A speech by ACT Democrats President, Darren Churchill, to ACT Light Rail, Election Event: 30 September, 2008

A speech by ACT Democrats President, Darren Churchill, to ACT Light Rail, Election Event: 30 September, 2008

I thank ACT Light Rail for the invitation to speak tonight and I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.

I’m Darren Churchill. I’m the president of the ACT Democrats and Ungrouped candidate for Ginninderra. Ungrouped, because of the seriously flawed electoral laws we have.

Ladies and gentlemen, the ACT Democrats have been advocating light rail for over seven years now. In 2001, we took a serious proposal for light rail to the election. It’s good to see that now Light Rail is back on the agenda.

However, the ACT Democrats are not simply prepared to be a policy think tank for the old parties. The ACT Democrats support the idea but not the current execution of an integrated transport plan for Canberra. The recently released plan is “more of the same” from a tired government.

Its central thesis of a car-centred Canberra is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has not been helped by a bus service that increasingly failed to meet the needs of the people, despite the individual efforts of those charged with delivering the service.

Canberra needs a light rail system for the current citizens of Canberra, the future development of Canberra and for visitors to Canberra. A light rail system is not a novel idea, nor is it a high-risk idea. Modern progressive cities around the world have adopted light rail successfully.

The current government gives lip-service to light rail, but has failed to allocate resources to support these words. The Democrats will support any measures to redress this.

The concept of light rail does not exist in a vacuum. The development of Canberra’s built environment, its Nature Parks and public spaces, its tourism infrastructure and its business centres will be affected by this project.

How is it to be funded? Where should the first line go? What style of light rail should be deployed? How should it be integrated into the existing city? How are future developments best designed to extend the network? Is it is to be privately, publicly, or jointly developed and operated?
In answer to these, the ACT Democrats believe that a light rail system should be a key element of Canberra’s public transport services.
We acknowledge that light rail is more environmentally sustainable, provides accessible transport to the majority of the population and is a viable complement to a well planned road system.
We believe, that there should be a light rail spine linking Gungahlin, Civic, Woden and Tugerranong. And eventually Queanbeyan too. There should also be a link between Belconnen and Civic
The first stage of this would be a link between Gungahlin and Civic. That should be planned for in conjunction with the upgrades to the Gungahiln Drive Extension and Caswell Drive.
And I know, that originally the ACT Democrats did oppose the Gungahlin Drive Extension. However, now that the thing’s done (and only half done) it should be done properly and that should include a light rail facility following that route.
Stage two would see the extension to Woden and Tuggeranong, and then from Civic to Belconnen.

We believe the light rail system should preferably be publicly owned and operated.

The Light Rail system needs to be integrated with other forms of transport and should be part of an overarching transport plan. We envisage such a plan operating in the following manner:

– with a full service bus system which would link the suburbs with the town centres;
– there should be a integrated ticketing system between the bus and the light rail system;
– light rail vehicles should also be able to carry bicycles and there should be bike facilities at light rail stops;
– parking, or park-and-ride facilities, should also be made available at light rail terminals;
– On the question that’s been raised on “right of way.” Light Rail would have right of way. Traffic lights would be triggered by the approach of the light rail vehicle, similar to that system that operates with the current Tram system in Melbourne;
– Light rail should be commenced along existing major transport corridors and should be planned for along future road corridor developments.

However, some of these questions are best decided and negotiated by the Assembly and the ACT Government. This includes budget allocations and negotiations with the Commonwealth for necessary infrastructure assistance.

We believe the majority of the consequences will be beneficial to Canberra. With all development, engagement with the community and negotiating tradeoffs is vital for its success. What is the best way to engage in a truly consultative manner?

One method of engagement would be the implementation of broad community consultative committees, similar to the planning advisory committees (or LAPAC). There needs to be a better method than the selective, collective consultation that frequently occurs with the current government. Hand-picking favoured groups for consultation is not the best model. Ignoring the hard work of such committees is also not the best model..

Effective community consultation is not always easy but we would not be the first city in the world to achieve it.

So, lthough generally supportive of light rail, the Democrats believe it is more important to invest in it’s development as a viable transport option, rather than simply as a system designed for tourism.

Your Light Rail advocates in the ACT Democrats are Greg Tannahill (in Molonglo) and myself, Darren Churchill (in Ginninderra). Look for us in the “ungrouped” column on the ballot paper.

Thank you.

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