NSW Labor’s only hope of survival is to start digging
In a state that dumps transport blueprints faster than premiers, it’s little surprise the NSW Government’s announcement of a multi-billion dollar infrastructure bonanza has been met with all the fanfare of Al Gore at a climate skeptics conference.
In what has become almost an annual spectacle for a government that has turned axing infrastructure projects into an art form, the last grand plan, a five billion dollar metro, has been unceremoniously tossed on the scrap-heap, with a new proposal cobbled together with little more than some blue-tac and sticky tape.
Back on the agenda after more comebacks than John Farnham are the north-west and south-west rail links, only now with increased price tags.
Along for the ride is a ‘Western Express’, which as far as I can tell is just like the previously-announced-then-dumped fast train proposal, only without any fast trains.
In fact, opening the papers it was hard not to feel a little like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day: trapped in a recurring nightmare with no hope of escape.
And that’s the problem for Kristina Keneally, and the back-room boys down in Sussex Street. The public, sick of spin and broken promises have simple tuned out, preferring to stick to the Biggest Loser where they are at least given some tangible outcomes.
Key to this failure is the fact that none of the major pledges would start construction until 2015, nearly a decade after the last major infrastructure projects were built, which not only requires Labor to pull two miraculous election wins from the hat, but also to survive countless transport “visions for the future”.
But there is a simple solution. Keneally, if she wants to have any hope of turning around the appalling polls which predict a wholesale slaughter of sitting members, needs to start building something, anything.
In fact, the more holes in the ground bristling with burly building workers on March 26 next year, the more chance Labor has of a come-from-behind win.
With 50,000 extra people moving into the city annually, it doesn’t take a genius to realise the situation on our bottlenecked roads and archaic rail network will only get worse without immediate action. And budget deficits be damned. When you are this far behind there is nothing to lose.
Keneally should be spending the next thirteen months with the cheque book out and spade in hand, hardhat on, turning sods for commuter car parks, M2 and M5 road widening projects, cycle paths, tram lines and the north-west rail link.
Better yet, she should look at some of the most integral projects that have been glaringly omitted from the Metropolitan Transport Plan, such as the missing rail link between Epping and Parramatta which not only opens up employment opportunities for people in the West, but would also deal with capacity constraints through Strathfield, allowing much needed additional services on other lines.
And while she’s at it, why not finally address the missing road link into the city, the M4 East. It will be hard to hold essential seats in Sydney’s west when increasingly commuters are spending a fortune on tolls, diverting along the M7 then down the M2 or M5 because it is almost impossible to get into the city from the west during peak times.
In fact, with the M4 toll being lifted in the last fortnight, it is serendipitous timing for a decision to finally finish this road and provide decent access to the city from the city’s west.
That takes care of the big projects, but it is equally important that Keneally hand some spades to local MP’s and get them out in the community targeting local black-spots, needy schools and hospitals, new fire stations, child care centres and any other projects that can get off the ground before the next election.
It’s a lesson Kevin Rudd is already learning the hard way; making grand promises provide great media for a day, but if you can’t or don’t deliver, voters will start to turn their backs. No army of spin doctors producing glossy blueprints of transport links that won’t start for a decade or more can win this election, only a can-do demonstration that Labor is best placed to deliver on health, education and transport - traditional Labor strong suits - will provide hope.
Keneally is still enjoying a brief honeymoon, but the clock is ticking and she only has 13 months to dig herself, NSW Labor and the state out of a mighty big hole.
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