‘I’ll build light rail link if I win next week’
THE man who could be kingmaker in a tight election has blasted the major parties and the State Government whose selfish squabbling over funding has put the city's light rail in jeopardy.
United Australia Party (UAP) leader Clive Palmer said the city was in a "bad situation" politically and Canberra should stop "taking the Gold Coast for granted".
"Congestion is becoming one of the worst things about the Gold Coast and it is ridiculous what they are doing," the Gold Coast-based billionaire told the Bulletin yesterday.
"Rail is the solution and it looks like we will get seven senate seats across the country and therefore have the balance of power, and we're looking good in the house.
"It would be nice to get both so we have the leverage. Rail is fundamentally important to the Gold Coast's development and will help eliminate congestion.
"Our policy is that we want fast rail feeding into the Brisbane CBD at up to 300km/h and the light rail would feed into that.
"You might have a fast train which goes to, say Robina, and there should be light rail services to get people there, as well as up and down the Gold Coast.
"This is fundamental to the Gold Coast."
Mr Palmer, who is running in the senate at the May 18 election, said he was tired of his home city being a political wasteland: "The Gold Coast has been taken for granted for too long, especially by one party who doesn't have to do anything to get re-elected. This is a bad situation for the Gold Coast and this is why you haven't got your light rail funding."
Mr Palmer and his party could play a decisive part in the next parliament after striking a preference deal with the Liberal Party.
Polls suggest his party could win a handful of seats in the senate, meaning it would hold considerable weight on the crossbench.
Mr Palmer's spray yesterday was backed by two peak transport bodies who said extending the tram line to Burleigh Heads was one of the most crucial projects in Australia.
Infrastructure Australia listed light rail Stage 3A among 121 nationally significant proposals because the Gold Coast's population was expected to increase by 61 per cent by 2041.
Queensland's top motoring body, the RACQ, called for an armistice between the major parties to end the "bunfight".
"This project relies on funding from the federal and state governments, and Gold Coast City Council," said Dr Rebecca Michael, the head of public policy.
"Whoever forms the next Federal Government needs to immediately meet with the State Government and Gold Coast Council to get this funding row fixed and get construction on Stage 3A started.
"We need politicians to get on board, work together and help bridge the funding gap."
Both sides of federal politics are refusing to budge from the $112 million committed to expand the trams from Broadbeach to Burleigh.
State Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the feds were $157.5 million short of matching their Stage 1 commitment of 38 per cent of the total costs. For Stage 2, they pledged 22 per cent. So far, the feds have committed 16 per cent of the $709 million needed to build Stage 3A.
The city has received little support from its own MPs. Senator Murray Watt is refusing to fight for extra funding and Federal Minister Karen Andrews wants to shorten the next stage about 700m so that the Federal Government does not have to cough up more money.
The funding impasse has infuriated Mayor Tom Tate and city leaders, who say the Gold Coast is not getting a "fair go".
They say the project is pivotal to the future of major developments such as the Gold Coast Airport upgrade and easing congestion. A report to council last week showed the light rail had already reduced traffic on the Gold Coast Highway by 26 per cent.
He said the city generated $35.2 billion into the state economy each year and billions more via taxes to the Federal Government.