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Victorian election – why have the Greens dug a black hole?

The Green's transport plan for Melbourne's east

If you think the Greens provide a real alternative to the tired, cynical politics of Labor and the Liberals, then you might be very disappointed in the transport initiative the Green’s are promoting for the forthcoming Victorian election.

The Green’s Public transport plan for Melbourne’s east proposes a massive $6 billion program of public transport works, including a new rail line to Rowville and another along the Eastern Freeway to Doncaster. It also proposes rail duplications and triplications, new train stations, level crossing upgrades, tram line extensions, transport interchange upgrades and improvements to bus services.

The Greens clearly and loudly proclaim that the $6 billion will be found by scrapping the Government’s proposed North East Link, the so-called ‘missing link’ between the metropolitan ring road at Greensborough and the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen.

It almost sounds too good to be true. No additional funding, no new freeway and heaps of new public transport infrastructure! Trouble is, as the Greens well know, it isn’t true – there is no $6 billion to reallocate.

The North East Link is just one of many projects listed in the Victorian Transport Plan that the Government says it intends to build sometime between now and about 2040 – it’s listed as a “medium term” project. The Government estimates it will cost more than $6 billion but has not allocated any funds for it and neither has Infrastructure Australia.

The Government has been criticised, quite properly, for announcing projects without committing funding. But the Greens have now taken spin to a level that rivals Abbott and Hockey’s black hole. They’ve announced their plan on the eve of the election and haven’t acknowledged the funds don’t exist, not even in the fine print. In fact they’re actively pretending the funds do exist!

To make matters worse, the costings for the two flagship rail lines also play fast and loose with the numbers.

The Greens estimate the 12.5 km section of the proposed new Doncaster line running from the existing Victoria Park station to Doncaster shoppingtown will cost around $1 billion. They arrive at this figure by simply adjusting estimates from studies done in 1991 and 2002 for inflation. They consciously choose not to use the more recent estimate of the Eddington study (done in 2008), which concluded the cost would be between $1.8 billion and $2.1 billion.

The cost of the proposed new 12 km Rowville line is estimated by the Greens to be $571 million, again arrived at by inflating the estimate of a 2004 pre-feasibility study prepared for the City of Knox by Peter Newman, Bill Russell and others. Note the word “pre”. I’ve previously argued (here) that a more plausible cost for this line is at least $1 billion.

The Rowville line crosses seven major roads and two freeways – 9 km out of 12 km would need to be elevated. The line between at least Caulfield and Oakleigh would require triplication. The pre-feasibility study assumed five new stations at $5 million each, however the latest State Government costings put the likely outlay at around $50 million each.

Creative accounting is one thing, but it’s also hard to see where these two rail projects sit with the stated philosophy of the Greens. Neither offers much advantage in environmental or equity terms compared to the status quo, much less compared with other potential transport projects that could be funded with a lazy $6 billion (if it actually existed!).

The proposed Doncaster line, for example, would serve a small market, replace an existing high quality public transport service, and largely benefit middle to high income areas that are already well served by other forms of public transport. You have to wonder if the Greens are intent on damaging their ‘brand’.

I’ll talk about the proposed Doncaster line – and the proposed Doncaster tram line! – in more detail next time.

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  • 1
    Chris
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    I think their policy should be focusing on finally killing off the 1969 transport plan including the Doncaster and Rowville train lines and replacing it with a entirely new and properly thought out policy/ plan, no more map plus black texta equals plan.

    But that aside I still have to argue again that you shouldn’t be taking Government costings at face value, this Government is incapable of getting value for money and is grossly inflating figures to avoid being embarrassed again ala Myki.

  • 2
    Ian Woodcock
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Clearly, it’s more of a rhetorical move than anything else. It’s about saying ‘if we had that money, we’d have very different priorities’.

  • 3
    Morton Reevesby
    Posted October 24, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Sounds a bit naive

  • 4
    Joseph
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I find your comment about a Doncaster rail line benefitting middle to high income areas interesting. Is it the case the rail lines generally benefit middle to high income groups? I think I recall in a previous column that you mentioned 20% of Melbourne’s jobs are in the city. I assume there would be a skew towards higher paid jobs hence perhaps significantly less than 20% of low paid jobs are in the city? Is it realistic to assume that those employed in the industrial areas of Laverton and Dandenong will travel to work by rail? And if not is building rail lines to the city just middle class welfare?

