In today’s media release on the Brisbane Cross River Rail project, The Queensland Government appears confused about the meaning of the term “business case.” It risks committing the same error that governments (present and past) across Australia have committed when it comes to infrastructure projects. This error was identified by the Grattan Institute in a recent report Roads to Riches (p. 2) as being that “Decisions on particular projects are dubious or made on the basis of weak or undisclosed business cases.” There is obviously the risk that the business case for Cross River Rail could be weak, because the business case for the new route has not even been developed yet! As Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe announced today:
“The Palaszczuk Government has fast-tracked the business case for our number one priority infrastructure project and announced plans to establish a delivery authority to ensure the project is built.”
Amy Remeikis of the Brisbane Times nicely summarised the “Yes Minister” nature of this announcement when she noted that:
“The latest incarnation of Cross River Rail has a route and a promise to keep the politics out of it. What it doesn’t have is funding, a business case, or even a plan on how the estimated $5.2 billion project would be delivered.”
The Delivery Authority may well be compared to that hospital in “Yes Minister” that ran much better without patients. And do we expect the Delivery Authority to take a hard-headed, objective view of the merits of Cross River Rail when its very existence depends on the project proceeding?
Cross River Rail may well be a good project, but the Government should not make the final investment decision until it has a full business case and is confident Cross River Rail is the best option to address the looming capacity constraint problem that it is worried about. Options considered should include doing nothing and, arguably, the previous Government’s BaT Tunnel, so we are sure it is best to revert back to the Cross River Rail concept. Billions of dollars are at stake. Queensland deserves much better infrastructure planning than this.