The federal government has sought to justify its costings for a Brisbane to Sunshine Coast rail line by releasing three heavily redacted pages from a 2019 feasibility study – a move branded “pathetic” and “embarrassing” by Queensland’s transport minister.
The Morrison government claims the North Coast Connect project will cost $3.2bn and has promised half the funding. It wants the Queensland government to match its $1.6bn spend.
Queensland ministers have said the project will cost significantly more and that the federal government’s figure appeared to have been “plucked out of the sky”.
In an apparent attempt to respond to the criticism, the federal urban infrastructure minister, Paul Fletcher, on Tuesday released three pages of costings from a 600-page feasibility study.
The pages were heavily redacted with all but six figures visible. The itemised cost breakdowns are entirely blacked out, but purport to show the 37km North Coast Connect line would cost about $2.9bn. Fletcher said the $3.2bn figure was a conservative number to cover contingencies.
Fletcher said the costing was “robust” and criticised the Queensland government for questioning the figure.
“In fact, the Commonwealth’s funding commitment was based on a cost estimate in the North Coast Connect detailed business case, with details from the business case released today,”he said.
The federal costings come from a 2019 feasibility study that showed the project would return less than 50c in economic benefit for every dollar invested. Infrastructure Australia declined to list the proposal as a priority in 2020, based on the weak feasibility study.
The Queensland transport minister, Mark Bailey, said local Sunshine Coast MPs “must have been humiliated” to watch Fletcher release the redacted document.
“It is one of the most pathetic election lies ever seen by Sunshine Coast residents,” Bailey said.
“Three pages! And most of the three pages are black boxes covering up information the Morrison government doesn’t want Sunshine Coast residents to ever read.
“No responsible government would make a multi-billion-dollar funding commitment based on three heavily redacted pieces of paper that looks like a kindy kid’s project.”
Bailey has previously said the Queensland government believes the project will cost considerably more.
He said the federal announcement of funding for the project was “a rort” because there was a joint federal-state $6m planning study under way on the project.
“We’ll maintain faith with that process and make a decision based on a robust assessment from that work,” Bailey said.
“The Morrison government’s … announcement is another last minute, false election promise to the people of the Sunshine Coast.”
Fletcher told reporters on Tuesday that the project needed to get under way quickly if it was to be built in time for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.
“For this rail line to support the growth of the Sunshine Coast and to be delivered in time for the Olympics, the Queensland government needs to come to the table and commit to this project.”
Fairfax MP, Ted O’Brien, accused Bailey of attempting to “sabotage” the project.