Brisbane Voters Should Heed Melbourne’s East-West Debacle

AS COUNCIL elections loom in Brisbane, voters in the River City would do well to look south to assess a moronic pledge by ALP aspirant Rod Harding; hot on the heels of Victoria’s Andrews government paying $1.1bn to cancel a contract — for zilch in return — Labor says it will kill an upgrade of Kingsford-Smith Drive to fund other projects. Harding claims it can be cancelled: history suggests otherwise. As the Brisbane press has tagged him, he’s a fool.

“There is nothing to walk away from, be very clear about this, the contracts are not worth the paper they’re written on…this is not a legally binding contract (sic).”  — Daniel Andrews, then opposition leader and leader of the ALP, emphasising his policy to cancel the East-West Link would not cost the State of Victoria any compensation on 25 November 2014: four days from a state election Labor would win.

I find it unbelievable that with its track record of utter ineptitude and incompetence where the sound management of taxpayer money is concerned that the Labor Party has the nerve to expect people to blindly accept its continuous declarations of fiscal rectitude: yet it does. And it expects you, the voter, to elevate it to office.

Everywhere you look, the consequences of Labor governments are visible: the federal government is swimming in close to half a trillion dollars of red ink locked in by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd disaster, and the ALP — now in opposition — petulantly and cynically refuses to pass bills in the Senate that cut outlays, whilst being only too ready to pass anything that ramps up spending, and has the sheer effrontery to try to pin blame for the continued consequent debt haemorrhage on the Liberal Party.

In the states, anywhere that has had the misfortune to have experienced Labor in power in the past 20 years has been left with a huge pile of debt, a state budget in structural deficit, or both: and in the states that have recently restored the ALP to power — Victoria and Queensland — those new state Labor governments have undone work by their conservative predecessors to put public finances on a sounder footing, with the debt binge of Bligh Labor in Queensland back up and running with a vengeance and the Andrews government in Victoria running a budget deficit last year, turning around a surplus of almost $2bn in a single budget.

And this textbook basket-case of exactly what not to do is set to be opened in Brisbane’s City Hall in March, should Labor achieve the seismic swing it needs to dislodge Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and pick up the six extra council wards needed on top of the mayoralty to hand it control of the council.

If ever there was a case of “buyer beware,” this is it: and the good folk of Brisbane, fortunately for them, need not look all that far afield to see exactly how Labor’s latest dishonest ruse will affect them if its candidate, Rod Harding, becomes Lord Mayor of their city.

I’ve been following the tit-for-tat promises of the LNP and the ALP in the runup to elections for the Brisbane City Council, and the thing I’ve been most intrigued to watch has been Harding’s handling of a promise to scupper a $650 million upgrade of Kingsford-Smith Drive in the inner north-east; today it seems Mr Harding is being reminded of some good common sense shown by the last candidate Labor ran for the mayoralty — Ray Smith in 2012 — who had the honesty to note that once arrangements to build Brisbane’s Legacy Way toll tunnel were finalised, there would be no way he could stop the project from proceeding.

“I’m a businessman. I’m no fool. And I know damn well that we can’t stop a contract once it’s under way,” Quest Newspapers quotes Smith as saying of the idea at the time, laying Harding open to the charge that he is “a fool” if he thinks it possible to now kill off the planned upgrade of Kingsford-Smith Drive from four lanes to six, in addition to other separation and alignment works, the contract for which was let by Council late last year.

First, a first-hand perspective.

I spent close to a decade driving in Brisbane before I moved south 18 years ago, the last year of which I lived and worked in the same area that Kingsford-Smith Drive covers; that road was an abomination and a traffic nightmare.

Over the past six months I’ve spent a day each week in Brisbane, flying in and out each Tuesday* for a particular purpose — often travelling Kingsford-Smith Drive either in peak hour or the early evening on my way back to the airport — and I know that it remains an abomination and a traffic nightmare now, too.

It also just happens to sit in the ultra blue-ribbon Liberal council ward of Clayfield, funnily enough: and coincidentally, I’m sure, the road projects Harding wants to take the money away from Kingsford-Smith Drive to fund just happen to be in more marginal wards on the southside that may be winnable for Labor or which it currently holds (narrowly, in the case of Wynnum-Manly).

