Highlights from Engineers Australia transport year in review

On Monday night, Engineers Australia held their annual Transport: year in review event at the Park Hyatt which included four panelists in front of a 100+ strong audience. Commentary was broad-based and thoroughly interesting if politics and city building piques your interest.

The panelists included The Age Transport reporter Adam Carey, Grattan Institute CEO John Daley, Member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for Plan Melbourne Professor John Stanley and CEO of the Committee for Melbourne Kate Roffey.

Each of the panelists provided a wide range of views starting with Adam Carey giving his perspective on the way Transport policy played out both at the start of the year and during the election campaign.

John Daley's focus on transparency and governance is best characterised when he lamented "We are in a world where there is no transparency in the way [transport] projects are selected". The audience liked John's quip when he labelled the elephant-in-the-room 'East-West-East link' project as well.

Kate Roffey focused on many issues but one which stuck out was the poignant reminder that in the not too distant future the new government will be dealing with the winding down of the automotive manufacturing sector. Kate Roffey also argued that many of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects such as the Pakenham/Cranbourne corridor project should be prioritised as it predominantly involved private capital and that it will go a long way to offsetting the impending job pain.

John Stanley brought a planning angle to the discussion and painted a picture when he highlighted the contrast in thinking at a State and Provincial level in Victoria and Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.

Similarly John Stanley opined that Melbourne should slow its growth on the fringe and the heavy lifting for transport projects over the longer term should focus on connecting new residential development in the middle ring, where most of the metropolitan area's jobs are located.

Q&A Session

Post presentations, the Q&A session took on a more free-flowing discussion with many of the overarching themes revolving around:

  • Will the new Infrastructure Victoria agency have teeth? To what extent will local government have a role in both Infrastructure Victoria and the Metropolitan Planning Authority?
  • Bi-partisan approach to transport policy and prioritisation is resulting in a sense in the community that nothing is being done to attack congestion, with the contrast being made with Sydney where a panelist believed the opposite were true.
  • William McDougall, sitting in the audience (who previously presented at our 2013 Melbourne Knowledge Week event), queried the panel on whether they believed the current models used to assess the public net worth of a project were adequate.
    • One answer highlighted by Kate Roffey was the approach that UK cities are taking, in particular the Greater Manchester region. A summary of this approach can be seen in a recent publication by KPMG and the Property Council of Australia.
  • The middle ring of Melbourne needs to have far more focus on connectivity, with arterial road expansion in conjunction with accelerated introduction of more smart bus and local bus routes.
  • Each panelist was asked to comment on "what should the new government have done or set in motion by January 1 2015". Their responses varied however an ever present theme amongst them: setting real expectations on the transport policies taken to the recent election.


Transport policy and projects did play a large role in media coverage during the year and in particular in the lead up to and during the election campaign as Kate Roffey pointed to in her opening remarks. Can voter's minds be further expanded to include land-use and how it affects them on top of the standard kitchen table policy areas of jobs, health and education?

I'd argue in no uncertain terms that the way we house ourselves and the way we transport ourselves - the fundamental way we use the land we inhabit - to and from school, work and leisure (remember: living isn't all about working!) should be the top issue with health and education playing a secondary yet complimentary role.

Transport for so many across Melbourne is about being forced into utilising private vehicles traveling to, from and within auto-centric suburbia which leaves these people at higher risk of vulnerability to external factors such as fuel price spikes. The lazy politicians in both the Liberal/Labor parties and in the road lobbies will bleat on about the need for a "balanced" approach to transport policy and expenditure but this just flies in the face of reality.

Sustainable and public transport use has increased in terms of mode share over recent years but continuing high population growth means that already over-used private transport is still growing and contributing to increasing congestion in the mode of transport that most Melburnians are locked in to. It's a vicious circle.

Perhaps when prosecuting the case for prioritising public transport over private transport investment - especially to the centre-right of the political spectrum as they appear to be struggling just that little bit more than the centre-left - the argument should be framed around some of the core Liberal values of individual choice and competition.

Individuals (and families) for the most part have limited choice in the way they spend their transport dollars and this lack of competition deprives the individual from pursuing the maximum amount of job and lifestyle opportunities compared to those living in competition-rich areas.

Is it not a quasi neo-liberal/conservative philosophy to maintain and ensure the individual (and family unit) has as much access to opportunities as possible for their own life pursuits?

Sitting in worsening traffic, bereft politicians talking of 'balancing transport priorities' and in reality applying expensive band-aid status quo solutions (more commuter Freeways) without attacking the core problem - that there's simply too many people required to use cars in the first place - is unproductive, lazy and likely to further fracture society by locking away opportunities.

Further reading: Lonely over Christmas: a snapshot of social isolation in the suburbs.

Lead image courtesy Norman Bear.

1 comment

Riccardo's picture

Good to see the real issues get aired. It isn't about this project or that, it is about rational policy development in transport and how Australia got so political in the last few years?

All planning and policy should be developed by technocrats, and we should be importing them like the Middle East and Asian countries do.

Developing policy specialists is not our forte. Australians too governed by short term undelayed gratification, hence why we have high interest rates globally. It is good enough for our RBA to be put beyond politics or the ABC or whatever, we need all policy treated this way.

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