Michael Pascoe writes:

The undermining of
an apartment building over the Lane Cove tunnel construction site this morning
is an apt symbol of the quite sudden fracturing of Australian governments’
faith in infrastructure public-private-partnerships.

Commuters stuck in the massive traffic jams
caused by the latest tunnel disaster would have had plenty of time to read the
SMH’s front page lead – Billions at risk – the tunnel farce laid bare – which makes obvious why the NSW
government shafted Roads and Traffic Authority chief, Paul Forward – someone
had to carry the can and it certainly wasn’t going to be any Minister, past or
present.

As the SMH reports:

Just days before he was sacked, the chief of the Roads
and Traffic Authority, Paul Forward, told the State Government that reversing
the traffic plans for the Cross City Tunnel could trigger damages “so
great” that it might be better to buy out the contract.

In frank advice to the Minister for Roads, Joe Tripodi,
two weeks ago, Mr Forward revealed how financially crippling it would be if the
Government tried to alter the arrangements that funnel traffic into the $680
million tunnel. These include promises to keep dedicated lanes open into the
tunnel, and to narrow alternative routes such as William Street.

Mr Forward’s advice echoes legal advice from Clayton Utz
to the authority received a day earlier. Both are among 30,000 pages of
documents released by the Government just after 3pm yesterday – as the Melbourne Cup was running.

Yes, the old
Melbourne Cup release – John Howard couldn’t begin to teach the
Obeid/Tripodi/Iemma government anything.

There are still some
3,000 pages being kept secret, leaving one to imagine just what could possibly
be so hot compared with this killer revelation from the SMH:

As well as
the tunnel cost, the Government would be liable for the future profits
envisaged when the deal was signed in 2003. In the final years of the 30-year
tunnel contract, profits are predicted to be more than $130 million a year. It
means the total exposure could run close to $2 billion.

The maths here
aren’t difficult – a $680 million capital cost projected to be eventually
churning out profits of $130 million a year. This is the right to levy tax
Australian governments of all persuasions are happily selling off for very
short-term reasons.

Unfortunately for
the Cross City Tunnel’s owners, their maths may well be wrong. Australia’s most successful superannuation fund, the
MTAA industry fund, ran its ruler over them and declined to invest. Some 43 per cent of the MTAA’s investments
are in infrastructure and private equity deals and with that experience, they
didn’t buy the traffic projections.

We have the possible
situation of worse traffic and a non-performing investment.

But no politician is
responsible for that, good heavens no. Ministerial responsibility has been
abolished, both on a state and federal basis. I think the motion was passed
around 3pm
yesterday.