The sense of urgency that can grip a party in election mode, particularly when it believes its opponent may have stolen a policy march, is as fascinating as it is revealing. On Sunday, the My Gungahlin website carried a video of Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris declaring that the state government would duplicate Horse Park Drive from the Federal Highway where it meets the new Majura Parkway to Mulligans Flat Road at a cost of $57 million.
The video's poor sound quality attested to the fact that it was done hurriedly. And the reason for this haste? The Labor Party wanted to trump the announcement the next day by Opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe that a future Liberal government would duplicate Horse Park Drive from Federal Highway to Gundaroo Drive. When he learned of the video, Mr Coe quickly matched Labor's duplication promise, budgeting it at $57 million, like Labor.
Gungahlin is one of Canberra's fastest growing urban developments, and it makes sense to ensure that the arterial roads that traverse it and link it with other regions have the required carrying capacity. That certainly accords with the Canberra Liberals' view. In recent months they have pledged to duplicate Gundaroo Drive (at a cost of $60 million) and to connect with William Slim Drive with a fly-over on Barton Highway (433 million).
In its 2015-16 budget, the Barr government announced that around $62 million would be spent on road upgrades in Gungahlin. Of that, only $17.1 million was earmarked for spending on Horse Park Drive, with duplication between Mulligans Flat Road and the Federal Highway to the continuing subject of a feasibility study.
The parties' sudden enthusiasm for road improvements in Gungahlin is probably driven in large part by the belief that they can pick up the last of the Yerrabi electorate's five seats. Under the new five-member, five-electorate model debuting this October, Labor and Liberal are said to be confident of securing 80 per cent of the seats between them – 10 seats each, or two in each of the five electorates. The final seat in each will be fought over between the major parties and the Greens.
Labor would probably be thinking that its strong support for the Gungahlin-Civic light rail project gives it the inside running to pick up Yerrabi's final seat. However, the rush to trump Mr Coe at the weekend hardly suggests a party that's sanguine about its electoral prospect in Gungahlin. Labor has been in power in Canberra for nearly 15 years, and that longevity may be playing on the party's collective approach more than it cares to admit.
The slavish matching of Opposition promises is hardly a sign of energy, initiative and strategic thinking. Moreover, by being seen to be ready to commit yet more money for Gungahlin's roads, Labor runs the risk of being portrayed as a party relatively indifferent to the infrastructure deficiencies that exist elsewhere in Canberra, particularly in the southern suburbs.