Public transport

Feb 25, 2014

Albanese: “public transport is the low-hanging fruit”

Guest writer Anthony Albanese says Melbourne Metro, Brisbane Cross-River Rail, Perth Airport rail link and Adelaide's Tonsley Park public transport project all warrant Commonwealth funding

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

What Melbourne Metro might look like if the Victorian Government is really serious about routing it via Fishermans Bend and Port Melbourne (source: some wag)

Guest writer Anthony Albanese is the Federal Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism: (1) 

“In the never-ending search for the productivity gains that drive jobs growth, public transport is low-hanging fruit.

Traffic congestion is a hand brake on productivity. Ease congestion and you can secure stronger productivity growth. That means jobs.

It’s up to governments – all governments – to fight for the productivity gains that can be secured from delivering integrated transport systems utilising efficient roads, railway lines, ferry services and light rail systems.

Those integrated systems take account of moving both freight and people.

This isn’t rocket science.

But it is somehow lost on Tony Abbott, who is planning to strip billions of dollars out of the Commonwealth Budget which had been earmarked by Labor for public transport projects.

Mr Abbott insists that states build railways and that the commonwealth should “stick to its knitting’’ and spend only on roads.

As a result, major public transport projects are falling over like dominoes across the country.

The Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail project, Adelaide’s Tonsley Park public transport project and the Perth Airport link all received budget allocations from the previous Labor Government.

But Mr Abbott has already indicated he will cut the funding because of his ideological distaste for investing in rail.

This will hurt commuters – whether they drive or use existing public transport – and it will have even more serious consequences for productivity growth.

The consequences of Mr Abbott’s attitude are playing themselves out right now as state governments scramble for ways to improve their public transport systems without the benefit of commonwealth investment.

In Brisbane, Premier Campbell Newman has designed a second-rate alternative to the Cross-River Rail project – one that cannot begin to deliver the same level of benefits as the original plan.

In Melbourne, Premier Denis Napthine, a one-time supporter of the Metro, is now looking for cheaper, alternative routes even as he and Treasurer Joe Hockey are promoting infrastructure investment as a way to create new jobs for displaced car workers.

In Perth, Treasurer Troy Buswell, facing heavy pressure on his own budget, said recently that he could not fund public transport projects without commonwealth assistance.

There is a common feature about all of these projects which Mr Abbott has refused to fund: They would all boost the economic productivity of their respective cities.

In recent days, as Mr Hockey chaired a meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bankers in Sydney, he argued strongly for infrastructure investment as a means of driving global growth.

He’s right. But even as he champions infrastructure investment, he is framing a budget that withdraws infrastructure investment in the very area where productivity gains are easy pickings – public transport in cities.

In their quest for budget savings, Mr Hockey and Mr Abbott are selling out long-term economic growth in favour of what they see as the political gain in cutting any spending associated with the previous Labor Government.

But the public transport projects were funded in a Labor budget that was also designed to return to surplus in the same length of time that Mr Abbott says he will deliver a surplus.

Mr Abbott’s position says more about his lack of vision than his fiscal rectitude.

In his heart, Tony Abbott does not like public transport. In his book Battlelines, he wrote that it was:

  • … generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable … a hideous drain on the public purse.
  • …there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.

Mr Abbott also wrote that many people:

  • “underestimate the sense of mastery that many people gain from their car. The humblest person is a king in his own car…. For people whose lives otherwise run largely at the beck and call of others, that’s no small freedom.

The humblest person might be king or queen in his or her own car, but this regal vibe will fade in the face of worsening traffic congestion.

Coalition governments have never favoured public transport.

Neither does the Coalition see a role for itself in providing national leadership in urban policy.

Efficient cities can drive gains in economic productivity and job creation. Conversely, inefficient cities can be a drag on economic and productivity growth.

But Mr Abbott has no urban policy.

Upon taking office, he abolished the Major Cities Unit, which was responsible for working with the states to develop integrated policies for urban growth that covered public transport, town planning, employment and sustainability.

This highlights the basic flaw in Mr Abbott’s approach to public transport and cities policy: he doesn’t understand that these issues are not just about amenity, but also about economic development.

And for a man who claims the economy is his main concern, that’s a very unsophisticated and self-defeating approach”.

Should Tony Abbott fund urban public transport? Vote at Town Hall.


