The ACT Liberal opposition could debase Australia's national infrastructure program and create sovereign risk by threatening to tear up contracts for light rail, an infrastructure lobby group warned on Wednesday.
Welcoming the government's announcement of two consortiums being shortlisted to submit bids to build, own and operate the 12-kilometre tram line, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Brendan Lyon said the opposition's commitment to stop the project could unnerve international investors.
Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson and transport spokesman Alistair Coe disputed the assessment and said they would seek to use termination clauses in the contract.
Neither would nominate how much a Liberal government would pay to get out of the contract, only saying any payment amount would be fair to ACT taxpayers and fair to the successful consortium partners.
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia represents private sector members in advocating for infrastructure projects.
Mr Lyon said the government's shortlisted consortiums included domestic and international players with strong records in transport projects and that the $783 million line would drive development in the Northbourne Avenue corridor.
"While we respect the ACT opposition's resistance to this project, it is very important that politicians don't debase the infrastructure program with discussions around sovereign risk," he said in a statement.
"As we've seen in Victoria, the cancellation of a project after it reaches contractual close does little for investor certainty and is unacceptable for sovereign risk. The shortlisting of two consortiums marks the next milestone in the delivery of the Capital Metro."
The Victorian Labor government confirmed on Wednesday it has begun drafting legislation which could be used to avoid a large payout to the consortium contracted to build the East West Link road project in Melbourne.
The contracts were signed by the former Coalition government in 2014, and were a key factor in Premier Daniel Andrews' election win.
Sovereign risk threats traditionally referred to probability that a government would default on debt, but can also be used to describe the risk created by a government not abiding by a legally binding commitment.
Mr Coe said exercising a termination clause, if included in the contract, would not constitute a breach of the agreement.
"The issue of sovereign risk arises if you terminate beyond the scope of those clauses so we are calling on the government to make sure there are reasonable termination clauses," he said.
"If there is a contract that is signed, we will go to great lengths to work with the contractor to try and rescope the project to something far more beneficial for Canberra."
Mr Coe said voters knew a Liberal government "would not proceed with light rail".
ACT Light Rail advocacy group chairman Damien Haas accused Mr Coe and Mr Hanson of trying to avoid answering questions about how much a Liberal government would pay in compensation costs for terminating contracts.
"If you look at all the language, and I do look closely at the language ... they've not once come out and said they would rip up the contract," he said.
"They say things like all options will be explored, everything except they will rip [the contract] up."
Mr Haas said he received a commitment from Mr Hanson that a Liberal government wouldn't tear up the contracts in September 2013, a suggestion Mr Hanson disputed on Wednesday.
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