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Is the Federal Government blinkered when it comes to Victoria?

Is the Federal Government blinkered when it comes to Victoria?

That was the first question that came to Urban Melbourne's mind upon seeing the breakdown of allocation of infrastructure spending in Tuesday night's Federal Government budget.

Among the list of projects the Federal Government will spend money on in the coming financial year, the Victorian section had a caveat: "the Australian Government remains committed to the East West Link and our offer of $3 billion still stands. We are ready to deliver the project should any Victorian Government decide to proceed."

In other words, Turnbull and Morrison are happy to apply layer upon layer of lipstick on the pig that is the East West Link and dangle it at Victoria from Capital Hill.

The petty federal-state freeway politicking exhibits a lack of leadership, makes a mockery of all the pro-urban rhetoric which was aired in the lead-up to the budget and it unfortunately adds weight to the argument that even more Cities policy overlap between the Federal and State level will result in unwarranted delays in investment all the while our cities keep on growing.

It's galling that $3 billion remains as an "offer" should any Victorian Government decide to proceed with the dud East West Link project when this money could have accelerated the Victorian Government's level crossing removal programme - perhaps even extended it beyond the initial list of 50; been allocated to Melbourne Metro without strings attached - such as what's happening on phase two of Sydney's metro project; or fully funded and accelerated rural and regional road projects.

Inside Story contributor and former Age economics editor Tim Colebatch has labeled it discrimination:

And then there is the government’s discrimination against Victoria.

At a time when Melbourne is bursting at the seams with its population growing at twice the pace in the rest of the country, the Coalition has allocated it, at best, just $4 billion for new infrastructure projects over the six years to 2019–20, compared with $25 billion to be shared between Queensland and New South Wales.

For the year ahead, it promises to spend just $328 million in Victoria, but $2.7 billion in New South Wales, $1.6 billion in Queensland, more than $1 billion in Western Australia, and $383 million in South Australia.

Over the six years, compared with equal per capita funding, Victoria will be short-changed by more than $6 billion. Presumably the Turnbull government believes this is not the kind of issue that decides people’s votes. Time will tell.

Tim Colebatch, "The budget’s two big ideas", Inside Story

Political journalists and commentators elsewhere appear to be broadly positive about the general thrust of the budget, however we suspect this has more to do with said journalist and commentator's surprise that the budget was not more profligate given it has been delivered so close to an election.

When viewed in the context of state-by-state infrastructure money spending, there's most certainly profligacy in marginal seat New South Wales and Queensland.

Victoria is at last seeing true 'balance' in terms of new transport investment - hard rail infrastructure is being augmented or about to be built as new, and there's plenty more needed - much of it contained within PTV's network development plans. Existing suburban nodes which are serviced by high-quality rail services, like Box Hill, are becoming transit-orientated development hotspots.

We need more Box Hills, not less. And a sure fire way to create less of them is for the Federal Government to sit in its back offices in Canberra playing marginal seat freeway politics with this state.

In the context of our national-leading population growth, it is Urban Melbourne's view that this budget is not in Victoria's interests.

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8 comments

Melbman's picture

Couldn't agree more.

I am usually more inclined to vote Liberal but of late some of these moves smack of pettiness. The locked away $3 billion for the EWL is crazy and at least half should be allocated to the Western Distributor.

If Labor can realistically sell a vision for the future that does not overspend and overpromise, especially with the constraints of the current budget position, then they will be in a very strong position come July.

Funding must be fair and one can only hope that a future Victorian Prime Minister can have some say on getting funding for our future projects. Not sure Shorten is the right guy but at the same time he's the best option we have to fit that bill at this stage :)

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pdoff's picture

Awesome editorial UM.

We can only hope that the PTV plan becomes reality, that Melbourne continues to resist being told what it needs and what to build by those who don't know it and don't understand it, and we continue to show the rest of the country how to build a great city.

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Sweppicort's picture

The Commonwealth are entitled to offer tied grants. The current State Government chose to waste a billion dollars by tearing up the East-West contract, and have essentially traded it in for a piece of infrastructure that isn't recognised by the grants commission.

