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Tanami Road sealing will go ahead despite $33 billion cost blowout for Commonwealth road and rail projects

Staff writersThe Kimberley Echo
The Tanami Road.
Camera IconThe Tanami Road. Credit: Cally Dupe/Cally Dupe

Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King has confirmed the sealing of the Tanami Road will go ahead, despite growing fears for a number of WA projects due to a $33 billion cost blowout to road and rail projects nationwide.

Ms King, who has conceded the $120b infrastructure pipeline was “not sustainable”, was in Perth on Tuesday but said she was “not announcing” which projects in WA were being delayed or canned.

However, she did confirm that Metronet, the Bunbury Outer Ring Road and the resealing of the Tanami Road were all going ahead.

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“But it is fair to say when we came to government, the infrastructure investment pipeline of Commonwealth investment had not been managed well at all,” Ms King said.

Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King.
Camera IconFederal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

“What we saw as part of the independent review . . . we’ve now got 800 projects in the pipeline and many of those came into the pipeline in the lead-up to the 2016 and 2019 elections.

“A lot of them were not funded properly.”

The sealing of Tanami — which runs from Alice Springs to Halls Creek — was projected to be finished in 2030, but it emerged in Senate Estimates in June that completion could be 10 years away.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti previously said the State had not suffered the same level of construction cost blowouts as the east coast and expressed confidence WA was in a better position to avoid projects being shelved.

Ms King said the Albanese Government was “working in lockstep with the WA Government” and there were only a “small amount” of WA projects that “won’t be proceeding”.

“Western Australia is in a very good position in terms of its project but it is not immune from cost overruns,” she said.

“Infrastructure projects, small and large, are experiencing significant labour costs, significant shortages in the supply chain and not enough money having been committed to some of those projects from our predecessors in the first place.”

Ms King also declined to say how much of the $33b infrastructure cuts WA would have to shoulder.

“I’m not going to break it down State by State,” she said. “It is literally project by project. There are significant cost overruns in projects right the way around the nation.”

Ms Saffioti has declined to say which local projects it would be comfortable with the Commonwealth cancelling or delaying.

Deputy Premier Rita Saffioti.
Camera IconDeputy Premier Rita Saffioti. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

In a review published in October, the WA auditor-general found that cost blowouts to 20 major projects had totalled $2b and projects had been delayed by 21 months on average.

The biggest blowout was a $528 million overrun for the Morley-Ellenbrook train line project.

The longest delay was to the Geraldton Health Campus, which had been pushed back nearly five years from its initial construction date.

Halls Creek Shire president Malcolm Edwards.
Camera IconHalls Creek Shire president Malcolm Edwards. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

“There are 2000 Indigenous people who live down the Tanami road,” Shire of Halls Creek president Malcolm Edwards said.

“Especially for the people on our side of the border, the cost of delivery of services, job opportunities, the cost of living to those people; this road is going to be a dramatic improvement for them.

“For the pastoral industry, it will give them access to southern markets with cattle. There’s some vacant land down there that if developed, could carry 50,000 more head.”

In January, communities in the East Kimberley were cut off from southern WA by record-breaking floods that damaged the Fitzroy Crossing bridge.

Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley deputy Shire president Tony Chafer said the incident showed how urgently the sealing was needed.

“If the Tanami Road had been done several years ago, we wouldn’t have been nearly as isolated,” Cr Chafer said.

“Going down the Tanami, we’re closer by road to Adelaide than Perth from Kununurra. It would have been an excellent second option for us.”

Cr Chafer said the floods should have prompted the Federal Government to bring the project back into the forward estimates.

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