Jeff's 'underground' and the $100 billion in bond money

Subways, metros and undergrounds, whatever you want to call them, they're all a bit glamourous when you don't have them in your city.  And Jeff Kennett was quoted in the Herald Sun - not the first time - as saying the state government should borrow $100 billion and build Melbourne an underground system.

“If I was premier today I would probably go out and borrow $100 billion and I’d build an underground rail system which would last for years and years and years,” Mr Kennett said.

“You go to every city in the world, whether it’s Moscow, St Petersburg, London, Paris, they’ve all got underground rail systems that were built 50 years ago.

“At today’s (interest) rates, you could borrow that amount of money, stack it away, earn a bit of interest and then slowly roll it out"

One can never fault Jeff Kennett for having a lack of vision for Melbourne and regardless of your political views, we're all better off that he's still active in the conversation about our city.  I recommend following him on twitter.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing Jeff Kennett has said is that public borrowing should finance productive new transport infrastructure.  But is a new, third, tier of rail service in Melbourne the best way to spend $100,000,000,000?

That's right, an underground, metro or 'subway' would be a third tier of rail service in Melbourne - our train network's primary focus is on moving commuters longer distances into the city and of course the trams focus on the inner-to-middle rings of the city.

Notwithstanding PTV's own heavy rail network plan, there's ongoing bus network changes - which have a tendency to slip under the radar - and we tend to ignore the tram network which with a bit of tweaking, extending and creation of new routes would be an even greater asset.

And if we are aiming to become comparable to cities like London and Paris we'd also need to take a leaf our of their book and think seriously about discouraging widespread car use and reallocating road space for cyclists, and of course put the pedestrian first.

Let's accelerate existing network plans first

If there were a hypothetical $100 billion for general active and public transport infrastructure investment made available over a period of time then it would be prudent to simply accelerate plans we already have.  

That doesn't mean we shouldn't dream - metros will probably have a place in Melbourne, especially in areas outside the immediate centre - but even in a heavy state borrowing scenario we must prioritise existing plans first, dream second.

Our rail network has a long-term plan, including a second cross-city train line that would function like a metro line, but not much has been made of any public network extension plans for trams or the cycling network.

If we're to borrow like Bolte, the money should be spent across all forms of public and active transport.


Peter Maltezos's picture

Politics aside, I've always admired Jeff for cutting through crap and stating the obvious like the above suggestion. yessmileyyes

I collect, therefore I am.

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Melbman's picture

For some reason I still hear opinions out there that think that Kennett took the state backwards, but the reality was very different.

He actually put us in top gear and had us "on the move" for the right reasons. It took guts to make the calls he did and it was painful for some in the short term but unfortunately it was needed.

He may appear like abrasive and egotistical at times, but when you consider the perilous state of our economy and finances at that point his plan paid off many times over. His opinion definitely does matter.

As for the $100 billion idea, not sure a metro is the solution but these are my ideas:

- Metro Rail Tunnel 2 (Werribee-Newport-Fishermans Bend-Southern Cross-Parkville-Clifton Hill)
- Melbourne Airport Line
- Rowville Line
- Doncaster Line
- Dandenong Line increased to 4 tracks
- Commence building Port infrastructure for either Bay West (Avalon) or Hastings

Just a few ideas that will take some decent coin to start with :)

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Bilby's picture

Kennett was hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer when it came to planning for Melbourne's urban future, though, was he?

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Mark Baljak's picture


To quote Eric the Clown of Seinfeld fame:

“You’re living in the past, man. You’re hung up on some clown from the ’60s, man!”

Equating closing schools to urban planning is a stretch, no?

You wouldn't happen to be a teacher Bilby?

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Bilby's picture

Hmm, closing schools and the link to urban planning ... so, you're saying they're unconnected?

Well, let me put it another way, Mark: does opening schools have anything to do with urban planning?

Your site would suggest so, given the number of references to the importance of planning for schools in Docklands and Fishermens Bend urban renewal areas. Or does opening a school somehow "count" as urbanism, but closing one doesn't? If so, how?