  1. Mr Albanese asked if he could put forward his view on The Urbanist and I’m happy to oblige. Needless to say, I’m equally happy to publish appropriate articles from other major parties on transport and infrastructure issues. See contact details in About This Blog.
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6 thoughts on “Albanese: “public transport is the low-hanging fruit”

  1. Shaun

    Apparently @mook, that quote from Thatcher is misattributed:

  2. wilful

    Good article, Albo, great comments Michael.

  3. Alan Davies

    Still hoping the Government will take up my invitation to respond to Anthony Albanese in these pages but haven’t heard a peep. In the meantime, here’s Deputy PM Warren Truss dishing it up to Albo in The Australian today (h/t michael r james).

    Albo’s infrastructure model has failed

    WHEN Anthony Albanese set up Infrastructure Australia in 2008 he made it his personal lapdog, largely answerable to him.

    IA was sidelined on any real decision-making, forced to play catch-up and chase its tail to justify projects Labor had already announced without consulting its expert advisory body.

    Labor’s road and rail funding projects, its big-spending response to the global financial crisis, its infrastructure election promises, were all announced without being fully assessed by IA.

    Headline projects such as Darwin Port, Sydney’s West Metro and Adelaide’s O-Bahn had to be scrapped when assessed in the light of day.

    Albanese never asked IA to investigate Labor’s biggest ever infrastructure project, the $70 billion NBN fiacso.

    IA worked diligently assessing which projects from state and territory lists had the most advanced business cases – not which were the best projects – all after the government had already decided which projects would be built.

    Labor’s IA was neither independent nor transparent and it played no significant role in guiding government decision-making. That’s why change is needed. The Liberal-National government is now moving to enshrine certainty, transparency, focus and a national purpose in infrastructure planning, development and delivery.

    These are precisely the factors that will build confidence, attract investment and encourage innovation and strategic planning to deliver Australia from an infrastructure deficit that nobbles our productivity and growth.

    The changes upon which Albanese rains such bluster and bile, will, for the first time, give IA an independent board with a chief executive officer answerable to the board. IA will be separated from the department and will control its own budget and work program, making it truly independent.

    In more firsts, IA will be charged with developing a rolling 15-year infrastructure plan for Australia. IA will be ahead of the game, not trying to catch up after decisions have already been made. It will also undertake five-yearly evidence-based audits of Australia’s infrastructure assets, developing top-down priority lists at national and state levels, and evaluate both economic and social infrastructure proposals over $100 million in value, which seek commonwealth funding. Their work will go beyond transport and include all commonwealth projects, except Defence.

    IA will also be required, by legislation, to publish the justification for prioritising projects, including benefit-costs analysis.

    This will give planning certainty to industry and ensure public funding is used to deliver the infrastructure projects our nation needs most, when we need them.

    I acknowledge Albanese’s role in establishing IA but his model has not worked. I am disappointed he now seems to be determined that no one else should make it better.

    Under Albanese, IA was not given the leeway to achieve its purpose of fundamentally changing the way projects are identified as national priorities. That is why our reform policy was so welcomed by industry groups when it was announced before the election.

    The Coalition is united in its goal to be an infrastructure government. We are putting in place the foundations on which to build our infrastructure of the future.

    IA’s role is pivotal in our strategy to lift Australia’s productivity. IA needs to be more than a post box for unfunded projects or a commentator on decisions already made.

    We maintain that IA should take a more proactive role in identifying our infrastructure needs at a national level.

    Our reforms will give IA the ability to focus its efforts on the national infrastructure task and advise governments on what Australia needs to unshackle constrained economic productivity.

    The government will also charge IA with examining crucial and pressing policy issues, recognising that projects or initiatives do not necessarily stand in isolation. This is crucial for rural and regional projects that may not have a direct link to national productivity, but are vital to those communities.

    We have set in motion a new and more focused way forward for IA to determine its own destiny and provide the advice that governments need … not just what they want.

    A clearly articulated plan will assist both the public and private sectors to deliver projects, including co-ordination of the investment, skills and resources required.

    With the chorus of support for strengthening IA so loud and clear, Albanese may as well be talking to the passing traffic. It may not have sunk in yet, but voters, industry and, now, IA are leaving his whims and Labor’s failures behind. The new government is getting on with important reforms to get our infrastructure priorities identified well ahead of time and aligned with our national infrastructure needs.

    Warren Truss is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.

