Capital funding commitments from the 2014 election, Labor's Financial Statement 2014

I was very disappointed that Labor didn’t submit its election promises to Treasury for costing during the campaign as both the Coalition and the Greens did. I know that’s what the then opposition did, with success, back in 2010, but the practice doesn’t improve my lot as a voter.

My disenchantment increased when the costings signed off by accountants Moore Stephens weren’t released to the mainstream media until last Thursday (27 November). By way of contrast, the Greens submitted their first proposals to Treasury for costing on 13 November and the last on 21 November.

But I was really pissed off that Labor’s document wasn’t made available to voters until election day. I finally got a copy from the party at 11:00 am Saturday. And on top of that, it’s super-skimpy – it just gives a number with no explanation whatsover of the assumptions (see exhibit).

So what does it indicate the Andrews government will actually do over this term in relation to public transport? What are the main improvements we’ll see after four years?

  • Don’t expect to see Melbourne Metro any time soon. There’ll be no start on construction of the rail tunnel under the CBD in this term. The government will provide $300 million for the $9 Billion project over the next four years for design and approvals.
  • There’s funding for the acquisition of around 10 new trains over the next four years. It’s not clear to me though how the government will be able to acquire additional trains so quickly; or is this counting new trains already funded in the former government’s budget?
  • On a more positive note, construction of the rail extension from Sth Morang to Mernda will start before the next election and be operating within around five years at a cost, Labor says, of $400-600 million. The lower figure can be safely ignored; Treasury costed the Greens promise for the same line at $600 million and the Coalitions promise, which provides two new stations over the 7.5 km line rather than one, at $700 million. It will take a mighty effort to get this line operational in four years; but next time around voters probably won’t mind just so long as they can see it’s almost there.
  • Zone 1/2 fares will be capped at the maximum daily rate for Zone 1 and tram travel within the CBD will be free, all from 1 January 2015. I can’t find any reference to this policy in Labor’s costing document. That might mean it’ll be funded as most observers expect; from a real increase in all fares.
  • $50 million is provided for a 12 month trial of 24-hour train, tram and bus services on weekends, starting on New Years Eve 2015 i.e. in 13 months.  It’ll provide hourly services overnight. Interestingly, there’s no contingency provision for the possibility that the trial might be successful and require ongoing funding.
  • A substantial start will be made on Labor’s promise to remove 50 of the most dangerous and congested level crossings over 8 years. $2-2.4 Billion will be provided over the next four years which, at plausible costings, could be enough to build 15 crossings during this term. Planning already underway means the new government should be able to hit the ground running with more than half of these and hence be reasonably confident of completing them by the next election.
  • There’s $100 million over four years for a package  of smallish and highly localised improvements to bus services ($15 million capital/$85 million recurrent).
  • There’s a couple of smaller “local” projects too e.g. the $50 million redevelopment of Frankston station and $20 million for more car parking at rail stations (but I couldn’t find any recurrent funding for the promised extra PSOs at rail stations on weekends).

These are mostly good initiatives and, assuming they happen, they’re a big improvement on the last four years; but they’re hardly seismic. They’re not “the vision for 21st century transport and city life to rival the world’s other most liveable cities such as Vancouver, Copenhagen or Vienna” that the Public Transport Users Association is calling for. (1)

Four years gives the government way more time than is necessary to finalise the design of Melbourne Metro and get the necessary approvals. It’s not likely to be as controversial as the East West Link; construction could start earlier.

It also appears that the former government’s plan to improve signalling on the Dandenong corridor will be set aside. A key question is where the government will find the remaining $6.0-6.5 Billion to complete its level crossing removal promise should it win a second term in 2018. (2)

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  1. One downside of Labor’s initiatives is removing the Zone 1/2 daily cap seriously waters down the distance-related component of fares; see Lower fares are good politics, but are they good policy?
  2. Although it has the option of going to the 2018 election with a revised proposal.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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