25/01/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Gallop may yet have more to regret

25/01/2005 - 21:00

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The headline of a story reporting Premier Geoff Gallop’s recent address to the WA Media Club read: ‘Gallop sorry on taxes as poll looms’.

The headline of a story reporting Premier Geoff Gallop’s recent address to the WA Media Club read: ‘Gallop sorry on taxes as poll looms’.

For the past four years journalists and some politicians have wondered what happened to his 2001 election promise not to boost taxes if he toppled the Court Government.

“In hindsight, the tax increases in our third budget were an error because economic growth proved to be much stronger than anyone predicted,” Dr Gallop told Media Club patrons.

Was he suggesting the Howard Government was responsible for his dishonoring that promise since the Federal Coalition had managed Australia’s economy too well?

If Mr Howard is not being blamed then perhaps Dr Gallop was belatedly reprimanding his treasury boffins for not being optimistic enough when assessing Western Australia’s economy.

Whoever he’s blaming for his dishonoring of a clear-cut and unambiguous promise, the explanation rested on what can only be described as carefully constructed wording that may have led some to believe he’d said sorry, whereas he did nothing of the sort.

Nor did he forget his two preceding budgets – 2001 and 2002.

Of these he said: “We had no choice but to increase taxes. Was it regrettable. Absolutely.”

In other words what the WA Media Club’s patrons got wasn’t an apology but rather a hard-line two-part defence for breaking a pre-election promise not once, nor twice, but three times.

Nor should his proclivity to use such carefully worded explanations be seen as isolated.

A week after his tax non-apology he put on a similar act about Perth’s derelict Victorian era railway yards that run through the CBD’s heart.

Long-time State Scene readers will recall a series of columns during 2002 and 2003 outlining how his government, via its Planning Minister Alannah MacTiernan, refused point blank to sink the Perth-to-Fremantle railway line from the Horseshoe Bridge to the Mitchell Freeway complex.

Perth Council established an expert railway committee, chaired by deputy mayor, Councillor Bert Tudori, which urged that the Perth-to-Fremantle line be so sunk so that the CBD and Northbridge were finally linked and WA’s capital city was no longer divided by an unsightly 11-hectare railway yard.

One of its expert members was Emeritus Professor Martyn Webb.

He said the committee’s report and conceptual plans, which included parkland, residential and business precincts, basically restated a 1911 rail-sinking proposal of then WA government architect, William Hardwick.

“Hardwick made it quite clear he never had confidence in the Railway Department favourably responding to his ideas,” Professor Webb said.

Both Councillor Tudori and Professor Webb relived Hardwick’s experience because Westrail, which was kept informed of the council committee’s work, constantly balked at sinking its ugly CBD lines from the Horseshoe Bridget and Mitchell Freeway.

And the Gallop Government backed Westrail with that refusal hidden behind ongoing meetings, interim and other committees, and alleged studies and assessments. All these were simply smokescreens for the refusal to sink the Perth-to-Fremantle line when the Government had a grand opportunity to do so because of its decision to bring the Mandurah-to-Clarkson line through the CBD via the Narrows Bridge, and by tunnelling below William Street from the river to the ugly railway yards.

Then, a week after Dr Gallop’s WA Media Club address, he issued a press release which carried the following headline: ‘Government unveils plan to sink rail, link Northbridge to CBD’.

In accordance with that headline its first paragraph read: “The Gallop Government today (21/1) unveiled a plan to change the face of Perth, linking Northbridge to the city by sinking the Fremantle line and opening up massive development opportunities.”

For a brief moment State Scene believed that, with an election coming Dr Gallop, at long last, saw the wisdom of the council’s railway committee, which recommended that the ugly railway yard should cease splitting the CBD by sinking it.

After all, that’s what the headline of Dr Gallop’s press release, ‘Government unveils plan to sink rail, link Northbridge to CBD’, said was to happen.

Or did it?

The second paragraph said: “Premier Geoff Gallop said the Northbridge Link Project would see the Perth-to-Fremantle line sunk to Lake Street, where the new Mandurah-to-Clarkson line would also emerge by 2010.”

So the Perth-to-Fremantle line would only go below ground for a quarter of the way between Horse-shoe Bridge and the Mitchell Freeway.

What of the remaining three-quarters of the Perth-to-Fremantle line in Perth’s CBD?

In other words, what of the equally derelict segments between Lake Street and Milligan Street, and beyond to Fitzgerald Street, all to way up to the Mitchell Freeway?

State Scene promptly called Dr Gallop’s media man, who said only the short section between the Horseshoe Bridge and Lake Street of the Perth-to-Fremantle line and the rail yard segment of the Mandurah-to-Clarkson line would be undergrounded.

After Lake Street, up to Milligan Street and beyond, that would eventually have a huge concrete slab covering it upon which other structures and walkways could be built.

In other words, the Perth-to-Fremantle line is not to be sunk so as to “link Northbridge to CBD” as Dr Gallop’s press release claimed but only partly sunk with most of the railway yard to be covered in 10 to 15-years’ time.

What’s said to be eventually envisaged – with the emphasis on eventually – is for a concrete wall along Roe Street, between Lake and Milligan Streets and beyond, something like the southern side of Perth’s Convention Centre.

It’s simply misleading to say the line is to be sunk when it’s proposed to eventually cover most of it.

The last paragraph of Dr Gallop’s press release says: “Delivery of the project would occur over the next 10-15 years.”

So don’t expect to see the envisaged concrete covering – not sinking  – of most of the ugly railway yards until after 2015 and before 2020.

To put that into context, remember that after the 2005 election there’ll be another in 2009, and another in 2013, and one in 2017.

So we’re talking of completion around the time of the 2017 election or four elections off.

That, of course, assumes this Gallop promise doesn’t go the same way as his 2001 one about no tax hikes.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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