Harding’s argument seems to be that the upgrade of Kingsford-Smith Drive would save motorists just 60 seconds’ travel time; I disagree with him on that, even taking into account the inevitable logjam citybound motorists still run into in the morning as Kingsford-Smith Drive empties into Breakfast Creek Road, but even so, Harding misses a crucial point.

Kingsford-Smith Drive isn’t just a local thoroughfare for the well-heeled inhabitants of Ascot and Hamilton and Hendra; it’s a gateway to retail and hospitality strips enjoyed by people from across Brisbane and beyond; it provides access to a still-considerable industrial and commercial precinct in the shadow of the Gateway Bridges; and it does in fact form part of an alternative route to Brisbane Airport — and that’s just for starters.

So trying to play down the importance of the project — or the benefits it will deliver — is a red herring that should be ignored.

Yet whether you agree upgrading Kingsford-Smith Drive is an urgent and necessary improvement that will reap enormous benefits or whether you agree with Harding that it is a terrible waste of money on the well-heeled that could be better spent somewhere else, the fact remains that Council has let a contract for the works to commence: and cancelling road contracts, as has been spectacularly proven in Melbourne in the past year, is an exercise that brings only red ink — with nothing to show for it.

Here in Victoria, the Coalition government of Denis Napthine that lost a state election to Daniel Andrews and Labor in November had let a contract to build the first stage of the so-called East-West Link; at a total cost of $15bn, this road, in two stages, would link Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway to Citylink and eventually the orbital Western Ring Road, removing thousands of cars and heavy vehicles from the CBD and inner suburbs every day, and (to use Napthine’s terminology) would “decongest Melbourne” by linking its existing freeways directly and removing the need for vehicles to travel through central Melbourne.

(Again, I’m not engaging in a debate over whether it would or wouldn’t have today, or the merits — or lack of them — of Andrews’ alternatives).

But Andrews campaigned on an explicit promise not to build the East-West Link, mindful of four inner-city electorates in its path that Labor risked losing to the Communist Party Greens (it lost one of them anyway). The contracts weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, Andrews said. Labor would rip them up, Andrews said. The contracts weren’t legally binding, Andrews said. Not one cent in compensation would be payable, Andrews said, hand on heart, in his closing pitch to voters they day before polls opened.

After becoming Premier, Labor held good to its promise, and tore the contract to build the East-West Link up: originally, his government claimed the cost to taxpayers was $339 million, a figure that almost immediately jumped to $900 million once completed works and other associated expenses were factored in. Late last year, revised estimates of the total outlay shot up to $1.1bn. Ominously, there is still every possibility that figure could increase in the short to medium term. But there is no road.

In fact, there is nothing at all to show for the reckless wastage of $1.1bn of Victorian taxpayers’ dollars; nothing at all. The money hasn’t been redirected (although a separate pool of federal funding might be) and it has generated a return to the State of Victoria and to the people who live in it of precisely nothing.

Readers may access some content I published on the East-West compensation debacle at the time here; this also includes links to a selection of material from other press sources on the same subject.

I’ve never voted for the ALP in my life and I never will — the informal pile is more deserving of support than Labor ever will be — and I apologise to an old friend and associate in Quirk when I say this, but those Brisbane folk who were open to having Labor anywhere near City Hall missed their opportunity four years ago: at least Smith, it seems, could comprehend the basic realities of contract law and elementary business practice.

You just have to wonder what planet Harding is on if he thinks he can simply cancel most of the planned upgrade to Kingsford-Smith Drive — which, just like the East-West Link, is now subject to a binding contract — and cart the money away to buy off gullible swinging voters in areas he thinks are more conducive to Labor’s prospects.

I haven’t, of course, seen the contract for the Kingsford-Smith Drive upgrade, but I know this: as sure as night follows day, if it’s cancelled in part or in full, there will be compensation payable — and that means higher rates and parking fees for every Brisbane homeowner, motorist, and increased fees and charges to access Council services.