  • 5
    Moss
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on any “costings” provided by the current Labor goverment… 50 Million dollers for a trains station? Must have gold plated toilets!

  • 6
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    This issue of what weight to put on the Government’s costings is a hard one. I too suspect they put in a bit of padding but that’s not the whole story.

    The most celebrated case is the South Morang extension, where the estimated cost of 8km of line (5km is duplication; 3km new line) went from $45 million in 2003 to $560 million in 2009 (see story in The Age).

    The Public Transport Users Association looked closely at this issue and found that lots of associated works were included that would help the whole Clifton Hill group work better. Might not have explained all of the costs but certainly a big part of it.

    The need for ancillary or associated works to support a new initiative is often overlooked e.g. a Rowville line would require triplication of parts of the Dandenong line.

  • 7
    aaggee
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    It is quite obvious that the Greens are saying “if we spent the $6 billion dollars that Labor wants to spend on North East Link this is what could be achieved.” Of course the costing is not going to be spot on but as someone else noted look at this governments management of other projects.

    The North East link does not need to be built.

  • 8
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    If you see it that way then you should see the Abbott/Hockey budget ‘black hole’ during the Federal election campaign as equally acceptable.

    I think both these cases are deceptive and I’ve personally had enough involvement with politics to know these sorts of things are never simple “oversights”.

  • 9
    Tim Baxter
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    What hogwash. ‘Replace an existing high quality service’? Have you set foot in Manningham in your life? Have you ever tried to park at Monash University or, Heaven forfend, tried to get there without a car?

    And North-East Link is hardly a creature of some Dystopian future. It is a project which is firming up by the week but which the ALP would not dream of outwardly supporting this close to an election.

    This is plan is a concrete example of how, with the same amounts of money to throw around, money which the State Government is trying to secure, the Greens policies differ from that of the major parties. This is where our priorities lie. While the majors build roads for roads sake, we think long term and look for better solutions than laying a dozen extra freeways.

    The voters have a choice in November, they can stick with the same-old-same-old from the old parties or try to improve our city, mitigate climate change and look beyond the next electoral cycle.

    At twice the price, the advantages of Doncaster and Rowville rail in the long-term are still worthwhile in my person opinion. That it can be done and should be done is pretty much a no-brainer in a city with a footprint the size of Melbourne’s.

    Taking the most expensive figure from the most rorted example (such as $50 million per train station) does not equate to realism. It’s a cheap shot for the sake of a cheap shot.

  • 10
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Typical Greens Party spin from “aaggee” there.

    The Greens Party are trying to claim (unethically) that the Vic Govt is spending $6 bil on the North/East link, and that they would instead spend that money on other projects.

    It’s just base politics for the Greens Party to do this without acknowledging that the money isn’t there at all.

    Of course, Greg Barber and his paid Greens Party advisors won’t admit it. Far better for them to just bash Labor.

  • 11
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    That’s a post hoc rationalisation. You should have said from the get-go that the money didn’t exist. Now the Minister is saying publicly that there will be at least two elections before the North-East link could be funded.

    I have been to Manningham which is why I know about the high quality DART bus service, which I discuss here. It seems you guys are the ones who don’t know much about it.

    I have given many reasons why neither of these lines should be a priority, not just the Government’s allegedly “cooked” numbers. See my comment above re the Public Transport Users Association’s assessment of the costings for the South Morang extension.

    The issue for the Greens ought to be what gives the best environmental, social and economic outcome for Melbourne. These two projects might tick some convenient boxes for the membership, but they fall down badly when analysed objectively.

  • 12
    Joseph
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    If you are thinking long term then I guess it is necessary to anticipate what transport may look like in 20 years +. And rail is a 19th century technology. Surely we can envisage a day when cars drive themselves and transport networks are optimised to reduce congestion and improve safety. In all likelihood cars (whether electric or other) and freeways are future proof.

    If you had $6bn to spend on a measure to improve the environment it would surely have to be shutting down brown coal power stations. But it seems populism trumps environmentalism.

