The Morrison government has junked $65m of spending on four commuter car parks it promised to build in the electorate of the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.
Kooyong in Victoria was to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the $660m commuter car park projects which the Australian National Audit Office found were hand-picked by the government on the advice of its MPs and candidates in a process that “was not demonstrably merit-based”.
The decision to junk proposed car parks at Canterbury, Glenferrie, Camberwell and Surrey Hills will fuel criticisms the projects were unviable due to lack of consultation and planning, and were designed to shore up the Coalition vote in at-risk seats.
The mayor of Boroondara, Jane Addis, said it was “disappointing” the projects had been cancelled after “a substantial investment of public funds has been used to complete the feasibility analysis”.
“It would have been more appropriate for council to determine which of the three projects progressed, if any,” she said.
In a statement on Thursday, Frydenberg said the government promised the stations after “consultation with the Boroondara Council who made it very clear there was a significant lack of parking at railway stations in the area”.
He said the government had “decided not to proceed with funding for the proposed car parks at Canterbury, Glenferrie and Camberwell” following a consultation process with “significant local feedback”.
The station at Surrey Hills “cannot go ahead as proposed” because the Victorian government merged Surrey Hills and Mont Albert stations in 2019, he said.
Announced in May 2019 weeks out from the election, the four Kooyong carparks were to house up to 500 cars each.
But when detailed planning work was conducted after the election, Boroondara Council found significant local concern about traffic near stations and design constraints. It estimated that with $20m of federal funding it could deliver just 90 extra spaces at Camberwell, leading to criticisms the projects were poor value for money.
Of the 48 car park projects promised through the urban congestion fund program, six were cancelled in the 2021 budget. In February, just six commuter car parks had been completed and a further six were under construction.
Labor’s shadow infrastructure minister, Catherine King, said the cancellation of four further projects was a “humiliating backflip” for the treasurer and questioned how much money had been “wasted” on car parks that wouldn’t be built.
“This is a major public policy failure from the man supposedly in charge of our nation’s finances,” she said.
“These projects were hand-selected by the prime minister and his senior ministers to try to hold on to seats they were worried about, and now with another election on the horizon, the entire program is falling apart.
“Ahead of the last election Josh Frydenberg made a lot of big promises, but has spent the last term failing to deliver.”
Frydenberg said the $4.8bn urban congestion fund “remains an important part of the government’s plans to get more cars off our roads and to make public transport more accessible”.
By the end of 2022, 70% of the promised car park projects will be under construction or finished, he said.
The Canterbury Car Park Residents Group welcomed the decision to junk the proposed car park, arguing it was a case of “the wrong car park in the wrong place”.
The ANAO found projects were identified in part through ministers’ offices canvassing the views of 23 Coalition MPs, senators and the Coalition candidates for six electorates then held by Labor or Centre Alliance.
This process started with a list identifying 20 marginal electorates and inviting those MPs to select projects.
The government has consistently defended its handling of the program, including in August when Scott Morrison said Australians were the “winners” because they “are getting … more car parks”.
In October, ANAO officials told Senate estimates that Alan Tudge instructed staff to first consult marginal seat MPs before commuter car parks were selected, despite the former urban infrastructure minister’s claims that projects were chosen on merit.