Billions slashed from rail and road projects

The proposed Melbourne Airport train station isn't among projects facing the chop.

The proposed Melbourne Airport train station isn't among projects facing the chop. Photo: AAP

States have been blindsided by a Federal Government decision to slash $7 billion of major infrastructure projects across the country, including roads, fast rail and commuter carparks.

The Geelong Fast Rail, the Sydney to Newcastle faster rail upgrade, the Truro Bypass and the New England Highway project are among 50 projects that will no longer receive money from the Commonwealth.

The axe has also been taken to commuter car parks in Queensland and NSW, which were criticised in an auditor-general report and labelled as pork-barrelling by Labor.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk reacted vocally to news her state would lose nine projects worth $363 million, some of which were already underway such as road upgrades in booming cities like the Sunshine Coast and Townsville.

Palaszczuk labelled the cuts “outrageous” and said the review did not have Queensland’s support.

NSW and Tasmania also vented their unhappiness as they counted the cost of the Commonwealth belt-tightening on their communities.

The Federal Government is trying to rein in a $33 billion budget blowout which Infrastructure Minister Catherine King blamed on the previous Coalition government making a flurry of project promises with “insufficient funds”.

She said the Morrison government’s infrastructure budget legacy was “an absolute utter mess” and they had left behind a pipeline of projects that could not be delivered.

King said the cuts represented projects that were not realistically going to be delivered with the available funding, had made little to no progress over a significant amount of time, or did not align with national priorities.

“(The infrastructure review) painted a sad and frankly sorry picture of the health of our infrastructure investment pipeline,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“From now on, the Australian government’s investment infrastructure will focus on productivity, sustainability and liveability.”

King said the government had undertaken “considered consultation” with states and territories.

Though jurisdictions did not always agree, they had created a list of projects the Commonwealth will partner on, and there should be no surprises for state leaders.

“Every single state is getting a fair share of the infrastructure pipeline,” she said.

But state ministers across the country are seething.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said the move was a blow to his state and his government would not co-operate with the Commonwealth.

“Our message to Catherine King: treat Queensland more like Qantas and less like Qatar,” he wrote on X, in reference to critics’ questions about her preferable treatment of the Australian airline.

Tasmania’s Treasurer Michael Ferguson accused the government of abandoning rural areas of his state.

About 400 projects have survived the chopping block and are expected to be completed or substantially developed over the next 10 years including the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, the Milton Ulladulla Bypass and a Tasman Bridge upgrade in Hobart, with no overall cut to the $120 billion infrastructure pipeline.

The government is also tipping in additional funding to 11 projects, including South Australia’s North-South Corridor ($2.7 billion), Queensland’s Logan-Gold Coast Faster Rail ($1.75 billion) and Western Australia’s Metronet ($1 billion).

Some nearby projects will be grouped in “corridors” while others will have a business case developed while remaining cash is saved for future construction.

King said the new program was fit for purpose, fiscally responsible and deliverable, an improvement from the previous government’s plans where the number of infrastructure projects ballooned from 150 to 800.

Smoothing the infrastructure pipeline would also address inflation in line with recommendations from the International Monetary Fund.

But opposition infrastructure spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie said the government had “duck-shoved” responsibility to the states and attempted to wipe its hands of blame for delayed or cut projects.

“Projects designed to help haul freight more efficiently across the country, reduce congestion in our suburbs and build roads that get Australians home sooner and safer to their loved ones have been jettisoned,” she said on Thursday.

“Further cuts and delays are yet to be revealed, leaving local councils, communities, contractors and construction workers in the dark on whether their projects will go ahead any time soon.”

In a major funding overhaul earlier this week, the Commonwealth said it would contribute 50 per cent of major project funding going forward.

It previously fully funded projects or at an 80-20 split with states.

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