$650 million is a lot of money, and there are far fewer people to spread it over in Brisbane than the six million people who live in Victoria. If Harding is elected and goes through with his half-baked plan, it will hurt people. A lot.

And what would the City of Brisbane have to show for it? Absolutely nothing.

In closing, there’s something else Brisbane people should consider, too; a chat with Trade minister Andrew Robb recently confirmed what many of us in Melbourne suspected, which is that in the wake of the fiasco over the cancellation of the East-West Link, sovereign risk has become a considerable issue for private sector investors abroad looking for global opportunities to do business.

According to Robb, what the Andrews government did in Victoria is scaring people away from investing not just in Victoria, but in Australia generally: and whilst the money may well flow for future public-private partnerships from foreign capital sources, those funds are likely to come priced at a premium in terms of the costs they incur and the returns the projects are expected to generate.

The Kingsford-Smith Drive project might be smaller than the East-West Link, but it’s not inconsiderable; ripping up the contract will damage Brisbane’s international reputation, and cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars it doesn’t have and can’t afford to add to the red side of its ledger.

Yet just like everything else the ALP touches where money is a consideration, the City of Brisbane is now firmly in its sights, and the instinct of Labor to buy elections with public money — and get the greasy arses of its latest chosen cabal into positions of power — will win out every time over quaint notions of prudent governance, astute management of the money it is entrusted with, or any consideration beyond slaking its thirst for power at all.

If Harding thinks he can cancel the contract for a major road infrastructure project with nary a care, then he is a fool.

Brisbane’s million voters should not be hoodwinked. There’s a perfect example of what is likely to follow if Harding is elected, and all they need to do is to look at what Daniel Andrews said would not happen in Victoria if he was elected — and that happened anyway, exactly as his conservative opponents forecast.

If this incident is indicative of Harding’s credentials as a prospective Lord Mayor, he deserves to lose, and lose badly.

Harding has proven — as Labor always does — that he will say literally anything to get himself elected. Voters in Brisbane should look at the precedent set by his mate Daniel Andrews, and re-elect Quirk in a landslide.

*I’ll be in Brisbane on Thursdays, not Tuesday, this year, between March and June at any rate. We’ll see if the traffic is any different later in the week and if it is, I’ll dutifully rescind my criticism of Harding’s story in this column. Stay tuned. But don’t hold your breath.

Victoria: Cain-Kirner Mentality Brings East-West To A Costly End

SCANT REGARD for taxpayers’ money — with a reckless embrace of state debt, and indifference to Victoria’s investment reputation — saw the Andrews government piss almost $1 billion up against a post yesterday, finally axing Melbourne’s East-West Link road project for $339 million plus associated costs. The episode is reminiscent of the ruinous Cain-Kirner regime of the 1980s and 1990s. Other reminders of that time will soon follow.

One of the ugliest episodes of governance in Victoria since — well, since the Labor government that held office between 1999 and 2010 blew billions and billions of dollars on over-budget debacles and white elephants such as myki, the North-South Pipeline, and a desalination plant at Wonthaggi — has come to a costly end, with Premier Daniel Andrews announcing yesterday that his government had “reached agreement” with the consortium contracted to build Melbourne’s East-West freeway project to terminate the arrangement for $339 million in compensation.

I use the word “compensation” very deliberately; prior to the state election in November, Andrews claimed the contract “was legally unenforceable” and “not worth the paper it was printed on;” an Andrews government, he said, would not pay compensation to the consortium under any circumstances.

Yet his government — elected, he says, on a statewide mandate not to build the road — has nonetheless handed over more than a third of a billion dollars in compensation money: Andrews tried to spin the payment by saying the consortium was merely refunded the monies it had spent to date.

But had the contract been invalid, unenforceable, not legally binding or any other formulation of “void,” its beneficiary would not have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars for its termination.

No government — even a recklessly irresponsible one in the classic Labor mould, as the Andrews government is fast proving itself to be — shells out those sorts of dollars just to be nice. The contract was binding, and some form of settlement to compensate the consortium was required.

So I have no truck with Andrews’ claim to have “delivered” on a promise not to pay compensation: such a suggestion is an insult to the intelligence of a reasonable person, and is complete bullshit in any case.

