Senate debates

Thursday, 27 February 2020


Urban Congestion Fund

5:47 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I want to talk about the Urban Congestion Fund. This is a topic of particular concern to me, because a large number of my Tasmanian constituents live or work in Hobart, a city which has a growing problem with traffic congestion. A study in 2017 found that the traffic congestion in Hobart is the third worst in Australia, with drivers spending an extra 123 hours a year behind the wheel. The same study found that the annual cost to business of Hobart's congestion was around $80 million a year. This would be of no surprise to anyone in Hobart who has to drive into the city, because the frustration of crawling along clogged arterial roads, no matter which direction you're coming from, is becoming a far too common occurrence. It is not unusual at times to have traffic backed up along the Southern Outlet for a 10 kilometre stretch to Kingston, where my electorate office is based, and quite often it goes down even further.

Tackling this congestion is going to require substantially more than the $25 million received under the Hobart City Deal. The Morrison government's commitment to busting Hobart congestion is barely going to scratch the surface. The Urban Congestion Fund was announced as a means of tackling congestion throughout Australian cities, but it appears that, in the world of the Liberals and Nationals, some cities are more equal than others. Of the $3 billion distributed, $2.5 billion went to Liberal-held electorates as well as marginal electorates targeted by the coalition. Over 28 per cent of the funding, that is just shy of a third, went to just four Liberal-held electorates: Higgins, Deakin, La Trobe and Boothby. In contrast, 36 seats held by Labor received—guess how much of the fund?—zero. Zilch. Nothing. Zip.

So shameless was the government in its pork barrelling that the Prime Minister actually boasted in question time about the amount of money that went to just four Liberal seats. The $3 billion spend on the Urban Congestion Fund was then followed by $17 million in taxpayer funded advertising to tell Australians how good the program was! These road rorts are a supercharged version of the sports rorts saga. They've taken blatant politicisation of taxpayer funded programs to an absolutely epic scale, not just in terms of the amount of money that was involved, but also in terms of the brazenness with which those opposite doled out the money once again for their own political benefit. The program that was announced in the budget had no guidelines, no applications, and no process for funding decisions. There wasn't even an opportunity for local councils, state governments or other stakeholders to have input into the process. In the case of sports rorts the government at least began with an application process, and, initially, there was a clear set of criteria. With road rorts they haven't even pretended to be open. Once again there is no transparency. They haven't even pretended to have a rigorous, merit based process. There appears to be absolutely no rationale for how road rorts decisions were made, other than as a shameless exercise in vote-buying using taxpayers' money.

Even if the government had made a sufficient contribution to tackling Hobart's traffic congestion, we would still be waiting for concrete action. Just like the traffic in Hobart, work on implementing the Hobart City Deal, including transport measures, has slowed to a crawl. Hobart commuters who have been spending hours of their lives stuck in traffic are still waiting for the northern suburbs transit corridor study and the business case for the Derwent River ferry service. Frustrated Hobartians are sick of having their concerns ignored by the Morrison government just because they happen to live in safe electorates. Despite the ongoing traffic woes, Franklin and Clark keep being overlooked because they are not electorates held or targeted by the Liberals—I said to the federal member for Franklin the other day that maybe she should get her margin reduced a bit because I felt that Franklin was completely disadvantaged! But while congestion problems in Tasmania's capital are going from bad to worse, Hobart received a little over one per cent of the funding allocated to the Urban Congestion Fund. This government's blatant pork-barrelling has left my fellow Hobartians stuck in the slow lane, going nowhere very fast, and this government needs to— (Time expired)