Tuesday, 24 August 2021
It is with some level of bewilderment and frustration that I make this contribution this evening. It is a frustration I carry on behalf of commuters across greater Hobart, because, as anyone living in the greater Hobart area knows, traffic congestion in our city has been worsening for some years. So it was pleasing to see the federal government make a commitment, a promise, to the people of Hobart some 2½ years ago that they would invest serious dollars to alleviate—in fact, to bust—traffic congestion in our city. Yet it was an announcement that was received with some trepidation—unfortunately, as it turns out, rightly so.
The Hobart urban congestion package was first committed to by the then minister, Alan Tudge, on 22 February 2019. It was a package of $25 million that was meant to 'ease congestion and improve access in and around the city's northern suburbs'. That's according to the Morrison government's own media statement making the announcement. Now we know that announcements are something that this Prime Minister is particularly good at. He loves to make them, and that's fine. The problem we all have is not in the announcement but in the delivery, because it is this component of the commitment-making process that this Prime Minister has particular difficulty following through on. In fact, the overwhelming evidence to date is that he simply can't do it.
This particular project, something that amounts at this stage to nothing more than an announcement, is the perfect case in point, because here we are, 2½ years on from actually signing the Hobart City Deal, and the Morrison government still can't decide what to do with the $25 million earmarked for tackling urban congestion in Hobart's northern suburbs. In fact, we have learnt through the estimates process that there have been no fewer than eight meetings with relevant stakeholders in this time, yet nothing tangible appears to have come from any of them. Indeed, the latest announcement to come from government following the stakeholder meeting in May was for the commissioning of—wait for it—yet another study into the issue. It will be a further two months before discussions can progress following the results of the latest of several studies commissioned by the state and federal Liberal governments. They've certainly got the process of undertaking studies down pat; it's a pity they can't figure out how to do the actual infrastructure delivery part.
The government claims this study is a key part of progressing the project. It is strange, then, that it has taken eight separate stakeholder meetings and 18 months to reach this realisation. One would have thought that this kind of project scoping study would have been the very first thing you would have done for a project of this type. But, you see, even the federal government's own infrastructure department has recognised the painstakingly slow nature of the government's half-hearted attempt to make good on its promise. At estimates back in May, in response to questioning as to why it has taken so long to identify how this funding commitment might be progressed, the committee was told by departmental officials:
… I think we'll probably escalate this one a little bit more than we have so far.
… … …
To the extent that we haven't been able to identify projects within the budget for the congestion package, I think it's one where we'll have to have a pretty hardheaded negotiation with Tasmania and ensure that we get some projects identified soon for Hobart. That's something that we'll prioritise inside the department.
It has been 2½ years. Yet, when it comes to the urban congestion package, Hobartians are nowhere near knowing a time frame for the starting or the completion of this project, or, indeed, what this project even is.
This failure to deliver on infrastructure commitments in Tasmania has been laid bare repeatedly through the estimates process. In fact, 81 per cent of the Liberals' promised infrastructure spend for Tasmania is still in the in-planning phase. This simply isn't good enough, but it's classic Mr Morrison—big on flashy announcements and pretending to get things done, but when it comes to actually delivering on his commitment he leaves us all stuck in the slow lane. With Mr Morrison it's all talk, talk, talk, talk. Tasmanians deserve a government that will actually follow through and deliver on commitments. Tasmanians deserve a government that will build infrastructure and tackle congestion, a government that is on their side—an Albanese Labor government.