Is the Avalon rail link Baillieu’s folly?Posted: August 1, 2011
In her famous book, The march of folly: from Troy to Vietnam, multiple Pulitzer Prize winning author Barbara Tuchman describes how governments sometimes persist, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, with policies that are against their own interests.
Ted Baillieu’s folly might be his Government’s unconditional election commitment to build a rail line to Avalon Airport. Handed the perfect opportunity to begin stepping backwards from the project by reports of Tiger Airway’s imminent withdrawal of all services from Avalon in favour of Tullamarine, the Premier was steadfast in his support for the Avalon link.
Although Tiger accounts for half of all Avalon’s airline business, the Premier is reported as saying that he doesn’t think a pull-out by Tiger would have any longer term implications for the airport. In another report, the Premier told The Age planning for the rail line would continue irrespective of what Tiger does:
The rail link is part of the development of Avalon and if you look at the numbers around Melbourne airport, there is going to be a need for a second international airport
No doubt there’ll come a day when Melbourne does need a second major airport, but as I’ve explained before, we’re a long, long way from that now. In fact spare airport capacity is one of the city’s great competitive strengths compared to arch-rival Sydney. If the Federal Government’s current investigations conclude that High Speed Rail between Sydney and Melbourne is viable, the warrant for a second major airport in this city would recede even further into the future. In any event, given the majority of Melbourne’s population lives south of the Yarra and will be for many years yet, it’s not obvious that locating an airport near Geelong would be the most sensible course to pursue.
Now is the time to be planning long-term for a future airport, not to be building the associated infrastructure – yet the Government has committed to starting construction of the Avalon rail link in its first term.
I’ve scratched around before for legitimate reasons to support this project and came up empty-handed. No one has offered a sensible or valid reason why it should be built, let alone why the tax payer should subsidise it. The only vaguely plausible justification I can think of might be the development of Avalon as an “inland port” for containers, but then the Freight Futures – Victorian Freight Network Strategy doesn’t mention Avalon and, of course, the Premier hasn’t mentioned this possibility either.
The Premier needs to show us the Government’s plans and analysis justifying why a second major airport is required and telling us when and where it’s needed. He also needs to show us the business case for building the Avalon rail link now, with a good explanation for why taxpayers need to contribute $100 million plus for construction, not to mention additional costs for operations.
In the absence of an explanation it is inevitable people will read all sorts of dubious motivations into the Government’s determination to proceed with this project. Otherwise the rail link could be known as Baillieu’s folly.
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