Overpass: Monument to govt. waste nears completion

p2271-overpass-1

COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The rail overpass on the South Stuart Highway is nearing completion at the horrendous cost of $24m to the Federal taxpayer.

 

It will stand as monument to scandalous government waste: There clearly were other uses for the money, for example for projects that could have earned Central Australia billions of dollars in tourism and primary production.

 

This could have included improved access to magnificent beauty spots in the West and East MacDonnells, currently inaccessible or accessible only by high-clearance 4WDs.

 

The Alice Springs News Online made these points to political players both in the NT and in Canberra, along with these:-

 

• Now that we have conservative governments in both Canberra and Darwin, will Territorians benefit from meaningful coordination of spending priorities?

 

• A red light at the level crossing has been adequate for decades to prevent accidents. At very little cost a boom gate could have been added, further reducing a risk that is already very slight.

 

• Counting both north and south-bound traffic, just 12 freight trains a week are crossing the highway, plus two Ghans – that’s a total of 14 movements of rail traffic across the intersection in seven days.

 

• The road traffic at the crossings by Ilparpa Road, Bradshaw, Lovegrove and especially Larapinta Drives is vastly greater than that on the Stuart Highway.

 

• There is no overpass on the Stuart Highway north of Port Augusta where vehicle traffic is much greater than here.

 

We started our enquiries with Senator Nigel Scullion, The Centre’s only Federal politician on the government benches.

 

He flicked the request for comment to Warren Truss, Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.

 

On April 1 – but no doubt in all seriousness – a spokesman for Mr Truss said: “The Australian Government works closely with states and territories to identify the highest priority projects within each jurisdiction.

 

“The rail overpass South of Alice Springs project is on the Stuart Highway, a key freight route which also supports substantial tourist and local traffic.

 

“It was identified by the NT Government as a priority project as it improves both the safety and efficiency of this section of the Stuart Highway, including removing the risk of collisions between rail and road traffic.”

 

So, in deciding to build the overpass the Feds “worked closely” with the NT government for which the overpass was the “highest priority project”.

 

That raised the question: Who within the NT Government had the bright idea that we need an overpass?

 

p2227-Clare-Gardiner-BarnesAs we reported on April 9, it was Transport Infrastructure Investment Industry Advisory Group, whose chairperson, Clare Gardiner-Barnes (pictured), refused to be interviewed.

 

She is also is the Chief Executive of the Department of Transport. She, her group and her department clearly acted against the wishes of the Alice Springs Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce, as we reported.

 

Given that Ms Gardiner-Barnes did not deem it necessary to answer questions about spending public money, we wrote to the department: “Who are the other members of the Transport Infrastructure Investment Industry Advisory Group and what are their contact details?”

 

The reply: “As stated, all media enquiries and requests for interviews in relation to your query will need to go through the media.dlpehub@nt.gov.au email address. Please provide questions if you wish to proceed with your query.”

 

We did not get an interview. So, in the final analysis, the decision about spending $24m of public money was in the hands of a committee whose chairperson doesn’t answer questions from the media and the identity of whose members are not disclosed by the department’s media minder.

 

Democracy, Northern Territory style.

 

All we were told by the NT Government about why we are getting an overpass was a statement on April 4 that the “overpass was identified as a priority because it was the last rail overpass required on the Northern Territory National Highways.

 

“Safety on both the National road and rail network is extremely important not only to Territorians but to road users and rail operators nationally. This project will mean there are no more level crossings on the Northern Territory National Highways.”

 

In other words, a neat ticking of a box by a bureaucrat and the pretense of enhancing public safety which, considering the absence of accidents, was practically at no risk whatsoever.

 

So what did Alice Springs get out of a massive job awarded by the NT Government – using Federal money, as explained – to a based Darwin company?

 

On August 10 we put a second question to Senator Scullion: “Please advise what supplies and services were and will be purchased in Alice Springs, and how much was and will be spent, during this project. Surely there has to be some benefit for Central Australia from this otherwise completely useless $24m project.”

 

On August 11 Senator Scullion’s media person replied: “The Commonwealth does not hold that type of information on this project, it would be best to put these questions to the NT Government.”

 

And so we did, as the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment (DLPE) media minder had also encouraged us.

 

The DLPE told us on August 19: “The successful tenderer on this project was required to submit an Industry Participation Plan as part of their contract.

 

“The Department of Infrastructure monitors progression against this plan.

 

“The goods and services purchased by suppliers and subcontractors in Alice Springs include construction materials, labour, specialist services, plant, food and accommodation, and diesel.

 

“All infrastructure projects over $5 million are required to have an Industry Participation Plan.”

 

It looked like we were getting somewhere.

 

Not.

 

As the statement we had been given failed entirely to quantify the value of the goods and services obtained from Alice Springs suppliers, we asked the department on August 20: “Please provide me with the Industry Participation Plan supplied for this project by the successful tenderer.”

 

DLPE replied on August 25: “This is not a document for public distribution.”

 

The company which scored the $24m contract, Ostojic, was equally unresponsive.

 

It had told us on August 11: “Please direct your email enquiry regarding the Alice Springs Overpass to DOI media inbox” and quoted the media box of the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment.

 

And so we had gone full circle with a government that has turned the mushroom treatment of the people it’s meant to be serving into an art form.

 

PHOTO BELOW: On-site living quarters. Any benefits Alice Springs got from workers’ accommodation rentals is information neither the contractor nor the government will disclose.

 

p2271-rail-overpass-camp-1

 

 

Be Sociable, Share!

