Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson has welcomed the Queensland Government’s announcement that it will include $160.8 million towards the $780 million upgrade of the North Coast Rail Line in next week’s State Budget, but has questioned two key elements of the commitment.
The North Coast Rail Line from Beerburrum to Nambour is a single track and operates on an alignment established in the 1880s and has been desperately in need of duplication and upgrade for decades, Mayor Jamieson said.
“The State Government’s business case released in December 2016 forecast this project would cost $780 million and we have a commitment on the table from the Federal Government to fund half of this cost at $390 million,” said Mayor Jamieson.
“While I am pleased that the Palaszczuk Government is including $160.8 million in the next State budget, I am concerned there is no timing specified around when the funding will be available and – importantly – that it falls short of the $390 million that is required to match what the Commonwealth has already committed.
“This commitment may be enough to get the ball rolling, but quite simply, the residents of the Sunshine Coast expect that the project will be delivered in full and want to know when it will be delivered.”
Mayor Jamieson said that once again, it appeared that the Sunshine Coast was being used as a political football by other levels of government at the expense of the residents of this region.
“The commitment from the Palaszczuk Government of 20% of the funding required to upgrade what is their asset, is not sufficient - and particularly when the investment should have occurred years ago,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“I am very concerned that the once again, the Sunshine Coast has been left short.”
Mayor Jamieson questioned the State’s claims that because the North Coast Rail Line is part of the National Land Transport Network, it should be funded on a 80:20 basis between the Federal and State Governments.
“This 80:20 formula has been applied to national highways like the Bruce Highway. The North Coast Rail Line is State owned infrastructure,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“While I appreciate it was the Federal Government that sought to include the Beerburrum to Nambour corridor in the National Land Transport Network, I believe the Palaszczuk Government should be welcoming the $390 million commitment already made by the Commonwealth and coming to the table prepared to match it.
“At the end of the day, we do not want this project left in some form of limbo around a formula that as far as I am aware, has not been applied to rail projects elsewhere in Queensland.”
Mayor Jamieson also called on the Federal Government to provide some clarity on the timing of its $390 million commitment, given only $200 million of that amount had been included in the Federal Budget’s forward estimates for the next four years.
“On behalf of the 303,000 residents of the Sunshine Coast, I am calling on the State and Federal governments to get around the table as a matter of priority and get this sorted out once and for all, so that our region can have certainty that this project can proceed in full and with certainty.”
Major Jamieson also criticised what appeared to be a willingness to treat the Sunshine Coast differently to locations elsewhere.
“The reality is that if this was anywhere else in Queensland, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“The State Government has fallen over itself to invest heavily in infrastructure in other locations like Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Townsville and Cairns - but consistently baulks at doing so on the Sunshine Coast - and we have nearly double the population of either Townsville or Cairns.
“Our university hospital even had to be a public private partnership - unlike the Gold Coast University Hospital which was fully funded by the government.
“Given the strong performance of the Sunshine Coast economy in recent years and the level of investment and development that is occurring, the Queensland Government will be accruing a massive windfall in stamp duty and land tax derived from the work of council and its partners to strengthen the region’s economy and the investment by the private sector in the delivery of new residential and commercial property.
“As a result, the Sunshine Coast is effectively contributing to support the delivery of State infrastructure elsewhere.
“It is only fair that some of that windfall that the Queensland Government is accruing from the Sunshine Coast is invested back in the region’s infrastructure needs.”
Mayor Jamieson also highlighted that providing certainty to the North Coast Rail Line upgrade should be a precursor to a longer term commitment to an effective public transport solution on the Sunshine Coast.
“While the North Coast Rail Line upgrade and the potential for a Fast Rail solution are important in connecting the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane, we need to see investment in an effective suburban public transport network on the Sunshine Coast, given 90% of all vehicle movements are within the region,” Mayor Jamieson said.
“We have worked hard to create a region that has a high level of employment self-containment and this will only increase in the years ahead as projects like the Maroochydore city centre and the Sunshine Coast Airport expansion come out of the ground.
“For our region to function effectively and not fall victim to unsustainable traffic congestion and gridlock, we will need to see commitments to a public transport solution that will connect residents to where they live, work and access services here on the Sunshine Coast.”