Are the Federal ALP really the 'public transport' party?

It was a one man show on Monday night's QandA. The Federal Leader of the Opposition was answering questions from a Ballarat audience and made a curious remark that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) are the public transport party.

Fumbling through a list of large-scale public transport projects around the country, Bill Shorten looked to be in the most uncomfortable position all night.

A follow up question on the feel-good grandiose infrastructure project of the age - high speed rail on the east coast - appeared to make the Leader of the Opposition even more uncomfortable when he appeared to confuse his answer, by talking about how 10 years ago he said the country should build an inland rail line on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. The inland rail project is about moving freight between Victoria and Queensland, high speed rail is getting people out of the air and onto trains.

Is this really the best the public transport party - at least at a Federal level - can muster?

If anything the most blindingly obvious thing to talk up on a national platform is jobs. And public transport, believe it or not, is a big job creator.

Contrast the messaging surrounding public transport to other areas where the ALP lays claim to the political mantle: health and education. You would be hard pressed to find an ALP politician who could not talk about these two policy areas in more detail than Bill Shorten managed to do with public transport on Monday night.

The communications from the ALP playbook in these two areas is as follows: Expansionary education policy = a smarter society with more opportunity. Expansionary health policy = a happier and healthier society. In both cases where the state chooses to spend more money in expanding physical infrastructure - building more schools and building more hospitals - the end result is always the need for more people to work in the two respective sectors.

It is exactly the same in public transport.

Expanding bus routes, which is the best way to rapidly provide high quality public transport in suburban areas, requires more bus drivers. Jobs. Expanding tram / light rail lines requires more drivers. Expanding heavy rail lines requires more drivers. Jobs.

Similarly, it is a manufacturing story in disguise. Remember the car industry? The component manufacturers may well be able to re-tool and re-skill to support an expanding renewable energy sector, as Bill Shorten mentioned in the same QandA session, but there is also the natural segue into onshore public transport vehicle manufacturing.

Health and education is very much in the DNA of the ALP but based on the Federal Leader's performance on Monday night, his relative ease in fumbling points he should have indeed remembered and his inability to connect sustainable transport to an economic narrative ultimately suggests that when it comes to claiming the party of public transport title, the ALP have a long way to go.

Lead image credit: ABC iView

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