Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Sydney infrastructure investment back on the table

While Tony Abbott wanted to be known posthumously as the roads prime minister on the back of his decision to fund the M4 extension and the link to the M5 in inner-western Sydney, it is turning out to be Malcolm Turnbull, perhaps, who will go down in history as the infrastructure prime minister. It's an odd conundrum but I think the recent talk about new debt for infrastructure has something to do with Mike Baird's popularity.

Baird won the March election this year with a comfortable margin, albeit against a roughly 5 percent swing to Labor, but came out of the contest with over 45 percent of the primary vote. A rail line to Rouse Hill had been originally mooted in 1998 but under subsequent Labor governments the plan was cancelled and reanimated and in 2011 when he won the state election, Barry O'Farrell made resumption of the project a major priority of his government. O'Farrell famously came unstuck over a bottle of Grange red wine in April 2014 but Baird, who replaced him in the top job in the state, went on to do well despite the large spending promises of his government. He also kept O'Farrell's promise to build a light rail line down George Street in the city and out to the University of New South Wales.

So if any government can claim to be friendly to infrastructure, it is the Liberal government of New South Wales. And the premier's continuing immunity to attacks from the left on account of the large quantities of spending says something both about Baird himself but even more about the dire state of infrastructure in Sydney.

It's a truism that it takes longer to get anywhere in Sydney these days on a weekend than it does during the weekday rushhour. I read something somewhere recently where someone was saying Bondi was a nice place if you live there. Getting around is just too hard. Taxis don't help, either. On Twitter yesterday someone I know complained about getting sicker in Sydney traffic in a taxi than during the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race, because of the constant acceleration and deceleration required due to the horrendous traffic.

The fact is that noone living in Sydney can stomach any attempt to block building of roads and rail. And the politicians know it. Baird knows it, and has done well on the back of going ahead with two important rail projects in the harbour city. And Turnbull knows it because he lives in Sydney, albeit in one of its tonier suburbs. Sydney is choking. The city is bursting at the seams. And infill development that is going ahead on the back of the 2013-2015 property boom is just going to make the urgency for better infrastructure more pressing. All those new apartments going up with people and their cars inside them. There's no time to wait.

I'll leave the last word to a friend of mine who lives in the inner west who takes a train to work in the city every workday. He has been banging on about now being the best time to borrow for infrastructure, for ages. Well, it looks like he was right all along. Now the politicians are starting to see global low interest rates as an opportunity to do something about the simply massive problem of getting around in Sydney.

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