  4. michael r james

    It has become obvious why Albanese wanted Crikey to run his piece, with Warren Truss’ article in today’s Australian:

    [Albo’s infrastructure model has failed
    Labor’s IA was neither independent nor transparent and it played no significant role in guiding government decision-making. That’s why change is needed. The Liberal-National government is now moving to enshrine certainty, transparency, focus and a national purpose in infrastructure planning, development and delivery.]

    Truss writes with the utmost hypocrisy, talking about “independent and transparent”. Sure, like his government’s closing down the scientific and independent Climate Change Authority, appointing a climate denialist (Dick Warburton) to the enquiry on RET, several other climate denialists (David Murray, Maurice Newman) to other “independent” enquiries. And Business Council head Tony Shepherd to lead the sham Commission of Audit. And Tim Wilson of the IPA to the Human Rights Commission which he frankly admits he wants to close down. And we shouldn’t even mention the “transparency” of Operation Sovereign Borders!

    But one thing is totally transparent when it comes to infrastructure: Tony Abbott has already decided he plans to only fund roads, roads and then more roads. Is Truss seriously trying to tell us that any of his reformulated bodies (whether IA or others) is going to produce advice contrary to Abbott’s? And we have a mountain of evidence that even if they did, Abbott will simply sweep it away. It is going to be a close-run thing whether Abbott will approve the Badgery Creek plan for Sydney’s second airport, despite the overwhelming case for it, and apparent support from Joe Hockey and other Liberals.
    Incidentally Truss’ article has no provision for reader comments (and of course even if it did, there would be zero chance of a comment like mine getting past their censor). so fair enough for Albo to get his piece out in Crikey but it yet again reveals the huge built-in bias of the media in Australia.

  5. mook schanker

    Probably thinks like Thatcher, as she once said,’Any man who rides a bus to work after the age of 30 can count himself a failure in life’…

  6. michael r james

    It is barely credible that in the 21st century a national leader can hold such uninformed views. It reflects how superficially PM Abbott must interact with the world. Even shallow browsing of any of a very considerable literature on city transport, anti-congestion strategies and urban development would reveal that the world’s experts hold diametrically opposite views to his. One would have to live in an extraordinarily insular milieu to hold such strange opinions but it seems that is exactly what a certain type of politician does, as discussed in a recent Slate article: Why do conservatives hate trains so much?

    On economic relevance one only has to look at the top five economic entities in the world: Tokyo, New York City, London, Los Angeles and Paris. This rating is on economic activity of these metro regions, but they also rate top on competitiveness, educational and cultural criteria. Contenders are Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai.

    What do all these cities, with the possibility of one exception, share and that one might reasonably conclude is a correlate or pre-condition of a winning formula? Not sheer size. Singapore and Hong Kong are not mega-cities, and in fact London and Paris also barely qualify compared to the emerging mega-cities of Asia and elsewhere. Obviously the common element is an impressive public transport system, or more specifically a vast integrated transport system of which rail-based public transport is the heavy-lifter of personal mobility. NYC is at the undisputed (for the moment) peak of this list and has over 55% of all people journeys on PT across all 5 boroughs (and much higher in Manhattan). Does our PM think New Yorkers are wimps?

    But what about the possible exception on the list, Los Angeles, historically the world poster city for the car? Well, it turns out it is not such an exception at all. For close to 2 decades LA has been building (or rebuilding) hundreds of kilometres of Metro, at great expense and rather painfully slowly. The full impact on mobility and traffic congestion is yet to be felt (LA remains the most congested city in the US but Atlanta and Houston will soon displace it) but the next decade is likely to see a big effect as the network matures. In fact LA stopped building freeways in the 1970s with the only new one being the Century Freeway linking the airport, which was built in the late 90s when it was facilitated by agreement to put the extension to the Green Line Metro on its median.

    One can also note clear absences from the list of top cities as economic entities: none of the US sun-belt cities like Houston, Phoenix, Dallas or Atlanta though some of these cities are belatedly also beginning to address their horrific congestion and mobility issues. Texas is even enthusiastic about a HSR to link their four major cities into a mega-economic unit. The American cities next on the contenders list are Chicago and Boston, both with extensive rail PT networks.

    So, there is simply no fig-leaf for our car-loving PM.

    On the other hand, the city with the ambition to displace all of the top 5, Shanghai, is furiously building the world’s largest Metro system. Comparable cities, in terms of size, like Mexico City, Mumbai or Sao Paulo while being economic engines in their regions are being strangled by their road-based transport systems.

    One wonders how a politician could choose the city model other than the one which is unanimously associated with success.

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