The State Government has committed $35 million to help pay for a major road, despite it already being funded by a property developer as part of a multi-billion-dollar private project.
- The proposed road will link the 20,000-lot housing estate to the Bruce Highway
- Developer Stockland says it was otherwise not planning to build the road for 10 years
- Stockland had a turnover of more than $1.4 billion this year
Stockland is building a 20,000-lot housing estate at the southern end of the Sunshine Coast that will eventually become home to 50,000 people.
Supplying the arterial road was one of the conditions of the approval for Stockland when the giant estate was given the go-ahead in 2012.
The Palaszczuk Government announced the money in late September, days before Parliament was dissolved ahead of the state election, and followed a similar promise by the LNP several months earlier.
Despite being a long-held LNP seat, the Caloundra electorate is considered a swing seat with current LNP member Mark McArdle retiring.
Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said the Government would pay half the cost of extending Bellvista Arterial Road, which would link the new suburbs to the nearby Bruce Highway.
The relationship between the major parties and developers has been in the spotlight this week, amid revelations that Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had been referred to the election watchdog over meetings with property developers.
There is no suggestion of impropriety over the funding for the Caloundra road project, but a local councillor has raised questions about the best use of public money.
Money spent, but why?
In the lead-up to the election, the local council released a wish list of projects that required state funding — including $20 million to expand its stadium, which this year became a COVID-safe home ground for the Melbourne Storm NRL team.
But nothing on the wish list — which also included requests to improve public transport and develop a long-overdue road interchange — has yet convinced the major parties to open their wallets.
Councillor Christian Dickson is not a stranger to giant housing developments.
The Harmony project in his division is a 4,800-home estate worth an estimated $3 billion.
Cr Dickson said he agreed the road link from Caloundra South to the highway was overdue and urgently needed, but he questioned why money was supporting a major developer without any clear conditions.
Deal a ‘no-brainer’
Cr Dickson said if the major parties wanted the road done sooner to create jobs, footing the bill was not the only way.
He said when the same issue arose with the Harmony project, the council lent the developer $9 million so the road could be built sooner without eating into its budget.
“Council actually fronted the money for that road to be built — we paid for it upfront,” Cr Dickson said.
Mr Bailey described the decision to help Stockland build the road as a “no-brainer”.
“Committing this funding now means construction will start before Christmas, securing employment for hundreds of Sunshine Coast locals,” he said.
Mr Bailey estimates the project will create 314 direct jobs and reduce travel time on major nearby roads by about 30 per cent.
LNP transport spokesman Steve Minnikin said the money was a stimulus for the region.
“The Sunshine Coast needs stimulus spending now, not in 10 years’ time,” he said.
In documents released to the ASX in late August, Stockland estimated its Australian investments to be worth $15.1 billion, including $2.8 billion in Queensland.
Nothing illegal about pork-barrelling
Both major parties said the plan was a way of creating hundreds of jobs by speeding up a critical project at a time when the jobs and infrastructure were desperately needed.
Graham Orr from the University of Queensland’s School of Law said there was no legal issue with the deal but was simply a bidding war between two parties for votes.
Professor Orr said the problem with pork-barrelling was how it would likely be viewed by voters.
“It raises issues about the inefficient use of public funds,” he said.
“You get pissed off if money’s being wasted, as a taxpayer.”