There has already been countless articles written on this subject in the last 18 hours or so (see here, here, here and here for a handful of them) and part of the problem is that there are so many ways to sift and dissect the issues at play — not least, who is culpable and who is not — that I don’t profess to resolve such a discussion any more than the extra reading I’m sharing from the mainstream press does.

To me, the issue boils down to an evaluation of two aspects of the entire East-West disaster.

On the one hand, the former Liberal government of Denis Napthine — which signed a contract to build the road eight weeks before a state election — augmented that contract with a side letter guaranteeing compensation of up to $1.2 billion if the contract was invalidated and/or if the project was otherwise not proceeded with.

And on the other, the incoming Labor government wantonly abandoned a legally binding document to pursue a major infrastructure project that is sorely needed in Melbourne, and at a cost to taxpayers of almost a billion dollars — for nothing in return — once so-called “sunk costs” and other ancillary expenses associated with the project over and above the $339 million compensation payment are factored in.

There is a strong, and almost compelling, moral argument to suggest that Napthine’s government should not have signed a side letter to the contract, knowing as it did that Labor had pledged to tear the contract up anyway if it won office in Victoria; I have been speaking to a few legal people around Melbourne over the past few months, and the consensus seems to be that even if the side letter did not exist, the consortium would still have eventually received compensation anyway: by the messy, protracted and potentially much more expensive route of litigation — possibly for years — as it pursued the state of Victoria through the Courts to obtain recompense.

In that sense, the fact there was a side letter at all may, ironically, have saved time, money, and further damage to Victoria’s reputation as a safe place to invest. But should that letter have been signed? On face value, probably not.

But I think it is necessary to consider the political imperatives faced by the Napthine government in any assessment of its decision to sign a side letter to the contract, rather than moral considerations, because whilst I readily admit the whole matter of the side letter bothers me greatly, it is the political aspects of its existence that are the key to understanding why things have played out as they have.

And yes, time to bash the ALP.

“Modern” Labor, whenever it finds itself in opposition these days, has adopted an explicit strategy of preventing conservative governments from governing where it can in any way possible, at any cost, and irrespective of the damage it causes in any way: be that to the Liberal Party, institutions of governance, the reputation of Parliament, or collateral damage to what ought to be respected pillars of the community.

One look at the present Senate — where the ALP under federal “leader” Bill Shorten heads up an effort to defeat any government bill that might undo profligate spending from Labor’s last period in office, or repair the damage to the budget that was caused in the process — illustrates the point: obstruction to the point of rendering the Abbott government powerless to govern is the obvious objective.

The use of health and emergency services workers (or union ticket-holding impersonators of them) in Victoria and Queensland to help destroy the legitimacy of conservative governments in those states is another pointer to the same strategy.

And far from simply opposing (as it claims) and working to advance its case for a return to government at the ballot box, Labor these days embodies the obscene mantra that if it isn’t elected to govern, it will nonetheless see to it that its opponents are prevented from doing so until its strategy of strangulation kills them off.

Where this ties into the East-West Link and the charade over compensation that was played out yesterday comes relates to the idea that governments in Victoria are elected to govern for four years: not three years and nine months, or some other arbitrary period deemed by the ALP to represent the end of an effective term in office where the Liberal Party is concerned.

Labor has complained that the Napthine government signed contracts to build the East-West Link without taking it to an election first, and that is right; but Victorians had elected the Coalition to govern for four years in late 2010, so the decision to commission the road was wholly appropriate.

In any case, Labor can ill-afford to be making such arguments when its own federal government, in 2010, introduced a carbon tax after an explicit election promise not to do so.

And Labor itself won state elections in Victoria in 1999 and 2002, in part, with a promise to build the Scoresby Freeway in Melbourne’s outer east without tolls…

…and then unilaterally proceeded to build the road as a tollway anyway, calling it “Eastlink” instead and trying to argue that it was a different road project altogether to justify the deception, so arguments from the ALP of this nature should be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

And it’s not as if the Coalition exhibited undue haste in commissioning the East-West Link, or could be tarred as unduly partisan in doing so, for an infrastructure audit commissioned by the Labor state government in 2008 identified the need for (and recommended) a road link between the Eastern Freeway at Clifton Hill and the Western Ring Road at Laverton, interconnecting with CityLink along the route.

