Auditors’ surprise verdict on $6.9 billion Cross River Rail – on budget, on track

One of Queensland’s largest-ever construction projects remains on budget, as the Palaszczuk government has said all along.

Feb 02, 2021, updated Feb 03, 2021

The Cross River Rail project will see a new underground rail link built under the Brisbane River and CBD, and cost taxpayers $5.4 billion (a consortium will fund the remainder under an ongoing contract that will deliver a financial return).

The project has long been controversial, with the Morrison government claiming it was unnecessary, some transport planners saying its passenger benefit would be minimal, and, more recently, the state Opposition making unfounded claims of a $4 billion budget blowout.

There have also been design changes, an overhaul of governance arrangements, and a time-honoured debate over governments spending money in cities that could have been spent in the regions. Cross River Rail will not be operational until 2025, a year later than originally promised.

But the Palaszczuk Labor government is adamant it will be transformational, and a Queensland Audit Office report tabled today contained no red flags about the budget.

The audit, completed before the October state election but delayed for release due to the caretaker convention, found $2.1 billion had been spent on the project by the end of June. That was 20 per cent of the State’s contribution, and 69 per cent of the money allocated by the consortium.

“No significant issues have been identified in our financial statement audit,” the QAO reported.

“Our future audits will continue to assess the initial procurement activities of Cross River Rail and will include tendering, evaluation of prospective bids, contract signing, and ongoing contractor and design management, including the approval for material variations.

“Given the significance of the Cross River Rail project, the results of future audit activity will be reported to parliament.”

Yet even the QAO was unable to publicly report on the cost of the rail component of the project due to commercial sensitivities. There are also questions over who will pay for new stations and above-ground infrastructure.

Following the election, Treasurer Cameron Dick allocated another $1.5 billion to keep the project going, and Transport Minister Mark Bailey said it was well-timed economic stimulus with $4 million being spent each day.

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