Federal Labor announced that if elected in 2016 it will make the Melbourne Metro project the number one priority for Victorian infrastructure.
The nine kilometre twin tunnels will slice through the centre of the CBD underneath Swanston Street, connecting South Yarra and Kensington via Parkville.
It will take two of the busiest lines out of the city loop, ensuring increased capacity for the entire network, and create a new end-to-end rail line from Sunbury in the west to Cranbourne/Pakenham in the south-east
On Friday, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese visited Domain Interchange, one of the five sites destined to become underground stations.
The Victorian State government has so far earmarked $4.5 billion, leaving a funding shortfall of about $6.5 billion, but Mr Albanese would not reveal how much federal funding Labor would contribute saying budgetary announcements would be made at the “appropriate time”.
Mr Albanese stressed it was the most important infrastructure project in Victoria; “Unless you fix the Metro you won’t fix the capacity constraints on the Victorian system.”
In 2013, when Mr Albanese was Infrastructure Minister, the Gillard Government committed $3 billion to Melbourne Metro, which was diverted to the East-West Link when the Abbott Government came to power. Although the East-West West Link is now scrapped, the Turnbull Government has not returned any funds to the original project.
Mr Albanese was scathing of the Coalition Government for not funding public transport infrastructure. “Upon coming to office the Abbott Government cut funding for all public transport projects that were not already under construction. But it is even more extraordinary that Malcolm Turnbull has kept those policies in place.”
“We have had a change of Government, but we haven’t had a change of message or importantly a change of funding. It’s the same old policies.”
Mr Turnbull has become known for riding the tram in Melbourne. Mr Albanese was eager to highlight this while standing at Domain Interchange, one of Melbourne’s busiest tram stops. “What the people of Melbourne and Victoria want, isn’t someone who travels on public transport, they want a Prime Minister who will fund public transport, and Bill Shorten will do just that.”
At a time when the mining boom is coming off the boil and manufacturing jobs are decreasing, it has been suggested that public sector investment could be a way of stimulating the economy. Yet Federal investment in infrastructure is down 20% since the change of Government.
On top of that, Victoria is not getting its fair share of that investment, according to Mr Albanese. “It is simply unsustainable that Victoria is receiving 8% of the national infrastructure budget.” That is despite the fact that Victoria constitutes about a quarter of Australia’s population. He went on to say, “That’s having an impact on jobs in the short term, but it is also having a significant impact on future economic growth.”
Mr Albenese suggested the reason for this discrepancy in funding was due to Victorians electing a Labor State Government at the last election.
“What Victorians will be saying to themselves is: why is it that we are being punished for having a Labor Government. It is quite unsustainable for a Federal Government to have the attitude that if you are Labor we won’t negotiate with you. They cut funding for the Melbourne Metro, they cut funding for the M80 project, [and] they cut finding for the Managed Motorways program.”
Federal Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher rebuffed the criticism and told the ABC "The Turnbull Government looks forward to receiving a business case from the Victorian Government in relation to Melbourne Metro and that will be assessed through Infrastructure Australia in the usual way.”
Daniel J Wilson is the Managing Editor of St Kilda News (www.stkildanews.com)