Three dead road projects drive key debate in battle for Aston

Three major road projects in Melbourne’s outer east have become a key focus in the Aston byelection after Labor confirmed it would not build them.

The upgrades to Dorset, Wellington and Napoleon roads were announced by the former Coalition government but were cut by Labor last year.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King on Wednesday told the National Press Club voters had been conned over the promised roads.

Alex Ellinghausen

Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said on Wednesday that Labor would not revisit the projects.

She accused Alan Tudge, the former Liberal member for Aston who quit politics last month, of conning voters into thinking the projects were fully funded when the Coalition had allocated only $210 million of the $1.3 billion Labor says was required.

“This money was not in their budget and there are examples like this littered across the nation,” King said at the National Press Club.

She said while the works were not unworthy, they were unaffordable because of pressures on the budget. “We did some of the work of cleaning up this mess at the last budget, but there is more to be done.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Aston byelection candidate Roshena Campbell in Melbourne last month.

Joe Armao

Liberal candidate Roshena Campbell, a barrister, Melbourne City councillor and former columnist, promised to fight for the road upgrades. She said the byelection presented an “opportunity to send Labor a message that it shouldn’t take the outer east for granted”.

But her opponent, Labor’s Mary Doyle, who has worked in finance and with trade unions, said the Coalition’s underfunding of the projects indicated it had never been serious about them.

“I’ll always advocate for good-quality projects in Aston, but I won’t use fake announcements of fake money on fake press releases to mislead people in my community,” she said.

Alongside blaming Labor for rising living costs, the Liberal Party’s main campaign message relates to the dumping of the three road projects.

Labor’s opposition to the projects and its superannuation tax rise on balances above $3 million, announced this week, both pose political risks in the context of the byelection.

The opposition is using the tax rise to claim Labor is planning other taxes that would affect more middle-income voters, not just the wealthy people targeted by the superannuation change.

“The government [is] rushing the Aston byelection to get it out of the way before the budget,” Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said on Wednesday.

“Clearly, what’s coming in this budget is now a mystery to people in Aston and … people in Aston know the treasurer has a hit list.”

While Labor plans to campaign hard, winning the seat off the Liberals is not the highest priority for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who on Wednesday ruled out further changes to superannuation in this term of government and taxing capital gains from selling a family home.

Labor figures privately believe it would be a positive result if it avoided a swing against and held the current margin of 2.8 per cent, which was down from 10.1 per cent after a huge swing against the Morrison government in May.

Senior sources in the major parties, speaking anonymously to disclose internal thinking, say they believe support for both remains similar to what it was at the May election.

Maya Tesa announced on Tuesday she would contest the byelection as an independent. Her campaign poster does not reference the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party but in a January tweet she called the entity “our party”.

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