Karen Andrews voices opposition to Gold Coast light rail project, Mayor Tom Tate slams ‘arrogant backflip’

McPherson MP Karen Andrews has called for no federal funding to be earmarked for a next stage of light rail in a ‘backflip’ that has earned a reprimand from the Gold Coast mayor.

Ms Andrews said in an open letter to residents of Palm Beach that she had “deep concerns” about the project, which would see light rail extended south from Burleigh Heads along the Gold Coast Highway.

‘I haven’t come across a single local resident who thinks reducing the Gold Coast Highway to one lane each way to accommodate light rail is a good idea,’ she said.

She said the government could not risk “damaging businesses, creating longer-term traffic problems and impacting the amenity of those living on side streets with a route through Burleigh Hill, Palm Beach and Currumbin that didn’t work for the community.”

McPherson MP Karen Andrews says she does not support the light rail link design across her constituency.(ABC Gold Coast: Kimberly Bernard)

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate described Ms Andrews’ opposition to Stage 4 as an “arrogant” backflip.

He said he had “never been so disappointed in the political arena”.

Call to ‘preserve’ the southern Gold Coast

The Burleigh to Coolangatta link is expected to cost around $2.7 billion, which would be split between federal, state and local governments.

This sparked some opposition from the community, fearing it would impact amenities, local businesses and culturally significant sites.

Light rail on the Gold Coast
Stage 4 of the Gold Coast light rail project will run from Burleigh Heads to Coolangatta.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Ms Andrews said she had written to Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher asking for ‘no federal funding to be earmarked for this project as it stands’.

She denied backtracking on the issue, but said the current path was “unsustainable”.

“[Stage 4] must be absolutely fit for purpose, the community must be properly consulted,” she told ABC Gold Coast.

She said she hasn’t spoken to anyone who supports the Gold Coast Highway becoming a lane through Palm Beach.

“It’s just not feasible,” she said.

people standing with sign
Anti-light rail protesters gather in Tallebudgera Creek a week before the Stage 4 consultation in 2021.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

The state government has conducted a public consultation on Stage 4 throughout 2021 and said in April that an independent survey of more than 1,000 residents found 64% supported the project.

“I will not sit still while their opinions are crushed.”

She said she would focus on advancing the heavy rail extension from Varsity.

The mayor calls the remarks “derogatory”

Mr Tate said the move was nothing short of “arrogant” and political given that early voting opened on Monday.

He said he couldn’t say how disappointed he was with Ms Andrews’ position.

“This project has been planned for 20 years, we’ve been building it for 10 years, if she was adamant why didn’t she jump for joy at stage 1?” said Mr. Tate.

“It’s ridiculous to have Stages 1, 2 and 3 fully funded by all three levels of government and going, well, now it’s in my backyard, I don’t want Stage 4.”

standing man looking to his right
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has been a strong supporter of light rail.(ABC Gold Coast: Dominic Cansdale)

Mr Tate said the alternative route would cost an additional $1.3billion and would run alongside the M1, adding a further 30 minutes to journey time.

“How arrogant [timing] out two weeks, the ballot is open.”

‘It does not mean anything’

Queensland Minister for Transport and Trunk Roads Mark Bailey said light rail had been an “incredible success story” so far, with more than 60 million journeys recorded.

Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey speaks to the media during a press conference on the Gold Coast on April 10, 2018.
Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.(ABC News: Ashleigh Stevenson)

“Population growth will mean the Gold Coast will be in a bind unless we have a better public transport system,” he said.

Mr Bailey said both light and heavy rail links to the airport would be needed for the Gold Coast.

“It was actually the Morrison government who co-funded the business case around Stage 4 taking the light rail to the airport and now they are going against their own funding,” a- he declared.

“It does not mean anything.”

A spokesman for Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher said the federal government was not committing funding for Phase 4.

Plans must move forward

Despite opposition, Mr Tate said he expected the project to go ahead as planned.

“My prediction is that the light rail will go to the airport and Coolangatta, both sides of the state government are on board, at the federal level fair play will come into play,” he said.

The City of Gold Coast has pledged to provide 11% of Stage 4 funding, with the remainder split between state and federal governments.

The latest development comes in a series of public disagreements between the City of Gold Coast and local government MPs.

Mr Tate on Monday urged residents not to vote for any of the major Senate parties, while Deputy Mayor Donna Gates called the federal budget “very disappointing” in March.

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Jose P. Rogers