This link — the East-West Link — was adopted as a project by Labor before it lost office under John Brumby two years later, and remained ALP policy until Andrews announced in September last year that his party would not build the road if it won the state election in a desperate attempt to stop the Coalition signing the contract to do so.

In other words, Andrews’ tactic was to bully the Coalition out of governing, and to bully it out of being responsible for starting work on a desperately needed piece of road infrastructure: Melbourne is grinding to a halt, as population growth sees tens of thousands of additional cars pour onto a road network each year that has been largely unchanged for a decade.

But in truth — not that any Labor figure will ever say so publicly — this stunt (which is all it was) was aimed solely at sandbagging four inner-city Labor electorates at risk of falling to the Communist Party Greens; there is no credible research into voting at the November state election that suggests the East-West Link was even a contributor to Labor’s victory, which it owed more to the havoc created by miscreant MP Geoff Shaw in a finely balanced knife-edged Parliament and to the reprehensible emergency services campaigns.

So there you are: for the eventual cost of some $900 million in sum, Labor held onto the seats of Northcote, Brunswick and (only just) Richmond, whilst losing Melbourne to the Greens anyway.

And that, if you live in Melbourne, is what your taxpayer money ultimately is going to pay for. There sure as hell won’t be a road. It’s a hell of a price to pay just for that.

In this sense, the perfectly legal side letter to the contract to build the road becomes understandable, if not entirely desirable or even defensible; when it is remembered that the East-West Link was only ever abandoned as a priority by the ALP to save a few seats, to the ongoing and compounding detriment of hundreds of thousands of road users further afield (and domiciled mostly in Liberal-held electorates) the moral outrage of Andrews and his Labor Party over the contract, the side letter, and the concept of the road at all is reduced to nothing more than cynical and negligently misleading partisan blather.

And on balance, it points the finger of blame squarely at the ALP for the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on a road that isn’t going to be built: taxpayers will get nothing in return for their hard-earned, and as much as Andrews has played a game of smoke and mirrors by arranging for other funds associated with the axed project to be diverted to other schemes, the hard reality is that Labor has pissed almost a billion dollars up against a post for nothing.

Fair-minded Victorians (and observers elsewhere) can and should be aghast at the eerie similarities of this episode to some of the worst excesses of financial mismanagement under the Labor government of John Cain and Joan Kirner more than a generation ago: then, state-backed enterprises such as Tricontinental and the VEDC played fast and loose with Victorians’ money under the auspices of picking winners in new industries.

There were none, of course, and the financial collapses presided over on Labor’s watch left the state tottering on the brink of bankruptcy, until Jeff Kennett’s Liberal government spent most of the 1990s fixing the damage.

The comparison gains additional currency when it is pointed out that as part of its settlement of the East-West issue, the Andrews government has taken on a loan of some $3 billion from the consortium for reallocation to “other projects:” and this lack of transparency, coupled with the transfer of billions of dollars in debt from the private sector to the state, should ring alarm bells in the minds of Victorian voters.

And the Andrews government is soon to shell out another half a billion dollars for no return, this time to fix the mess it made of a botched tender for the state’s lotteries when it was in power under Brumby, in a mess presided over (in a delicious irony) by Andrews himself when he was gaming minister.

There are other financial bombs already primed by this government waiting to explode, but even the half-billion dollars in compensation for the lotteries debacle and the $900 million wasted on East-West means Labor has already taken $1.5 billion and more or less flushed it down the toilet — in addition to increasing state debt by $3 billion at a stroke — in less than six months in office.

At the bottom line, the Liberal Party emerges from the East-West quagmire smelling less than fresh, and deserves some criticism for the manner in which it went about commissioning a much-needed infrastructure project that will now have to wait, at the very minimum, for a change of government before works can even commence.

But the real villain is the ALP, with its brutal and uncompromising refusal to accept the verdict of the electorate when it loses, and the vicious tactics it uses to seize power at literally any cost — and yesterday’s events neatly proved it.

