N.B. This is my first political blogpost. You have been warned…

Rail loop map

Photo credit: Suburban Rail Loop Authority

An article from The Age regarding the viability of the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) has recently been brought to my attention… I’ll quote a few sections below;

A powerful coalition of transport groups, councils and planning academics is urging the Andrews government to prioritise a long-promised rail tunnel connecting Melbourne’s north and west suburbs over its ambitious Suburban Rail Loop.

…the government said it was pressing on with the Suburban Rail Loop, after it took the plan to last year's election.

A hit with voters, the project was conceived in secret within an agency called Development Victoria. The state’s transport bureaucracy knew nothing of the plan until moments before Mr Andrews posted about it on Facebook.

Before I go on, I must disclose that I regularly travel along the SRL’s effectual footprint, but not Metro 2. The SRL would be of enormous benefit to me, where-as Metro 2 would be of little. In saying that, I believe it’s fundamentally irresponsible of the Andrews’ Government to not produce a formal and reasoned retort to the concerns raised by this transport coalition, as from an objective perspective their concerns are very real and valid.

Over time, this government has produced brilliant infrastructure decisions – decisions which have indeed absolutely trumped the decisions of the Liberal-National state government prior. What in my opinion has validated these decisions in absolutes is the level of transparency at which they have occurred; it’s clear to understand why this government is removing so many level crossings, why they cancelled the East-West Link to fund the Metro Tunnel instead, the North-East Link, and so on.

In my opinion, this is the core appeal of the Andrews’ Government. Victorians are sick of infrastructure neglect and damage from Liberal governments on both levels, state and federal. From the plain destructive actions of Kennett in the 90s, to the almost-complete lack of action altogether from Baillieu/Napthine, Victorians have constantly seen their state receive the short end of the proverbial infrastructure stick – even though the state’s capital city has seen the highest recent population growth in the country.

The state reacted so positively to Andrews in the 2018 State Election for seemingly one simple reason – the people saw him and the Labor government he had been leading as the first government in a long time to “get things done”, to actively advance Victoria where it so sorely needs it. There’s a reason why his government has had an almost obsessive focus on rail infrastructure – one only has to compare Melbourne’s rail network to Sydney to see how badly Victoria has been lagging behind. And whilst I doubt the average Victorian has been considering that when deciding their vote, they certainly would be considering the monumental improvements that have been brought forward so far, as well as the Government’s exceptional ability to deliver on the promises underlying those infrastructure developments.

But one thing that the government shouldn’t lose sight of is trust – and that is what underpins all of this. I may just be naïve, but as a political character himself, I do find that Daniel Andrews seemingly exudes a considerable amount of trust that in recent times, has become relatively uncommon in politics. It’s a level of trust to the point that he was able to successfully fend off a crime-based scare campaign by State Liberals in the 2018 election; keeping the whole election message steadily focused on infrastructure, policy which the Liberals had very, very little of.

I’d say trust in this domain is primarily built upon two core concepts, keeping promises and speaking facts. And the fact is that a lot of Andrews’ infrastructure decisions in so far have been based on clear reasoning; the East-West Link really didn’t make any sense, both in the face of not spending that money fixing crippling congestion on the Cranbourne-Pakenham lines, as well as its monumental 56-year pay off time. Skyrail really wasn’t really as big of an issue as it was made out to be. The list continues – the take-away being that every major infrastructure decision has followed relatively clear logic, planning and promises.

This pattern has been disrupted with the Suburban Rail Loop. The project, seemingly fashioned out of thin air within the last few months of the election campaign by Development Victoria, was kept entirely secret – without any external review from industry bodies such as Infrastructure Victoria, and seemingly even without any internal communication from the Department of Transport. In fact, none of the leaked PTV plans from last October even include the SRL. On a surface level, it doesn’t instil a whole lot of confidence about the plan, and the Government rightfully received criticism from the Opposition on this point.

I find it especially concerning that when The Age questioned the Government on why exactly it’s focus was on the Suburban Rail Loop, and practically no planning was being put on Metro 2, a very out-of-character, and almost fallacious response was received;

A spokeswoman for Ms Allan said: "We’re getting on with the massive pipeline of election commitments we promised Victorians to get them where they need to go safer and sooner.”

Dodging the question is not how you build trust, and this is certainly not the quality of reasoning that we’ve come to expect from this government so far. Again, call me naïve. On a surface level, I’d love to have the Suburban Rail Loop – and I’m sure that there are very real reasons for building it. However, when so many independent, bipartisan groups are clearly saying another project is deserving of higher priority, a real answer needs to be given.

Does this affect my opinion on State Labor? Ever so slightly, specifically on infrastructure. Will it change my vote? Everything in this domain is relative. Whilst this dithering on the SRL and Metro 2 doesn’t instil confidence, their track record on infrastructure is still almost absolutely pristine compared to the Opposition. I’m willing to be patient – a fast, orbital transport network for Melbourne will eventually need to be built, and the sooner, arguably, the better.