Busways and big deficits
This weekend the Northern Busway Open Day (prior to its opening on Monday) was in true Aussie style: families and sunshine and sausage sizzles. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman cut the ribbon, but unfortunately I arrived too late to hear him claim any credit for this 2.5-km addition* to Brisbane's public transport infrastructure, built alongside part of the soon-to-be-completed Airport Link. He and Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Scott Emerson, provided some interesting numbers and busway facts: one busway lane can carry the same number of commuters as nine extra lanes on the Gympie Road (a main arterial road nearby); at peak times you will be able to catch a bus every three minutes, and off peak every 7-8 minutes; this new stretch of busway cost $444 million, took three and a half years to complete and employed 450 people; it combines 1.5 kilometres of tunnel with with on-road dedicated bus lanes, and has two new stations and 8 new bus stops.
We walked from Lutwyche Road station through a cut-and-cover tunnel to Kedron Brook. The stations in particular are well designed, spacious and pleasing on the eye.
When we first moved to Brisbane we marvelled at the profusion and high standard of public amenities: new bridges, a tunnel beneath the river and excellent ferry services; wonderful riverside walkways; public picnic areas, children's playgrounds, and facilities for fishers and fitness fanatics alike in green and pleasant surroundings. It appeared that no expense had been spared, and now it turns out it hadn't been. The new LNP state government has just announced details of an audit that suggests Queensland's economic health is in pretty dire straits – currently $62 billion in debt.
Queensland lost its triple A credit rating in 2009. The former Labor government spent beyond its means in order to improve education, health and infrastructure as revenues fell during the GFC. And then came natural disasters to put further strain on the public purse.
The audit is being carried out by former LNP federal treasurer Peter Costello, and he and state treasurer Tim Nicholls wore very grim faces as they announced their interim findings. (A full report on the economy will not be published until next February: why so long?) Combined with Campbell Newman's sensationalist analogy the other day of his and the treasurer's task of piloting a nose-diving plane (the economy), they were laying the groundwork for their disaster capitalism (see here) styled plans for this state over the next few years.
The worst of the doom-sayers this week compared Queensland's debt with that of Greece, which is preposterous. Even if the LNP's debt projections haven't been embellished, this state has more than enough projected income from mining to furnish its debt, however undesirable that may appear to voters, who seemed pretty pleased with their new busway yesterday.
*Brisbane's busway network extends for 27 kilometres. The Inner Northern busway goes from the CBD to the Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital; the Northern Busway stage 1 from the Women's Hospital to Windsor; this new busway (stage 2), from Windsor to Kedron Brook; and in the planning is a further stage from Kedron to Bracken Ridge. On average, a busway can carry more than 12,000 passengers an hour in each direction. Up to 50 million fewer car trips are made on Brisbane's roads a year as a result of busways being used instead: effectively, they halve the pollution that buses would normally produce if they were stopping at and starting in standard traffic conditions (these figures from the Queensland Government's media statement and busway brochure)