It seems any lessons the ALP learned from the train wreck it presided over in the 1980s and early 1990s have been lost, for the methods and outcomes of that time are well and truly back in evidence in the state of Victoria.

To the detriment of anyone living in this fine state (and, regrettably, to others in Australia who are adversely affected by what happens south of the Murray River), the necrotic, pustulent political ghosts of John Cain and Joan Kirner are alive, thriving, and again walking the corridors of power in Spring Street and Treasury Place, reincarnated in the form of the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews.

The events of the past 24 hours show that if Victoria is to avoid being once again bankrupted by a Labor government, Andrews’ defeat at the state election due in three-and-a-half years’ time is crucial.

The imperative for the Liberals to win next time got that bit more urgent yesterday. The red ink in Victoria is spreading fast.

A Road, A Contract, The PM And A Puerile Premier: Pull Your Head In, Andrews

AN UNGODLY BRAWL between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is escalating, or at least Andrews seems to want to escalate it; the issue of a contract to build a major piece of road infrastructure in Melbourne has skewered Andrews’ pledge to abandon the project amid po-faced guarantees no compensation would be payable by the state of Victoria. Andrews is cornered. He should pull his head in and build the road.

First things first: this isn’t the “economic and infrastructure policy issue” I said I really wanted to cover off on when I posted yesterday; that will have to wait now, and we will see if we can return to it over the weekend: it isn’t too timing-specific.

That said, a major political shitfight has blown up in the past 24 hours or so between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over the fraught issue of the East-West Link in Melbourne, the construction contract for which was signed prior to last year’s state election by what has since proven to be the outgoing government of former Premier Denis Napthine.

I gather most readers will be familiar with the story: Liberal state government spends more than a year tilling the ground (literally) to build the “missing link” in Melbourne’s freeway network as a toll road, signs a contract the Labor Party swears blind is invalid — and that it will cancel the project if elected — and the Labor leader solemnly declares that not only is the contract totally unenforceable, but that no compensation would be payable in the event the ALP won office in Victoria.

Then — on 29 November last — the Labor Party won the state election.

As a little background to these events as they stand today, readers may peruse material from the Murdoch press or from Fairfax, depending on preference.

But an exchange of letters on Wednesday between the Prime Minister and Victoria’s infantile Premier has proven illuminating, and lays bare the hole Andrews dug for himself last year by making election pledges that he either knew were undeliverable or knew keeping them would damage Victoria’s reputation internationally.

This issue has been simmering ever since the votes were tallied last year, as Liberals (to say nothing of many affected Victorians and the business community) try desperately to find some way to convince the Andrews government to build the road, and as the Andrews government digs in stubbornly to insist that it won’t.

Here is the Prime Minister’s letter to Daniel Andrews:

PMLETTER

And here is the juvenile, childish response it elicited:

PREMIERLETTER

Readers will note, of course, that Andrews insisted on signing himself off as “The Hon Daniel Andrews MP” — a churlish point to make, perhaps, but it speaks to the deluded ego and pompously excessive sense of his own importance that has been so evident in Daniel Andrews to many in this state for too long now.

Be that as it may, I’m not going to talk about this matter endlessly this morning; the entire brouhaha has already consumed more time (and money) than it should have, and whilst Andrews is now trying to score additional cheap political points from his representation of a conversation with the Prime Minister by telephone (which Abbott has wisely declined to even respond to, let alone refute), none of this changes a few very basic points.

One, governments are elected to govern: and the previous Liberal administration did just that.

Yes, the contract to build the East-West Link was signed shortly before an election. But the preparatory planning and consultation involved had gone on for more than a year. A parliamentary term in Victoria is fixed at four years, which commences the day writs are returned after an election and ends when government goes into caretaker mode in the lead-up to the next. There is no legitimate grievance on the ALP’s part that the previous government formally commissioned the East-West Link last September.

Two, Commonwealth funds allocated to Victoria in the sum of $3 billion were explicitly tied to the East-West Link; prior to the state election — with Andrews declaring he would halt the project if he won — it was spelt out by the federal government that if the project was cancelled, the monies would be withdrawn.

