freight routes and improve safety for all road users,” they said.

“Upgrading major transport corridors like the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway to ensure Australia’s freight industry operates more effectively and businesses can take advantage of new trade opportunities are a vital part of the government’s plan to build a strong, safe and prosperous future for all Australians.”

In a novel move, the budget included a list of major roads described as being on time and on budget, including upgrades to the Pacific Highway, West Connex, the Gateway Motorway North, North-South Road Corridor and Perth Freight Link. Work started on 19 new major projects last year and construction will start on a further 55 in 2015.

The few new promises could disappoint business figures who have been pushing for the government to increase spending on infrastructure and farmers who have wanted more investment in rail infrastructure including the “steel Mississippi” inland rail.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, for instance, has been pushing for the government to borrow to increase its funding for state infrastructure projects.

Courtesy of the Australian

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