Stuck in limbo

File photograph



MILLIONS of dollars of road upgrades in Gippsland are in limbo after a federal government audit that found a $33 billion blowout in infrastructure costs has led to funding cuts for road and rail projects, according to the Nationals MP for Gippsland, Darren Chester.

About 100 Victorian projects, including upgrades to the Great Alpine Road, were included in the review of 738 projects under the federal $80 billion Infrastructure Investment Program, the Weekly Times reported. The government said the overruns meant it could not afford any new projects for a decade, the WT said. It blamed the former Coalition government’s ‘press release’ projects that would never be delivered for the clogged program.

Mr Chester said the results of the review meant that any project in Gippsland that had not started construction was now on hold.

“If construction has not started, there will be no work,” he said. However, the final stage of the Traralgon-Sale duplication was three-quarters finished.

It was also unclear how much unspent money was in the program and where the alleged cost overruns had come from.

“There is no guarantee the money is still there and will be spent,” he said. “The projects are in limbo.”

Mr Chester said he was concerned that more than $30 million of planned road safety works in Mallacoota, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale and Sale would not proceed.

“The signs which proudly announced road safety works scheduled to occur have disappeared because everything has been put on hold and the road authorities have no idea whether the work will ever be supported by the Labor party,” he said.

For example, the Mallacoota-Genoa Road was continuing to fall apart while the community waited on the federal Minister for Transport, Catherine King, to deliver a promised $10 million upgrade.

“Sections of the road have been neglected since the Albanese government was elected last year,” Mr Chester said.

“We have no idea whether the money will be delivered, despite the fact that our region was severely impacted by the Black Summer bushfires and this road was a major problem during that disaster.”

Locals and visitors would face another fire season with a poorly maintained road. “The whole point of the $10 million funding was to improve safety and increase the resilience of this transport corridor to reduce the length of closures due to storms and fires,” Mr Chester added.

Mr Chester said the government had stipulated that projects of national significance would not be affected.

“However, will a traffic light on a high crash intersection that would save lives be funded? It may not be deemed of national significance,” he said.

“It’s important that a corridor like the Princes Highway is deemed of national significance.”

From a regional Victorian perspective, Mr Chester said he was aware of the level of dysfunctionality and bureaucratic busk-passing that had become entrenched in the state-federal infrastructure program.

“Lives are being lost and much-needed productivity and connectivity gains are being sacrificed while bureaucrats fail to reach agreement on funding contributions and profiles for projects which have overwhelming community support,” he said.

Mr Chester said he feared the review had put at risk projects that he had been working on to improve the infrastructure outcomes for Gippsland for several years.

“There is not a single major infrastructure project under way in Gippsland that was funded by the Labor government,” he said.

“I have not been able to get a straight answer for 18 months. I will press for more information.”

The government says it is finalising a new plan that is expected to be released before the end of the year so that the new information can be fed into the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook due by the end of January.

The Weekly Times reported that projects are being evaluated not just on scale but also the importance of smaller projects valued at $5 million or below. These relate to importance to tourism, improving road and rail and connecting supply lines.

WT said road safety projects were expected to be protected from any carve-up.