Time to get moving on Unanderra station

MERCURY NEWS Photo shows at the Unanderra Train Station rally. Photo by Georgia Matts 17/06/2017
MERCURY NEWS Photo shows at the Unanderra Train Station rally. Photo by Georgia Matts 17/06/2017

Were it not for a few pipes and cables Unanderra station would probably have three lifts almost a decade ago.

Back in 2009, the then-Labor government committed $11 million to build the lifts.

A year later, the discovery of water, gas and signalling cables where the lift pits were to go put a hold on the project – and increased the cost to $16.5 million.

In 2011, with work on the lifts still stalled, Labor lost power to the Liberals, who soon set about reassessing the way funding was allocated to transport projects.

Had those cables not been in the ground in the wrong spot, then the lifts would have been under construction when Barry O’Farrell’s government came to power.

It’s hard to imagine funding being pulled if construction was well under way.

Alas, it wasn't and so the new government took away the money that had been earmarked for Unanderra station and spent it on other projects.

The government’s thinking behind the reallocation was to create an evidence-based approach to funding work like station upgrades.

That way, the money would go where it was needed the most, not where there was a government MP with a perhaps tenuous hold on their seat.

In principle, it’s an idea that has merit – basing decisions on clear unbiased evidence is always a better than pork-barrelling when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money.

However, it doesn’t seem to be working in practice. Not when the government's own criteria shows Unanderra is 11th on the priority list but has seen not one, not two but three staitons ranked below it jump the queue and get approved an upgrade in the last 12 months.

Two of those three stations – Glenbrook and Como – are in electorates held by Liberal MPs.

One key problem with the way upgrades are chosen is that it is not transparent – rankings of stations are not made publicly available by the government and it is hard to get a straightforward explanation for why Unanderra keeps getting overlooked.

These factors make it hard to see this process as more driven by politics than evidence.

The government should be upfront with the people of the Illawarra and explain why Unanderra keeps missing out and, most crucially, offer a timeline for when we can expect things to happen.

This story Time to get moving on Unanderra station first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.