Senate inquiry into the Perth Freight Link

The Senate inquiry into the Perth Freight Link was underway at Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle today. Lots of public and media interest too. The more I heard from the impressive array of witnesses the clearer it became that this project is an epic waste of taxpayer money.

The opening statement I made is below.

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  • Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee
  • The Committee’s terms of reference ask three questions relating to process, information, transparency in decision-making and evaluation of options.
  • The City are not able to comment on the issues of process and information relied upon by the Commonwealth to decide to fund the proposed Perth Freight Link as the City was not party to any decision-making processes in this regard.
    • Although not specifically related to the process that led to the Commonwealth’s decision, the lack of inclusion and transparency of process is having costs for Council including spending ratepayer’s money in gathering information that should be in the public realm, creation of community angst that need not be there if a more inclusive process had been followed, and creating uncertainty about access into the City’s central business district and in turn making it more difficult for the City to push forward with its regeneration agenda.
  • For the same reason of exclusion, the City is not able to comment on the information the Commonwealth relied on to decide to fund the proposed Perth Freight Link.
  • I now turn to transparency and options in decision making and offer the following general observations …
    • The formation and examination of options, in an open and transparent forum, is critical to ensuring that the best outcome is achieved. Such an approach is standard practice throughout the world and is supported by various evaluation methodologies such as Multi-criteria Analysis.
    • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of poor outcomes where such an approach is not applied.
    • Once a proposal is open to transparent evaluation, issues and opportunities that may not have been apparent to the authors of the proposal often become apparent and in turn can lead to improved outcomes.
  • Staying with the transparency and options theme I now turn to more specific issues related to the proposed Perth Freight Link …
    • The transparent nature of evaluation, when coupled with a process that includes stakeholders, very often leads to outcomes which are accepted and in turn reduces adversarial outcomes compared to when not applied – this Senate inquiry could well have been avoided if an inclusive and transparent approach to considering Perth’s freight task built upon the WA Regional Freight Transport Network Plan and the as yet unpublished Perth Freight Transport Network Plan.
    • It is odd that the Perth Freight Link be proposed before, and outside the context of, a freight plan for Perth.
    • There appears to be a Business Case for the proposed freeway but without this being published it is impossible to tell how robust the findings are.
      • The IA Brief makes the following observation about the evaluation process for the proposed freeway: “the options identification and assessment for this project could have been improved by undertaking quantitative modelling of traffic and economic impacts for multiple shortlisted options. The multi-criteria assessment used has significant weaknesses. In particular, criteria weights used allocate 80% of the weight to benefits and only 20% to costs. This is likely to bias assessment against low cost options and in favour of high cost options. Further, the assessment of options has had limited reliance on objective quantitative evidence.”
      • Only a small part of the benefits (9%) accrue to heavy commercial vehicles. In other words the proposal is not for a freight link but a new freeway: it is misleading to call this proposal the Perth Freight Link – it would be better termed the West Coast Freeway. Articulating the proposal in these terms may result in a very different assessment and outcomes and possibly very different options.
      • Examination of the proposed freeway ignores the fact that the Perth Freight Link has no proposal for crossing the Swan River and entering the Inner Harbour at Rous Head. It is very easy to imagine that without substantial further capital costs for extensive interchange works, a new bridge and substantial changes to the road pattern, the purported time saving benefits could easily disappear and fundamentally alter the BCR outcome.
    • The IA Brief is explicit that the “options did not include consideration of the Outer Harbour at Cockburn Sound”. This is an extraordinary omission given that for over fifty years successive State governments have considered the Outer Harbour as the appropriate place to handle Perth’s growing freight task.
    • There is a growing body of evidence that specifically highlights the relevance of an Outer Harbour option that could, and should, be tested against the proposed Perth Freight Link. This body of work includes, most recently, …
      • Perth Freight Link: Making the right investment in Perth’s Freight Task which concludes that that there is an entirely suitable option to deal with Perth’s freight task that does not require the construction of the Perth Freight Link – namely capping the Inner Harbour’s capacity at 700,000 TEUs (containers) per annum and moving quickly to establish the Outer Harbour.
      • Keep WA Growing prepared by Urbis for the Property Council of Australia which identifies the top three infrastructure priorities for Perth as MAX Light Rail, Western Trade Coast (e.g. the Outer Harbour) and the Peel Economic and Environmental Initiative.
      • Indian Ocean Gateway draft report from the City of Kwinana which is very similar to that of the Western Trade Coast outlined by the Property Council.
    • In summary …
    • The wrong question has been asked and tested: it is not, does the proposed road resolve Perth’s freight problem but rather is this the best value solution to Perth’s freight problem or put another way, does Perth’s freight problem require this road?
  • The IA Assessment Brief clearly demonstrates that the lack of options, evaluated in a clear and transparent process, with the evaluation methodology being agreed and tested before it is applied, leads to poor outcomes.
  • If an open and transparent process had been adopted to look at Perth’s freight needs, a very different suite of options, including the outer harbour, would have been under examination with potentially very different results and far better outcomes.
  • Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Committee.

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

2 Responses to Senate inquiry into the Perth Freight Link

  1. Emma Anda says:

    Thanks for putting the text of what you said at the Senate Inquiry here Brad, that is a great reference to have. I was really happy to be there yesterday and listen to the whole 8 hours of it – especially the three local south metro mayors who are sticking up for their communities whilst also fighting for a better bigger picture solution for everyone, not just their own particular patches.

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