13 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Fred the Philistine
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    Well the bridge is open, well done, it’s great as we need to develop the north we need infrastructure.
    We all hear Steve Brown all the time we lack infrastructure now we are receiving it. But don’t forget the Territory is lacking infrastructure due small population and its only been a few years the Territory has been self governing. The infrastructure in Alice Springs is quiet good a lot has been done very poorly but some is quiet good

    View Comment
  2. Robbo the Wonder Spaniel
    Posted September 29, 2015 at 7:33 am

    So what is holding up proceedings now? Can I guess?
    It’s all ready but the pollies are trying to coordinate their calendars for the pomp and ceremony of the opening?
    They’ve even repainted the double white lines, making it illegal to use the joke of a detour – the final insult. Where do we find these muppets?

    View Comment
  3. Kkangpae
    Posted September 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    I heard the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are to die for at the Airport kiosk … you can bet your Hatt on it.

    View Comment
  4. Virgil Dotson
    Posted September 18, 2015 at 3:26 am

    National defense. An endless reinforced airstrip to fight from. The underpasses create easily reenforced bunkers for aircraft and missiles. The roadway provides access to provisions and supplies to all Australia.

    View Comment
  5. Adam Findlay
    Posted September 8, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    Food for thought on this topic: The article quotes 14 movements of rail traffic a week or the equivalent of two trains a day. Now add to that approximately 22 bus crossings daily, then add road trains and passenger cars to that.
    It may seem like overkill to a lot of people, one things for sure, there will not be a train and a bus colliding at this crossing after the overpass opens.

    View Comment
  6. Fred the Philistine
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    At first thought I thought it was a waste of money, but have now changed my mind. As Cr Steve Brown keeps saying, we need infrastructure.
    We have an overpass on the other side of town, called the Jamison bridge.
    If we can save one life, it is worth every cent.
    This bridge has put thousands of dollars into Alice Springs.
    All of the Ostojic workers, required to buy food and clothing and socialising, and the reason as to why they are living on site, is that the rents are too expensive.
    Recently, we just experienced a “real” waste of money through the incompetence of the local council, with the incorrect rates being sent $7,000.
    We also waste thousands of dollars on sit down monies, which is tax payers money.
    Don’t forget that the other waste of monies will be the new law courts. Do we really need it?
    The new so called mall has been a waste of money, as it looks filthy and dirty.
    It may be minor, but there is no shade at that end of town.
    The photo I took, before the mall was redone it was much better.
    Every dollar of federal money Alice Springs gets, is a bonus and they should be thankful.
    How long can the rest of Australia, keep carrying the NT.

    View Comment
  7. Tarlyn
    Posted September 6, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Now the overpass is complete there needs to be something planted in there to re beautify the barren ground and reduce some of the bare ugly concrete.
    I wish that Larapinta Drive was sunk or a rail bridge was built rather than this.
    Ambulance and other emergency services between the town are more important than where there is no one living down there.
    Sure there are potential mine sites wanting to haul stuff through but other than that there is mainly only Pine Gap, the prison and an industrial estate.
    They’ve gone for years and years without needing a rail over pass but the whole of the town has needed it for years.
    Surely those mining workers and mineral haulers can just wait for the trains to pass through or time themselves so they do not need to have to wait for a train in the first place.

    View Comment
  8. Dave
    Posted September 4, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Ironically, last night in Darwin the annual Arthur Ash memorial oration was entitled “the expansion of executive discretion, and its implications for the NT”.
    I don’t know if the new rail overpass was included in the lecture as an example. Meanwhile we can only wait and see how much of the FOI release is redacted.

    View Comment
  9. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted September 4, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    I believe it is a practical scenario for an episode of “Yes, Minister”.
    It is a construction that we do not really need, but is a reassurance to the public: “We care about your safety, even if there is no danger.”

    View Comment
  10. Ray
    Posted September 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    What a silly comment, Alex. They will not put in 10 minute parking signs, the seat polishers in Darwin will be much more likely to install parking meters, there is more money in that.

    View Comment
  11. Observer
    Posted September 4, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Erwin, I see very little grounds for an FOI request being denied if one were to be made in this instance. The department would likely knock it back, but a further push through the commissioner should yield results.
    An offer of goods or services and the extended value (in this case represented by a IPP) from private sector to the Government (The people / tax payer) should really be readily available.
    As tenders are supposedly judged on more than just the bottom line, these factors are therefore something the public should have access to.
    Promises made by a company in regards to local development are in no way commercially sensitive information and should not be grounds for the department to with hold your reasonable request.
    The department (and more widely, the NT Government) could substantially increase confidence with in the transparency of the procurement process if they willingly disclosed the factors that were taken into account when deciding what contractor is awarded a project.
    All NT tenders have a local development component, unfortunately this is merely a feel good category based upon the individuals discretion and often yields bewildering results.

    View Comment
  12. Tracie Hall
    Posted September 4, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Anther ridiculous waste of tax payers money that again has done nothing to inject any money into our local economy.
    If it wasn’t so stupid somebody would answer questions but they just can’t justify any of it without making themselves look stupid.

    View Comment
  13. Alex Cartwright
    Posted September 4, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Maybe it was built as an art installation for tourist photo opportunities? A bridge to the blue sky of NT possibilities?
    Just in time too – because the nice Welcome to Alice Springs car park on the south highway has just been turned into bad joke. Next thing you know a committee in Darwin will want to put in 10 minute parking signs. In the name of safety of course.

    View Comment

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*