13/04/2015 - 05:10

Failure of rear-view policy

13/04/2015 - 05:10


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WA’s political leaders need to bite the bullet and start some bipartisan planning for the state’s future transport needs; and the public should support change.

Failure of rear-view policy

WA’s political leaders need to bite the bullet and start some bipartisan planning for the state’s future transport needs; and the public should support change.

THE debate around infrastructure is always about priorities.

As the kitty runs dry and politics becomes more partisan, just what should be built (and when) becomes more contentious.

Added to this is the sudden plunge in the resources sector ending a boom that created high demand for infrastructure, both for industrial needs around the state and for more lifestyle-oriented demands created by a surge in population.

While the former may be ebbing, the latter remains an issue; because even if Western Australia’s growth rate slows, it’s expected the state’s population will continue to rise for decades.

The question is, can we plan and fund the efficient rollout of infrastructure that we need if we’re to continue to attract people and investment to the state?

In the early 1950s, the Hepburn-Stephenson plan outlined how Perth would develop for the next 50 years. Despite some aberrations – both temporary and permanent – that strategy was largely adhered to and has served the metropolitan area well.

Such a plan is needed again, for Perth and key regional centres. In the case of the metropolitan area, it must seek to consider how the needs of growing population will change; and it will need to have some form of flexibility to take

account of changes such as climate or energy usage, which are difficult to accurately predict but can’t be entirely presumed from modelling.

It must be bipartisan, preferably with an agreed funding mechanism that won’t allow proper long-term planning to be derailed by short-term political decisions, as has happened lately.

The state needs to start planning ahead and everyone – even those opposed to growth – needs to accept that some things will be built before their time.

As Perth Airport executive general manager Fiona Lander so aptly states on page 14 of our feature: “Infrastructure takes a long time to build so you’ve got to try and keep ahead of the demand curve.”

If that means getting the planning completed, ready to go, in the case of export infrastructure such as new ports, then so be it. Such things need to be ready for the moment investors again see the need to buy more of our resources than we can supply.

And if that requires the extension of rail lines or building of new roads in Perth, then it needs to be done. But it must be done with a clear sequential plan to ensure the city works properly for everyone.

Those who recall being able to travel anywhere in Perth in 20 minutes similarly need to lower their expectations. Perth’s road system once had fewer cars than it could handle, that has changed irreversibly.

Part of that needs to be the way transport infrastructure is funded.

While motorists understand that public transport relieves the pressure on roads and makes driving more convenient, they also don’t want to be the ones paying for everyone else’s travel.

Business, too, should not be an easy target. Why should freight pay a toll when cars on a fancy highway to our holiday playground travel toll free?

There needs to be an underlying model that equitably deals with all transport costs and funding. That should not just be an intra-state issue. The fact that less than half of the fuel tax collected from WA motorists is returned to this state – a region with far a greater per capita road cost than most – is an example of inequity that must be dealt with.

The private sector must be part of the solution. Again, petty politics needs to be replaced by a bipartisan approach. Opposing privatisation might have proved a rich vein for Labor recently, but the left ought to be careful what it wishes for.

On the Gold Coast, the private sector has been heavily involved in the funding of a successful light rail development.

Blind opposition and the use of scare mongering might win votes, but it is a dangerous sort of short-term politics because it can create a damaging long-term mindset.

Of course, those opposed to growth at any cost don’t want to find solutions to these problems.

There are some who prefer that development comes at such a high cost that it is permanently discouraged.

That approach leads to stagnation and a long, slow decline in lifestyle. Many of the once-richest places in the world have discovered that living in the past creates more challenges than planning for the future.


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