Four Corners - Wheeling and Dealing
Private tollways are catching on in Australia’s biggest cities, an experiment in controversial deals called Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). For some state governments, desperate to avoid the odium of increasing debt but facing pressure to fix crumbling infrastructure, PPPs have come as a salvation.
Melbourne and Sydney would be "absolutely stagnant" without the billions pumped into roads by the private sector in the past decade, say the big engineers and builders. But private tollways are now under intense scrutiny in the wake of Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel fiasco and the outcry over street closures, high tolls and trade-offs that will curb public transport.
A chorus of critics say state governments should ditch PPPs completely and reclaim their traditional role of funding, owning and running major public roads. PPPs, they claim, are backdoor privatisation - "a euphemism for selling off things that you shouldn’t sell under the guise that it’s better for everybody when you do it," in the words of former NSW Auditor-General Tony Harris.
The public is told that tollways are all about "user pays". But now there is evidence that motorists on Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel may be paying the taxman as well as the tunnel operator. Four Corners digs into the huge upfront fees that governments are now demanding from tollway companies and asks: who really pays for them?
Do gold-plated returns to private investors – sometimes a staggering 15 to 20 per cent – suggest the public is getting a bad deal? Or do they just reflect the big risks that these deals involve? Reporter Ticky Fullerton looks at how Sydney turned its tunnel into a political disaster, how Melbourne is dealing with the controversial Citylink and Eastlink projects and whether tollways speed or impede the mass movement of people.
And she asks why some experts are pointing to Perth as the city with the answer to traffic crisis.
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