Certainly, the commonwealth infrastructure program is a joke in terms of equity. Victoria is just way too efficient compared to other states, and that productivity is due to streamlining throughout the 90s and a refocusing by the previous government. But to point to a program that the current government threw away a billion dollars on as evidence of bias is wrong. The majority of Melbourne wanted East-West and Canberra knows this, it's just a vocal minority in Fiona Richardson's and Richard Wynne's electorates who did not, speaking of "marginal seat" politics.

Further, this idea of "cities" is also a shadow and thought-bubble lurking from the Brumby years. Rather than an even development across the entire of suburbia, concentrating development in areas like Box Hill does not help with visions for 20-minute cities (as Box Hill is more like 25 minutes from the CBD) and clogs certain areas of the map inefficiently. Certainly, what will carry that traffic from Box Hill now there is no road carrying from East to West?

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Matt J's picture

"The majority of Melbourne wanted East-West"

And where are you pulling this from? It was taken to an election and the results speak for themselves.

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SYmlb's picture

I agree, Matt. The majority did not want East West Link otherwise the previous government, who signed that wasted $1b contract in the first place, just before an election and subsequently lost based on that decision. If the public wanted it, they would of voted them in, not out. Labor was elected on the promise of scrapping East West Link and have done as they pledged. What's with the sour grapes still one year on? It's done and dusted. Move on.

I am not aligned to either Liberal or Labor, but in this case I see this as a transparent policy and government actually doing as they promised for their election mandate. Not seen much of that in politics recently.

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Bilby's picture

Sweppicort, your comments need to be called out here - not just as "sour grapes", but as factually incorrect. The last election was fought in large part over the East-West Link with the policy differences clearly spelled out, and Labor won with a clear majority. If you wish to say that you have some other evidence of a "majority" of voters supporting the East-West Link, then please publish it alongside your claim.

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johnproctor's picture

Rather than an even development across the entire of suburbia, concentrating development in areas like Box Hill does not help with visions for 20-minute cities (as Box Hill is more like 25 minutes from the CBD) and clogs certain areas of the map inefficiently. Certainly, what will carry that traffic from Box Hill now there is no road carrying from East to West?

Swepicort. You do realise that if box hill is 25 mins from the CBD then someone in between the CBD and box hill is actually 12 minutes from each, I.e. Less than 20 minutes meeting the '20 minute city ' idea. Someone shouldn't be travelling to box hill from the west because they would have a Footscray or sunshine activity centre to travel to. This is the proposition that is being put forward.

Just like the CBD doesn't work with cars neither would a box hill, Footscray or other suburban major activity centre. I.e. Even a 'spread' activity approach doesn't work for commuter cars. It's why the east west business case was so poor.

Unfortunately if you ask me western distributor is perhaps an even poorer project. At least east west was connecting two places not connected by freeways. Western distributor is pretty much just a duplication allowing more people to travel on freeways from the west to the central city.

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theboynoodle's picture

Labor was elected on the promise of scrapping East West Link

I know this was the rhetoric.. but was it the reality?

How many voters switched sides across the city.. and the state? I'm guessing it wasn't all that many.. because that's how elections are in stable democracies across the world. So unless, by sheer coincidence, Lib voters thought the road was a great idea and Lab supports did not (something I expect is unlikely as supporters/opponents of infrastructure projects tend to be split according to the cost/benefit to them of the project.) it's wrong to take the result as indicative of the electorate's view of that particular project.

I mean, seriously, do we think that everyone decided to put aside their position on who should be running all the other government functions for three years just to have their say on a road?

I'm not picking sides, by the way. All this happened before I lived here.. and I can't imagine how any individual road project could be more beneficial, to car users, than the level-crossing project.

Also, if anyone wasted $1bn it was the guy who signed a contract that would cost that much to cancel. That money was sunk when the contract was signed, so if it was signed in the knowledge that there was a 50:50 chance that the project would be cancelled then any blame goes on the previous government. Labour's job was to assess whether the additional cost of actually building the project was value for money, the $1bn was irrelevant.

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