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Sunday, 1 November 2015

Perth Freight Link: Suspended or Dead in the Water

Premier Colin Barnett has a habit of white-anting his Ministers and hanging them out to dry (apologies for the mixed metaphors). Witness the appalling treatment of Local Government Minister, Tony Simpson, during the local government so-called reform process of 2014-15, when Simpson was still talking it up while the Premier was ready to run up the white flag.

In the case of the Perth Freight Link, this is far from the first time that he has left Transport Minister, Dean Nalder, red-faced and defending the indefensible. It raises the question, though, of how someone as closely-identified with the project as the Premier can say, now, that the PFL is "incredibly complicated, incredibly expensive for what it does" - when it was obvious to so many right from the start that this was so.

Add to that, the very real concern that "what it does" is not what is in the best interests of Western Australia - as evidenced by decades of bipartisan freight and port planning for Perth predicated on the development of an outer harbour container terminal.

Good to see, though, his finally acknowledging the need for the outer harbour container terminal and its relevance for the proposed PFL.

But Roe 8 is still a problem - and not only because of the destruction of valuable and irreplaceable wetlands. Roe 8 is a problem because, like the PFL itself it is a road to nowhere. In the absence of either PFL Stage 2 or a commitment to the Outer Harbour, Roe 8 will simply funnel more trucks onto roads that are already struggling to cope and still does nothing to create better (from everyone's perspective, not just the freight industry) access across the Swan River and into the port itself.

So what are we likely to see in 12 months, which will be only 4 months or so from the next election. It isn't likely that Barnett will resurrect PFL Stage 2 in an election campaign - except possibly to promise he won't build it and then, if he wins, turning round and doing just that (precisely what he did with forced local government amalgamations, so it wouldn't be the first time).

Even Roe 8 looks dicey for the 2017 election. Unless it is built really quickly (unlikely given that extensive stabilisation works will be needed across a wetland), the scar that is Roe 8 under construction will be a very visible running sore.

Still, if Roe 8 does get built, it will get used and will funnel more trucks to the Inner Harbour - and he could then argue that Stage 2 is needed because of the number of trucks accessing the Inner Harbour. In effect, we created a problem and now we need to build more to ameliorate some of this problem and create a bigger problem close to the port itself. Stranger things have happened.

What we need is for the federal government to withdraw funding from the PFL - it has the basis for doing so in that it is no longer the project it originally agreed to fund - and reallocate the money to other, more beneficial, transport projects in WA.


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