I welcome the decision of the Commonwealth Auditor General to conduct an Australian National Audit Office performance audit of the approval and administration of the Commonwealth funding for Sydney’s WestConnex toll road project.
News of the inquiry follows me writing to the Auditor General on 16 January, 2016 and meeting with him to discuss the project on 4 February, 2016.
It also follows me raising this issue with the Joint Public Accounts and Audit Committee of the Parliament.
Labor has consistently raised concerns about the advance payments made by the Liberal Government for major infrastructure projects like WestConnex without Infrastructure Australia assessment or the finalisation of business cases.
In the case of WestConnex, the Commonwealth made a $2 billion advance loan to the NSW Government for the project as well as a $1.2 billion grant including advance payments prior to any business case being finalised.
That was a direct breach of the Liberals’ 2013 election promise not to fund major infrastructure projects without the finalisation of cost-benefit analysis.
The audit will consider whether the project was, “informed by appropriate advice and made through the processes that have been established to assess the merits of nationally significant infrastructure investments.”
It will also consider whether appropriate advice was given for milestone payments to be made, given that almost all of the funding has been forwarded well in advance of the project being completed.
The audit will also consider questions relating to the finalisation of concessional loans to the NSW Government for the project and whether they represented value for money and protected the Commonwealth’s interests.
The WestConnex audit follows the Auditor General’s damning report on Melbourne’s East-West Link toll road, also conducted after representations by myself to the Auditor General.
It was a Labor Government that established Infrastructure Australia, to have proper processes for assessing the economic benefits of infrastructure projects and for this advice to guide investment decisions by the government.
It is clear that the Abbott-Turnbull Governments have undermined this process and their own election promises by cutting public transport projects that had been properly assessed in order to make advance payments for toll road projects that have not been properly assessed.
A Shorten Labor Government will restore integrity to the process of infrastructure policy and development.