Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell has conceded the government will only get the $60 million asset recycling bonus from the Commonwealth if it makes a big lump-sum payment for the tram.
Also on Wednesday, Capital Metro said it had identified a major gas pipeline under the tram corridor between Antill Street and Flemington Road which must be moved.
The government is considering a lump sum payment to the consortium of 50 per cent of project debt, which could amount to perhaps $400 million for the $780 million tram line. The amount would be paid at the end of construction in 2019, or at the first refinancing point, between two and four years after the tram begins operation.
To date, the government has only said it is considering the lump sum, with no decision made, and during an Assembly inquiry on Wednesday Mr Corbell began by saying, "the territory has not formally announced that it will be making a capital contribution" and "it's not for me to make announcements about government policy today".
But under questioning, he conceded the payment was "highly likely" and the federal asset recycling bonuses would only be paid if the ACT made a capital contribution to the tram. The government was still considering the timing and the amount, but the payment would only be paid once construction was complete, he said.
"If we want to access the $60 odd million from the Commonwealth, yes, we will need to apply it to the project. But as I've indicated, it is still within the territory's discretion as to whether or not to do that and the Chief Minister and I have not yet not formally announced any details of a capital contribution," Mr Corbell said.
On top of the capital contribution, the government will make an annual payment to the consortium that runs the tram line. It has not put a figure on this "availability payment", but one economist has suggested it will be $80 million to $100 million a year.
Mr Corbell said the capital contribution would reduce the annual availability payment. But he would not say what how much the government expected to pay each year.
Asked whether the $80 million to $100 million figure was in the ballpark, he said: "The government has made it clear that we're not going to speculate publicly on what the availability payment looks like ahead of the procurement stage - and the reason for that is to maintain a very strong competitive tension."
Capital Metro's head of procurement and deliver Steve Allday said the work to identify pipes and wires along the corridor was complete, with extra work done on the Russell extension. Capital Metro had also looked at where lines that needed relocation might go. A major gas pipeline under Northbourne Avenue and the Federal Highway north of Antill Street was among pipes and wires that must be relocated.
The government has not said how much it has spent on the utilities work, but said the cost of moving utilities would be borne by the winning consortium.
Mr Corbell said one lesson from the tram line built at the Gold Coast and Adelaide, was that community opposition was common to light rail projects but sentiment changed once it was built. On the Gold Coast, people now said "we want more of it" and in Adelaide, the debate was no longer about whether a light rail line should be built but "who should get it next".
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