Opinion: What happened to nation-building?

BRIDGE TO NOWHERE: Take a time machine back to 1993 and the first episode of 'The X-Files' is on our TV screens, suggesting the Truth Is Out There. Labor was also making its (first) Malden-Dombarton Rail promise. No truth there.
BRIDGE TO NOWHERE: Take a time machine back to 1993 and the first episode of 'The X-Files' is on our TV screens, suggesting the Truth Is Out There. Labor was also making its (first) Malden-Dombarton Rail promise. No truth there.

What were you doing in 1993? Perhaps watching that new TV show, The X-Files?

Or buying a local home for $150,000, or scratching your head about that mysterious "world wide web" thing. Yes, it was a long time ago.

I know what I was doing in 1993. As a reporter I was standing beside the railway tracks at Macarthur station getting a photo of Macarthur's Labor candidate, Chris Haviland, as he made a bold election promise.

If Labor was re-elected it would finish building the Maldon-Dombarton rail.

You know, that unfinished freight line linking Macarthur to Illawarra, dumped by Premier Greiner in 1988.

Most of the groundwork for the 35km line, from Port Kembla with Picton, was finished but sitting idle, needing two bridges and a tunnel.

So, Labor's 1993 promise was big news. Until it won, that is, and broke its promise.

Not to worry, Bob Carr vowed to finish it. Alas, another broken promise.

Since then, I've lost count of other promises and feasibility studies...and here we are in 2019 - and Labor is again vowing to finish the Maldon-Dombarton line.

The online reaction was valid: "Not going to happen in my lifetime", "Here we go again!", "Yer right! They say this every election." Etc, etc.

I like Macarthur MP Dr Mike Freelander and he's doing his best to finally get action, knowing the line is three-quarters built, will ease road traffic, and boost our local economy.

But he's standing on a three-decade old mountain of manure built by his own party. And the $50 million being quoted is barely a tenth of what is needed, so it sounds like (yet another) feasibility study. Sigh.

At the same time, we have Hume MP Angus Taylor hailing a new road from Menangle Park to Appin Road, via a new housing estate at Gilead (supposed to be open space) which he predicts will "ease congestion". Seriously?

Everyone knows this road is part of a much bigger developer-friendly plan to ram in more housing estates.

Online readers again responded: "How is this going to reduce traffic when you're putting 30,000 homes south of Ctown to Appin. Especially if new residents have jobs in Wollongong." It's true, more cars rarely mean less traffic.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see infrastructure.

Indeed, my favourite of all our PMs was Ben Chifley, who believed in nation building - from creating Australia's own car and a Snowy Mountains Scheme to a complete post-war reconstruction.

Our present leaders aren't fit to fill Chif's pipe.

It seems that governments these days are only capable of building something if it is a tollway, or some deal with or for developers.

If money is an issue, why not target all those mega-rich corporations paying no tax. How about the $136 million ScoMo is spending on pre-election advertising, the $180 million wasted to reopen an empty Christmas Island detention centre as a PR stunt, or record payments for water rights ($80 million) into a mysterious tax haven. And so on, and so on.

Imagine if that money was put into nation building.

The problem is, it is often claimed the Maldon-Dombarton line is economically unfeasible for freight.

Well, how about taking a Chifley pill and doing it as a passenger line! A bit of clever engineering and building to create a direct link between Campbelltown and Picton and the Gong! A boon for everyone from workers and uni students to surf lovers. It could even link via a Narellan/Leppinton line to the second Sydney airport!

All it needs is true vision and leadership. Uh oh.