  • 13
    Tim Baxter
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    No, it’s not post hoc rationalisation. As someone who was involved in the process for the creation of the plan, I can tell you that was the priority all along.

    We have different perspectives to the major parties and that is what we are demonstrating. We have practical plans to increase the modal share of PT by improving comfort, reliability, frequency, and accessibility of services in the East so that those who can’t, don’t need to or don’t want to be on the road don’t have to.

    That frees up the roads for freight, the infirm &c and makes projects like the North-East Link unnecessary. It also drives up the live-ability of Melbourne.

    The DART bus is a great service, but you’ve got to have rocks in your head if, on the basis of that, you think Manningham is ‘well served’ by public transport and would not benefit from more. Those bus services are a band-aid fix to a one hundred and twenty year old problem.

  • 14
    Tim Baxter
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    We have never backed away from the desire to shut down Hazelwood and similar plants as a priority. However, we are intelligent human beings capable of doing more than one thing at a time. This is one example of something we would do to improve Eastern Melbourne. This is the area where Damian, a driver of the plan, and myself (among others) are running.

    As for roads being the technology of the future: (1) the Romans had them; (2) LA is a nightmare will continue to be so for a long time; (3) Yes, it looked cool in iRobot when Will Smith was sleeping at the wheel of an Audi, but neither the fact that something is in a sci-flick, nor your bald declaration, makes something ‘future proof’.

    Individualised mobility in the form of a steel box on wheels is simply not sustainable for a future where energy conservation and efficiency are priorities. It is one of the least efficient ways that a person can get around.

    It just doesn’t make sense in the long term.

  • 15
    Tim Baxter
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Alex,

    What party do you support and advise and what party have you been consistently bashing over the past fortnight?

    Pots n Kettles, m’dear. Quit trying to be non-partisan for goodness sake.

  • 16
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t use the phrase “middle class welfare”. The rail system benefits CBD workers who on average have high incomes relative to the suburbs.

    A high proportion of inner city residents work in the CBD but most CBD workers live in the suburbs. The great bulk of suburban workers however work in the suburbs.

    Calling the rail system “corporate welfare” would be closer to the mark because it makes the high densities that those firms benefit from possible.

    The benefits for the rest of the city from the CBD might very well be enough to justify the subsidy, but then again most CBD firms can probably afford to pay their full costs and still find the CBD attractive.

  • 17
    Joseph
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Tim,

    I see now you are indeed a politician – you condemn my comment ‘in all likelihood cars and freeways are future proof’ as a bald declaration and then reply with ‘a steel box on wheels is simply not sustainable’!
    Freeways don’t mandate the type of vehicle that can travel on them and they are part of a network that allows for complete flexibility of route. Neither is true for rail. It is difficult to anticipate what future transport might look like but freeways allow for plenty of alternatives, rail doesn’t.
    As for your comments on brown coal power generation -’we are intelligent human beings capable of doing more than one thing at a time’ you may be able to do several things at once but you don’t get to spend the money twice. Your policy on power generation is vague – committed to phasing out brown coal power generation – but by when? with what? if replace with renewables how would you deal with unreliability of wind and solar power? and what would it all cost? It is shameful that Australia isn’t dealing with these issues and the Greens should be pushing this constantly and as far as I can see, they aren’t.

7 Trackbacks

  1. ...] a comment » In my last post about the Green’s election manifesto, a Public transport plan for Melbourne’s east, I [...

  2. ...] Alan Davies over at the Melbourne Urbanist has wtitten a more extensive post on this issue and has some lively comments, including from a Green Party member. Categories: Oz [...

  3. ...] dealt with the shortcomings of this idea last week (here and here) so I’ll just look at a claim made in The Age that the City of Manningham has low public [...

  4. ...] my review of the Greens’ Public Transport Plan for Melbourne’s East (here and here) some Green’s supporters have suggested that I should really look at the party’s [...

  5. ...] Victorian election – why have the Greens dug a black hole? 556 reads [...

  6. ...] got the hallmarks of populist policy, not rational policy. It reminds me of the same cynical pitch the Greens made to voters at the 2010 Victorian [...

  7. ...] argued before that a rail line to Doncaster can’t be justified for a whole host of reasons (here, here and here). At this price however, I’d have to seriously consider eating my words. The [...

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