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Budget 2017: a Federal Government less hostile to cities should be leveraged

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Now more than ever, it is time to double down on building and maintaining a repertoire of business cases relating to transformative transport projects for Melbourne & Victoria

Whether it's a new road pricing regime & the subsequent reallocation of road space or the next big-ticket rail network project, the Federal Government's new found penchant for investing in proper analysis should be leveraged.

In Tim Pallas' 2017 budget, $10 million was allocated to study how to get the Melbourne Airport Rail link done sooner - the kicker was that the money was contingent on Victoria receiving a payment from the Federal Government to kick things off.  Last night Scott Morrison went one better and allocated $30 million.

A few months ago Malcolm stood in front of Tumut-3 in the New South Wales alps and announced that money will be spent on updating plans and conducting a proper analysis into transforming the network of hydro generators in the Snowy Mountains to a larger pumped-storage mechanism for our increasing renewable energy generation base.  Last night Scott Morrison announced that the Federal Government would offer to buy both Victoria & New South Wales' share of the snowy hydro corporation - and in turn those proceeds would need to be 'reinvested in priority infrastructure projects'.

Given the current argy-bargy between Spring Street and Canberra revolves around the Victorian Government receiving less cash from the lease of Port Melbourne & the associated asset recycling scheme, and while the Federal Government setting conditions on the buy-out of state shares in Snowy Hydro is perfectly reasonable, it could just end up opening up a new front in the grenade throwing war.

Please.  No more.

The Treasurer also announced Canberra will set up a $10billion 'National Rail Programme' that could support projects like 'Adelink, Brisbane Metro, Tullamarine Rail link, Cross River Rail in Brisbane, and the Western Sydney Airport Rail link'.  This cash starts to appear 2019-2020 according to Budget Paper Number 3.

Budget Paper Number 3

Now that the Federal Government is set to open up new revenue streams for the states to use for priority infrastructure projects, Spring Street should be updating its priorities for the rail, tram and bus networks and get them out in the open, just like Napthine did in 2012.

From the 2012 heavy rail network plan, we know there are a lot more expensive changes on the horizon and Infrastructure Victoria's 30-year strategy, usefully, put a rough timeframe on when each was needed.

Infrastructure Victoria deemed projects like the reconfiguration of the city loop, joining the Craigieburn and Frankston lines gunzel-matrimony as well as the Wallan electrification project to have a moderate need in 15 years time because the capacity uplift on Craigieburn and Upfield that will be created as part of the Melbourne Metro project will be under pressure once again in the medium term.

Similarly, Infrastructure Victoria rated 'Melbourne Metro 2' - a new tunnel linking Clifton Hill and Newport via the inner north, CBD and Fishermans Bend - as having a significant impact on 'meeting growing demand for access to economic activity in Central Melbourne'.  It also cites it has a low certainty of evidence and this is what Spring Street should now be investing in.  

While the social media sorties directed at Canberra were entertaining at first (and they're in full flight today), it's getting old.  Other political journalists and commentators have noted the marked shift from the anti-cities Abbott era - and it's hard not to agree with the broad consensus now filtering through all the major media outlets.

Malcolm Turnbull's a fan of business cases, analysis and public debate - let's have it then, let's invest in the admittedly thankless task of building an evidence base to support the analysis required for the next big-ticket items that a less hostile Federal Government is likely to contribute to.

Just get it done Spring Street.

2 comments

Aussie Steve's picture

What is astounding with this budget, is a massive increase in unsustainable debt. We need to cut our spending down and manage our existing debt levels. Don't get me wrong, debt can be good, if it is well managed, but this increase to almost half a trillion dollars is just outrageous! Yes, we need more infrastructure projects in this country, but we need to have the money before hand to be able to build them, or at least have appropriate low interest loans to do such spending on worthwhile projects.

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theboynoodle's picture

Have you seen the rates of interest that Australia pays to borrow? Just how low do need?

The step of looking at capital expenditure and revenue expenditure separately is a good one. Let's, at least. allow there to be two 'conversations' about debt/deficit that respect these two very different sources of spending.

Once that's done, the government want should fund every project that has a positive return. It's calculating those returns (and weighing them against each other) that is the hard part.

Something often forgotten about government debt is that an awful lot of it is simply owed back to the people (Australian people, and overseas people.. and, in return, their governments probably owe the Australian people money). Low-risk, long-term debt is a fundamental part of pension and insurance funding. The low rates governments can borrow at show just how desperate the world is for such debt. It would be dumb for any Australian government not to take advantage of this.

Don't borrow and spend for the sake of it, of course, but the conversation needs to move beyond the simplistic. Government debt is not like household debt.

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