Where there's a political will...

12/12/2007 - 22:00

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No wonder people get cynical about politics.

For a couple of years I’ve wondered why the state hasn’t funded the coast road between Lancelin and Cervantes, the last element of a stretch of secondary highway which carries the romantic title of Indian Ocean Drive.

As someone said to me last week, it was a no-brainer, to use an Americanism.

Barely 65 kilometres of road, it will open up one of Western Australia’s growth tourism areas.

Importantly, the route does two key things by saving drivers more than an hour of travel from the Perth CBD to Cervantes.

Firstly, it makes the Pinnacles an easier day trip from Perth.

Secondly, it diverts less urgent traffic off the busy Brand Highway trucking route, so there’s a safety bonus as well.

If those weren’t compelling reasons, then how about the money?

The $110 million committed last week would have been less than half that amount a few years ago, but even so, the rise in property prices with the resulting land and conveyancing taxes is expected to more than pay this amount off.

In 2003, the Wheatbelt Development Commission instigated an analysis of state tax revenue potentially driven by the full opening of the Indian Ocean Drive.

Modelling by Pracsys in the report suggests that a new road then would have generated more than $35 million in additional tax revenue for the state over its first decade of life.

The report said that, over 10 years, almost $30 million in stamp duty on land sales would be generated as a direct result of the new road.

This was in addition to an extra land tax of $3.3 million and additional duties on mortgages of almost $2 million.

While these sums pale into comparison against the $110 earmarked for the road, it must be remembered that property prices have risen exponentially in the past four years, which would most likely push up the government tax take from land transactions, possibly in line with the increase in construction costs.

Anyway, local businesses reckon the government has already benefited from this revenue, with a wave of investors in the area prompted by earlier promises of the road having generated quite enough stamp duty on their own. Some have been forced to quit their investments because the wait was too long.

Other taxes are also expected to rise with the influx of new businesses and operators.

Payroll tax, for instance, would grow by $1.4 million per annum within 10 years if the road were put in.

If it’s all so simple, why has it taken years for someone in government to find all this compelling enough to find the money to get the job done?

It hasn’t been for lack of lobbying, from what I hear.

Two successive premiers – and Alan Carpenter should be congratulated for making this decision – have been personally presented with the facts by businesses wanting to invest in the region.

The shires of Gingin and Dandaragan have also pleaded the case, and even the state government’s own Tourism WA put the project at the top of its infrastructure needs list.

So why did this take so much effort in this time of plenty?

While very glad to hear about the funding, some local sources I spoke to are very cynical about the delay, and remained sceptical about whether the money would come this time, despite the announcement coming from the top.

The cynicism stems from the political make-up of the region, with the area of concern pretty much considered safe Liberal territory.

The region is in the state electorate of Moore held by Liberal Gary Snook and the federal seat of O’Connor, retained recently by Liberal strongman Wilson Tuckey.

This, it seems, has been a key reason, according to many, why the money has been slow to trickle towards the road project.

I might be naive, but I’d be disappointed if this was true.

While I believe any sort of pork barrelling is wrong, I expect it more where there is a decision to place infrastructure that could be placed elsewhere. While I reckon the Education Department should decide where schools go and the Health Deparment ought to locate hospitals, I’d be innocent in the extreme if I didn’t believe there was a little jockeying among regions to win this kind of development.

Whether a police station is in one town or another matters – there are always going to winners and losers in that respect.

The Indian Ocean Drive is above that.

It’s a key piece of state infrastructure that isn’t going to just benefit a few locals.

From what I hear, Labor’s Shane Hill, the member for Geraldton, who beat Bob Bloffwitch in 2001 to grab the seat, may have made the difference. If so, good on him.

Perhaps it took a Labor member, no doubt keen to hang on to his seat in a state where federally the Liberals actually won seats, to persuade his colleagues of the importance of this road.

That simply underscores the great regional importance of this project. The piece of road we are talking about is hundreds of kilometres from Geraldton, but even there its value can be recognised.

It’s a shame that, if indeed this is the case, it takes a local member to make this happen when collective industry, community groups, local government, departments and all their bureaucracy can’t drum sense into our political leadership.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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