The ACT opposition has welcomed the Victorian government's agreement to pay $339 million to get out of a controversial road tunnel project, saying it proves Canberra's light rail project could be ditched at a "reasonable" price.
Liberal transport spokesman Alistair Coe said Premier Daniel Andrew's claim the state would pay just 3 per cent of the East West Link's total contract cost in compensation suggested ACT taxpayers could pay less than $30 million if a new government cancelled contracts for the $783 million Gungahlin to the city tram line.
The Liberals have pledged to pay their way out of the deal after the 2016 election but have never specified how much they would be prepared to spend.
But Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell dismissed the claims and said a future Liberal government would instead face bills of "hundreds of millions" to exit signed contracts and would risk thousands of jobs.
Mr Coe's comments also left him at odds with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday.
Mr Abbott backed the former Victorian Coalition government's project and said Victorian Labor had set "a dangerous precedent" for future investment by stopping the $5.3 billion tunnel. The move would damage investor confidence in Australian infrastructure projects, Mr Abbott said.
Mr Coe called on the government to wait until after the election to sign the contracts and said paying millions for no work would be unfortunate.
"We do think the 3 per cent appears to be a reasonable amount and I do note the Victorian government has said it hasn't given any compensation for loss of income, they've only paid for sunk costs," Mr Coe said.
"If we were to negotiate that after the October 2016 election, that seems to be a reasonable way out for both the consortium and also the taxpayers."
Mr Corbell said the cost of getting out of the contract would depend on the final bid price from the successful consortium, and at what stage of construction the contract was terminated.
Victoria had a stronger bargaining position because of its population size and the ability of state governments to legislate out of contracts, a power not shared by the ACT.
"It's up to hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on the scope of the works," Mr Corbell said.
"East West Link construction was not mobilised, they were not on the ground, no construction activity had commenced. Construction activity for Capital Metro will commence by around the middle of next year.
"They're going to throw away thousands of jobs and contracts with many Canberra businesses."
Mr Corbell said the contract was being formed with standard terms for termination at convenience, in line with all government contracts.
"That is one of the expensive aspects of any contract," he said. "We can safely estimate it's up to hundreds of millions for absolutely nothing if the Liberals break this contract."
The government has shortlisted two consortiums to submit detailed bids to build, own and operate the 12 kilometre tram line, with both now preparing detailed design and final bid prices.
A final decision is expected in early 2016, and could include an extension to Russell.
Industry lobby group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia claimed the Liberals were "the only political party in the country still supporting sovereign risk".
Chief executive Brendan Lyon said the ACT needed business confidence more than any other jurisdiction.
"Far from creating a positive precedent, the East West Link cancellation has harmed Victoria's reputation and ultimately seen Victoria pay hundreds of millions in costs.
"It's hard to understand why the ACT opposition would want to achieve the same result," he said.
"The Canberra Liberals should listen to their Liberal colleagues across federal and state parliaments, who are all opposed to sovereign risk and reverse their position."