ACT News

Canberra's light rail an election vote changer

The ACT Government's signature light rail project is looming as a vote changing issue at the territory's 2016 election. 

Canberra's proposed tram line is looming as an election-defining issue, with 70 per cent of a survey of more than 6000 people saying it will influence their vote at the 2016 election.

Fifty-four per cent of people who took part in the online Canberra Times survey oppose light rail, and still more – 59 per cent – oppose the route.

Construction on the $783 million, 12 kilometre line from Gungahlin to the city is planned to start before the 2016 election, but the survey results suggest the Government might win more support if it extended the line to Russell, or even south of the lake.

Only a quarter of participants said they would use the tram regularly, at least two or three times a week. More than 60 per cent said they would never use it  or only once a year. 

The tram line is clearly a potential vote-changer, with 70 per cent saying it would influence their vote at the next election – and worryingly for Labor, 46 per cent were less likely to vote for Labor because of the project. Fewer than 20 per cent said it would not influence their vote, the rest are undecided. Nearly 40 per cent said they were more likely to vote for the Liberal Party, which opposes the tram.  

The tram is a cornerstone infrastructure project for the ACT Government, which has put it as a top priority ahead of a new city sports stadium, convention centre and swimming pool. 

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After decades of debate, the results suggest thecommunity remains more polarised on light rail than on other infrastructure projects,  although this is probably not surprising given the tram was the focus of the survey. While most people said the money was better spent on improving buses, when asked how much should be spent on light rail, a full third chose "whatever it takes to build it properly", with more than half saying nothing should be spent on the project.

Asked to rank the importance of infrastructure projects, participants said light rail was among either the most or least important projects indicating a sharp divide in opinions. A total of 27 per cent ranked light rail as their top priority of six options and 40 per cent put it last. 

Another indication of how polarised views are on the subject comes in a question asking people to rank the importance of light rail. About 70 per cent gave it the top ranking (22 per cent of people) or bottom ranking (46 per cent).

Asked to rank it against other projects – the stadium, convention centre, pool, new hospital and a rapid bus network – people again split between ranking it bottom (40 per ent), or top (27 per cent). Interestingly, a rapid bus network was ranked as their top or second-top priority by 60 per cent of survey participants, and the new University of Canberra hospital also had strong support.

The data is drawn from readers who opted to take a survey at canberratimes.com.au, which ran for three days last week. The self-selected sample of 6061 was the biggest of any survey to date on people's attitudes to light rail. The age range of participants was broad, with about a third aged up to 35, a third aged 35-50, and another third 50 plus. About 1000 responses each came from Gungahlin, Belconnen, the inner north and Tuggeranong, with fewer from the inner south, Woden, Weston Creek and other areas. 

The poll was designed for participants to vote only once from each computer or mobile device. It remains unknown whether and to what extent groups in favour or opposed to light rail groups organised people to respond but analysis of the IP addresses found no significant manipulation of the survey.  

Responses on voting were the most striking and will give pause to  Labor and the Greens, and give heart to Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson. Answers varied somewhat depending how the question was asked, but 38 per cent said light rail made them less likely to vote Green; 46 per cent said they were less likely to vote Labor, and 30 per cent said they were less likely to vote Liberal. Significantly, 40 per cent said they were more likely to vote Liberal.

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell will release the project's full business case on October 31. 

On Tuesday, how each part of the city voted.

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