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Expert report for Unions ACT backs light rail job numbers

A new trade union report has echoed job creation assumptions for light rail, forecasting thousands of professional positions around the line over three decades and comparing it to visionary infrastructure projects like Sydney's Harbour Bridge. 

Unions ACT commissioned Macquarie University workforce expert Sasha Holley to assess all publicly available business case reports and employment studies related to the city to Gungahlin light rail line, in order to examine the credibility of their economic and employment claims. 

Dr Holley's report, set to be released on Monday, is the latest salvo in the trade union movement's campaign of support for the 12 kilometre tram line, including promotion of new jobs connected to the project. 

The desktop review backs employment assumptions included in a 2014 Ernst and Young report for the ACT government, which predicted as many as 50,000 jobs by 2049 when the tram corridor is fully established.

It agrees a "pattern of job creation" will see 3500 direct and indirect jobs during the three year construction beginning in 2016, including low-skill construction jobs followed by jobs for higher-skilled, university educated workers  

Between 50 and 60 per cent of jobs generated by the $783 million project will be new positions in the territory workforce, while about 40 per cent will be displacement of existing jobs. 

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Dr Holley identifies previous claims of benefits from higher density living, economic participation, reduced cost from urban sprawl, health benefits, decreased car dependency and improved social equity. 

Considering previous reports critical of light rail, Dr Holley says transport consultant Bob Nairn likely "misses the point" in his critical assessment put forward by the Liberal opposition last year. 

"The light rail is being introduced to Canberra to transform the city from having an economy dependent on Commonwealth public service employment, to a diversified economy with employment across a range of high-skill/knowledge and lower skill jobs," the report said. 

"Scholars and practitioners have found that the introduction of light rail services has far greater benefits than the continuation of bus services. These benefits have not been incorporated into Nairn's business case..." 

Dr Holley says Mr Nairn miscalculates the cost per kilometre of building the line, resulting in a substantially negative net present value. The report questions time saving benefits included in Mr Nairn's analysis, disputes the cost of rolling stock estimates and says his report adopts a two year timeframe for construction, when the government expects a three year build. 

"The light rail is a visionary and enterprising commitment to diversifying the Canberra economy by attracting private firms and a range of worker to a high density, superior amenity corridor," the report said. 

A Unions ACT poll commissioned in May found 38.8 per cent of ACT voters supported light rail, while 46.3 per cent were opposed, and 14.9 per cent were undecided. The organisation's analysis said that if job creation benefits from the line were explained to voters, "support increases to 52.6 per cent". 

Last week, former ACT Treasury official David Hughes said the number of new jobs created by building the light rail line was 1930, remaining for one year. He questioned the government's claim the project would see 3560 new jobs and said total additional jobs in 2049 would be 5000 not 26,000 or 50,000 as claimed. 

Unions ACT secretary Alex White said new jobs brought about by the light rail project would make Canberra less vulnerable to federal government employment policies. He said the union movement supported the creation of secure jobs and the diversification of the ACT economy. 

"Of course, those opposed to light rail will dispute this report. To them we say, please don't turn job creation into a political football. 

"The independent assessment by Dr Holley will be made available to the public, and we hope it will help interested Canberrans understand the benefits of light rail for workers," Mr White said.