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Planning an Olympics? Remember the hole that took over a decade to dig


That original $14 billion rail project was expected to be part-funded by the Federal Government’s $20 billion Infrastructure Australia fund. Yet it did not survive the feasibility studies, four changes of premier and five changes of prime minister. Successive Coalition governments in Canberra refused to fund Queensland’s folly (federal Labor was supportive but never in a position to do anything about it).

In the end, Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government decided in June 2017 to fund the $5.4 billion project itself, knowing it would need a little help from their friends in the private sector.

After an election win gave Labor a mandate to proceed, tenders were called in February 2018 and the Pulse consortia including Ghella, Unity and Hitachi Rail was chosen in April 2019. The digging started in May 2020.

Cross River Rail was long derided as a Queensland project, but may also become a success story. The question is whether it gives any indication to how infrastructure will be proposed, argued, funded and delivered ahead of the Olympics.

As the 2022 federal election draws closer, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s margin is tight and the Coalition needs to keep its Queensland seats. Is there a medal in infrastructure?

There will three further federal elections after the 2022 poll because the federal government has three-year terms. Queenslanders have another election in 2024 and 2028, then a third after the mid-year games in November 2032.

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One lesson of Cross River Rail is the complexity and delays in providing large infrastructure projects when there is no matching federal and state government support. There is just over a decade to deliver a suite of projects for the Olympics – and our biggest test to date has taken 14 years.

State and federal authorities do not yet have a transport and infrastructure plan for the Games and the regions’ mayors called for the politics to be axed and for action to start.

The formation of the Brisbane Organising Committee for the Olympic Games is designed to rule out the politics.

Documents seen by Brisbane Times show a federal Coalition government will commit $2.5 million for the next level of investigation of the transport corridor under a City Deal, but this has not been announced.

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Queensland Transport Mark Bailey last week confirmed a passenger rail between Brisbane and Caloundra and Maroochydore was back on the books and formal talks would begin in 2022.

This is the type of project that would need the agency’s endorsement, bipartisan support, and efficient delivery, to be able to carry athletes and spectators between venues in 2032.

Both parties are cautious ahead of a federal election.

Federal Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher says: “The Commonwealth is committed to working closely with the Queensland Government to identify a range of projects required to support a great Olympics, including the necessary transport infrastructure.

His Labor opponent, federal infrastructure, transport and regional development spokeswoman Catherine King, points to federal Labor’s record of working with its Labor state government.

“With Brisbane 2032 around the corner, I look forward to continuing our productive conversations with the Queensland government about how an Albanese Labor government can work with them to build the infrastructure Queensland needs,” Ms King said.

“Labor has a proud record working with the Queensland Government to deliver major public transport projects, including Cross River Rail, the Moreton Bay Rail Link and Gold Coast Light Rail.

“We did this by working closely with state governments around Australia, unlike the Morrison-Joyce government who seems only to pick partisan fights.”

The yet-to-be announced chair of the Olympic Infrastructure Agency will need an engineer’s eye, an infrastructure manager’s wisdom, a soothsayer’s vision and a balanced politician’s craft. There is time, but it moves fast.



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