At the time, Andrews and his henchmen assured Victorian voters that this could not and would not happen, as the money was “for Victoria.” Those federal funds will now be reallocated to other projects that may or may not be based in Victoria.

Once again, Andrews has nothing to throw a tantrum over here. It isn’t as if he wasn’t warned.

Three, Andrews swore before the election — hand on heart — that the contract to build the East-West link was completely unenforceable; it “wasn’t worth the paper it (was) printed on,” he said. Labor, if elected to office, would simply rip the contract up.

And four, no compensation (and Andrews was brutally clear on this point) would be payable by the state of Victoria to the consortium contracted to build the road if the contract was abandoned, Andrews claimed; if the contract was unenforceable, went the logic presented, then no compensation could possibly be claimed by those who were dumb enough to have signed it.

So let’s cut straight through the Premier’s puerile and irresponsible bullshit.

If the contract was not “worth the paper it is printed on” and unenforceable, it would have been abandoned by now.

If the contract was unenforceable, the Andrews government would not be contemplating passing retrospective legislation to invalidate it to get out of paying compensation, with the state’s potential liability credibly said to run close to $1.2bn.

If no compensation was payable, there would be no talk of the consortium being prepared to walk away “for $700 million” and other outlandish sums of money as the price of doing nothing.

And if none of this was such a problem in the first place — remembering, again, that the contract wasn’t torn up months ago for the only possible reason that it was, in fact, legally binding — then the East-West Link would have ceased to exist as an issue about a week into Andrews’ term as Premier.

In short, the promise to “rip up” the “unenforceable” contract and to abandon the East-West Link was one Daniel Andrews should never have made: had he known the promise was impossible to deliver as pledged, it speaks to the contemptibility of the ALP and of Andrews himself in being prepared to say quite literally anything to anyone to win an election; if he didn’t know the promise was undeliverable then it speaks to his utter unsuitability and complete unfitness to hold elected office at all, let alone to serve in the great office of Premier of Victoria.

Whichever way you cut it, it is Andrews who has much to answer for — not Tony Abbott, and not Dr Napthine.

In the meantime, the Prime Minister (and others who appreciate the subtle concept of legally binding contracts) — aghast at the siren call Andrews’ intended call of action would send international investors to stay away from Victoria when it comes to spending their money — are almost pleading in their attempts to cajole the child Premier into rethinking the error of his foolish plan.

But Andrews will have none of it, and the embarrassing and unacceptably patronising response he gave to Abbott’s letter of 11 March failed to address every issue of substance that was raised with him by the Prime Minister in that letter.

Andrews is already cornered on this issue; damned if he builds the road — breaking an election promise he purports to intend to keep — and damned if he doesn’t build the road, at a cost of more than a billion dollars and doing incalculable damage to Victoria’s (and Australia’s) reputation as a stable and secure environment in which business can invest.

Andrews should build the road: for the lesser of the two evils requires it of him, even if it also requires an explanation to Labor voters in Victoria as to why he promised something he claimed could be delivered painlessly, but in fact couldn’t.

As for the smart-arsed, smug, patronising and belligerent treatment he has taken it upon himself to mete out to the Prime Minister, he should pull his head in.

Prior to last year’s state election I opined that if Labor won, Victoria would be landed with a complete moron as Premier; by his words, actions and behaviour this week, Andrews has proven this assessment to be summarily accurate.

It won’t be the last time, with the next election in Victoria still three and a half years away.

In the meantime we can only hope that Andrews and his cohorts exercise more diligence and care in their approach to the serious business of governance and to affairs of state: the East-West Link could cost Victoria far more than the billion or so in compensation the state seems certain to have to pay.

Not for the first time, a state Labor government in Victoria appears content to piss ten-figure sums of taxpayer cash up against a post.

The last time it happened — under John Cain in the 1980s — Victoria was very nearly bankrupted as a consequence.

I see this government as potentially as bad as that, and it isn’t the first time I have raised the Cain comparison. At least Cain didn’t behave like a teenage student politician having a lark, entirely innocent of any care for the consequences of his actions even if, in the end, those repercussions were dire.

It’s more than even a generous assessment could say of Daniel Andrews, based on his performances to date.