As for whether or not I'm a teacher, well I do teach urbanism, so if that makes me a teacher - ok. But then I'm also a building designer and property developer, not to mention musician, historian, writer and philosopher, amongst other things. So ... pretty much yes to all of the above.

What I will say is this - the past is never just the past. Politicians can and should be held accountable for their decision making decades later. And in this case, I note that you haven't engaged with the substance of the claim - i.e. that Kennett massively erred with respect to planning for growth in demand for local schools.

Many warned the government at the time that their policy would be costly in future, both in terms of satisfying demand and in land costs, should the need ever arise to reacquire new sites in the metro area.

Well, look at Melbourne now - we have a huge problem in just this way, and even the building of new generation "high-rise" schools won't solve it in time. If the blame for this doesn't rest with past governments and urban planners - then with whom does it rest?

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Melbman's picture

You can say all you like on that now with a 2016 viewpoint, but early 1990's Victoria was a very, very different place.

Very hard decisions needed to be taken to lead us away from a bankrupt state. Whether you like the end result or not, at times the decisions that were taken were in the best interests of a state that had to be turned around quickly.

Issues you see today are far broader than a context of land sell-offs at that time alone. Remember that schools in many locations are still being closed and sold off in areas that are deemed surplus to requirements. Go raise your case with them on those ones.

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Mark Baljak's picture

Of course they're a degree

So will history attribute blame directly to Jeff Kennett for schools closing during that time, or were relevant Government departments equally as culpable?

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Aaron Bond's picture

really a few school closures? that seems like a rather normal thing to have to do when you're in government, it's unfortunate that reality isn't some sort of utopia of unlimited resources and no hard decisions.

what a weak argument.

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Aussie Steve's picture

Closing some small inner city schools was justified but the sale of them was not. The properties should have been kept in public hands and used for community or commercial purposes until they were required again in the future. Especially in Port Phillip, Yarra, Melbourne and Stonnington and to a lesser extent Mooreland, Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley.

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Bilby's picture

If you define 350 schools closed as "a few school closures" and "... a rather normal thing to do", I guess you're argument is sound, Aaron. Otherwise, I would suggest that your analysis is probably a little weaker than mine ...

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johnproctor's picture

There are definitely specific elements of the Kennett revolution that people can point to and say 'that was wrong' but while the heat/hate from those directly affected by his reforms has not gone down I would say most would realise with hindsight that he was really ahead of his time in pushing through many of the things that occurred. (corporatisation of the public sector, privatisation of state assets, brand focused economic agenda etc.)

School closures is an example. Overall he was probably about right in the number of schools that were shut - he was definitely right about the inner city schools not being needed as they weren't for nearly 20 years. In hindsight the boom in inner city living has meant that it would be nice if some of those sites were still in existence.

Would I rather Kennett didn't run a broom through the state and wake it up just so we still had half a dozen extra state schools within 5km of the GPO? no.

Despite having voted largely labor/greens for the last 10 years Kennett is still my political hero. Socially he is a small l liberal, from a "planning" perspective he was an urbanist, from an economic perspective he was a rationalist who was prepared to do unpopular things to achieve that (unlike say Howard/Abbott/Turnbull re our middle class welfare tax system - which I'm a beneficiary of) and a very arts/cultural/events focused agenda as well.

Kennett's reforms set up Bracks and Brumby to do nothing for 10 years and look like geniuses.

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Adam Ford's picture

John, I normally respect your commentary here but "Kennett's reforms set up Bracks and Brumby to do nothing for 10 years and look like geniuses". Seriously. On what planet?

Like, find me a credible Joe Public whose narrative runs "Bracks and Brumby did nothing for ten years". Or skip that, find me a credible commentator ... please. Quote them.

And that urbanist genius Kennett is the bloke who plonked Etihad Stadium right on prime waterfront land that should have been the heart of a major coordinated brownfields redevelopment in Docklands.

And you know Rescode 2, you remember how THAT was basically the spur for all the NIMBY Drosts to get together and get organised? Guess whose idea that was?

You know everything you hate about Docklands now? Whatever it is, It's Kennett's fault. For having the whole thing developer-driven and for the total lack of coordinated planning. Just like his dickhead protege did in Fisherman's Bend. Before rendering up all his mates' eastern suburbs neighbourhoods undevelopable.

