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Canberra Today 3°/9° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Ruined by tram costs, Barr must fall on his sword

Simon Corbell… Barr surrendered to his passionate enthusiasm for the tram.

The time has come for Chief Minister Andrew Barr to do the decent thing and fall on his political sword, says The Gadfly columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.

It pains me to say so, but all the alternatives are more damaging to the national capital’s body politic. 

Robert Macklin.

The reason for his political martyrdom is, of course, the tram. Barr surrendered to the passionate enthusiasm of former Attorney-General and Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell and tied his political future to the 19th century technology. 

It might have been an exciting new development when the Canberra designer, Walter Burley Griffin, included it in his plan. But that was 1911 and Griffin’s Canberra was for a city of a mere 10,000 residents.

Corbell’s enthusiasm was no doubt actuated by the threat of climate change and his advocacy was unquestionably heartfelt. Even when he retired from politics in 2015 he continued his quest for climate adaptation and defence. He remains a prominent member of the Clean Energy Investor Group whose mission “represents institutional investors in utility-scale energy projects”.

According to their official description: “The group represents institutional investors who have collectively funded Australian renewable energy projects with over $10 billion. Collectively, the Group currently expects to deliver over 5GW of Australian renewable energy projects in the near future. Our members include superannuation/pension funds, infrastructure fund managers, project developers and independent power producers.”

All of which are totally desirable aims and ambitions.

However, since 1911 public transport technology has made great strides in efficiency beyond the expensive tracks. 

Indeed, according to Peter Moore, the former executive director of the International Association of Public Transport (Australia/NZ), in a letter to the local press: “I was involved in an advocacy campaign to convince the ACT government to build a ‘guided busway’, network for Canberra. During the campaign a former [unnamed] ACT urban services minister visited Europe with our assistance to see guided busways in action.

“The network would have looked and operated just like a ‘tram’ and could have been largely built by modifying the existing road network. “That minister returned to Canberra convinced guided busways were the way to proceed; no doubt influenced by the cost to build such a network being ‘considerably cheaper’ than light rail and most importantly, the ACTION bus system could have evolved into an integrated ‘guided busway’ network.

“The legacy of the ‘tram decision’ is a forever financial burden for almost all Canberrans [who] cannot access the tram, and a bus system in decline… the tram going south has the potential to bankrupt the territory.”

Mr Barr will go to great lengths to avoid such a bankruptcy, including the “urban sprawl” that will turn the capital into just another haphazard debacle such as Junee or Wagga. 

Indeed, the process is underway with a health system in crisis, education starved of much needed funding, road repair on the cheap and horticulture suffering yet another season of neglect.

The Greens might well wish to continue to pursue the tram; but if so, the Labor Party should respond to the electorate free of the leadership that Barr represents. And if the Liberals, under Elizabeth Lee, wish to put an end to the whole disastrous travesty, so be it.

The effect would turn the election into a referendum on the tram.

It is, after all, the year of democracy. 

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Robert Macklin

Robert Macklin

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3 Responses to Ruined by tram costs, Barr must fall on his sword

Prof. B.M. Bodart-Bailey says: 3 April 2024 at 10:42 am

“Corbell’s enthusiasm was no doubt actuated by the threat of climate change and his advocacy was unquestionably heartfelt.” does not ring true. As I have stated earlier “… in September 2010 the Chinese automobile company BYD rolled out its BYD K9, one of the most successful electric buses. In fact, it was so successful that by 2013 the company started production at a plant in California to satisfy the demand of the North American market.” (CN 25.1.23: “‘Funny business’ on the way to the Assembly”) Anybody interested in ‘Clean Energy’ could surely not have ignored this fact. Corbell’s argument for the tram was a very different one. He opinioned “Northbourne Avenue is a key approach route, building more roads for more buses is not befitting for a national avenue like Northbourne.” (ABC News. 5.4.2016).
Then there is the question nobody seems to be able or willing to answer: why did Corbell choose the Spanish light rail unable to climb hills for the hilly terrain of the ACT? The Melbourne tram, assembled in Australia, and others have no problem to do so. When I ask this question, the answer is usually “The Spanish salespeople were better than the Chinese.”
We now know that Corbell’s choice is costing the electorate close to one billion dollars all told for a 1.7 km extension of light rail. A sum that would go a long way to reduce the endless waiting lists for medical treatment and housing in the ACT. How the light rail would manage the gradient between Civic and Belconnen is another unanswered question.

Hamba says: 3 April 2024 at 12:57 pm

The tram was the ‘ransom’ the Greens (specifically Rattenbury) demanded for forming government. Has anyone seen evidence that they’re willing to loosen their ideological grip on it even as all other government services fall into terminal decline?

cbrapsycho says: 5 April 2024 at 6:13 pm

What we see are politicians so wedded to their personal beliefs and their unwillingness to admit they were wrong, that they cannot move to a more practical solution. We need more flexible practical thinkers who embrace more modern technology, rather than being stuck in the past.

We need Canberra to be a better city for all, not just for the developers and people who live on the tram line, especially those who don’t pay rates and land taxes. We need good health and education systems as well as better public transport for ALL of Canberra, so people don’t need to rely on their cars so much. They need to be able to get home after a night out, without driving.


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