Liberals and urbanism? Give me a break.

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johnproctor's picture


I don't hate much about Docklands. I worked there for 3/4 years and recognise that there is still a lot of work to do, but also recognise that unlike the CBD it hasn't existed for 150 years and hasn't had cycles of development and redevelopment to create the interest/character/continuity of development that we see in the CBD. There is hardly a street in docklands that still doesn't have a major hole waiting for further development. As a collins street worker the development of Collins Square made a massive difference in the top end of Collins Street, similarly over recent years the development around Merchant Street has filled out and provided services to the "islands" that were NAB and ANZ campus towers.

I think we'll also start to see as buildings get to timing for major refurbishments that some of the expansive building lobbies will be refitted to address the street better than they do today as well - as has happened with a number of CBD buildings over recent years.

For me Etihad Stadium - right place or not has been Docklands for 15 years. It brings in 30-50,000 people 50 times a year (footy, soccer, cricket, MMA, mormons, etc). I agree it blocks Docklands from the water and would have been better placed say north of La Trobe Street. On the flip side without the stadium 90% of Melbourne would never have set foot west of Southern Cross Station. For now the detractors can perhaps try and think positively and think of the stadium as the best landbank in Melbourne and as having done its job as an activity driven leader for the precinct.

Re: Bracks and Brumby. remind me what there physical legacy was? Eastlink (paid for by tolls and not that I care but a broken election promise). Desalination and North/South Pipeline (nice insurance policies but panicked response to doing nothing on water for too long), M1 upgrade (who hasn't upgraded the M1?), RFR (only cost 30 times more than originally planned for lesser outcomes), RRL (belatedly realised that public transport patronage had grown 100% in their term).

After such a whirlwind under Kennett you could argue the minimum change approach was the right one. And it hasn't 'harmed' Victoria as we still performed strongly economically but personally I see the Bracks/Brumby years were 'solid' but a lost opportunity. (in much the same way as Howard (economically) didn't do enough with his years in power during a period of massive economic strength for the country)

Neither of them were the unmitigated disaster that the Bailieu/Napthine years were.

And hey - I voted for Bracks/Brumby through much of their term in power because the alternatives at the time were an even less inspiring bunch.

I think the ultimate response to the Kennett years is to ask how much of what he did did Labor (Bracks and Brumby (the treasurer and premier) undo? AGAIN I'm talking about economic/urban/infrastructure matters.

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johnproctor's picture

A positive review of bracks/brumby years by Paul Austin that largely supports my contention above re: infrastructure. Bracks genius was to not create change at such a frenetic pace as Kennett did.

quite a funny article actually, from 2009 with such confidence that Brumby would win the 2010 election.

some quotes:

Bracks was seen as an antidote to the frenetic Kennett. ''Bracks went out of his way to mark himself as different to Kennett, to take things cautiously and quietly,'' Monash University's Strangio says. ''So he took longer than Cain to hit his straps.'' Or as Costar, professor of Victorian parliamentary democracy at Swinburne University, puts it: ''Cain was much more activist, but then again, he had a lot more to be active about because Labor hadn't been there for so long.''

Bracks argues that one of the keys to the longevity of this Government is its ability to keep renewing its agenda. His administration focused on restoring teachers, nurses and police and boosting regional Victoria, then moved on to environmental issues. Now the Government is tackling problems borne of the ''consequences of growth'': overcrowded trains, roads and hospitals, and threats to Victoria's famed ''liveability'' posed by the population boom.

(note how the first few items below are social matters and the latter infrastructure items were largely late administration tasks that were only partly funded/delivered)

Brumby's confidence is based on those plans and the Government's record on basic services and ''state-building'' projects. He reels off his proudest achievements by rote: 8000 extra nurses, 8000 extra teachers, nearly 2000 extra police, the Austin and Royal Children's Hospital upgrades, regional rail services, the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline, the $38 billion transport plan, and $5 billion water plan, and on it goes. ''All of these things are building a better and stronger state, and not just in Melbourne but right across the suburbs, the regions and our little country towns,'' Brumby said this week.

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