Feb 2, 2017

Coalition caught misleading the nation about infrastructure investment – Opinion – Online Opinion

It is an article of faith for propagandists that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.

But the great risk in this approach is that eventually, the actual truth catches up with you.

The truth has finally caught up with Malcolm Turnbull over the amount of money he is investing in railway lines, roads and other infrastructure in Australia.

Infrastructure investment is a critical role for governments because it increases our capacity to deliver economic growth.

The industries of the future won’t thrive unless they have the means to get their products to market – efficient railways, roads and ports.

While infrastructure might not be the sexiest area of government activity, it’s about jobs.

That makes it important to us all.

Ever since the 2014 Budget, the Coalition has claimed it is delivering a $50 billion infrastructure investment program.

But it isn’t.

The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development has revealed the current investment program is worth $34 billion over five years, with another $8 billion proposed to be invested “onwards” into the unspecified future.

The department released this information recently as part of the Senate Budget Estimates Committee process.

At a hearing last year, the Secretary of the Department, Mike Mrdak, was asked about the size of the program by Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie.

Mr Mrdak said he did not know off the top of his head but would happily provide information about “the whole program” on notice.

His written answer, tabled recently, is unequivocal. The whole program is worth $34 billion over its first five years. Another $8 billion is allocated to “onwards – meaning an unspecified time in the future.

Mr Mrdak’s provision of this critical information highlights the importance of Senate Budgets Estimate Committee hearings in providing genuine scrutiny of Government budgets.

But it also stands as an indictment of the Turnbull Government’s preparedness to misrepresent its commitment to infrastructure investment.

There never has been a $50 billion infrastructure program.

It was invented.

Yet the Parliamentary Hansard is full of references to a $50 billion program, including in the Prime Minister’s annual infrastructure statement to Parliament on November 24.

Mr Turnbull misled Parliament.

Numerous ministers have also used the $50 billion figure repeatedly, apparently having succumbed to the biggest risk for propagandists – believing their own misleading statements.

And prior to this year’s Federal election, Mr Turnbull spent $18 million on a television and newspaper advertising campaign to support his misleading claims.

In a decision that can only be described as Orwellian, the Government funded that propaganda campaign using money that had been earmarked for actual investment in infrastructure.

This deception has to stop.

The Government must start actually investing in our national capacity.

It is widely acknowledged that the decline of the investment stage of the mining boom means Australia needs to generate jobs in other sectors.

Infrastructure investment is a critical part of this economic adjustment.

Investing in the right projects now will support economic growth and jobs in the short term, while lifting national capacity and productivity in the long term.

There is little point pursuing a policy program to create new industries through innovation if you don’t also ensure that our infrastructure can meet the requirements of new and existing industries.

That is why now is the right time to increase infrastructure investment in the national economic interest.

But the Government has reduced investment and is pretending otherwise.

It has also been so incompetent that it has been unable to even deliver the reduced investment in line with its commitments.

In 2014, when the $50 billion investment figure was first invented, the Government said it would invest $8 billion on infrastructure in the 2015-16 financial year.

But the Treasury’s Final Budget Outcomes document for 2015-16 shows the Government invested only $5.5 billion which included a $490 million payment to the Western Australian Government for GST compensation.

So the actual underspend was nearly $3 billion, or more than 35 per cent.

The truth eventually catches up.

And it keeps catching up.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, infrastructure work conducted for the public sector has been lower in each of the 12 quarters presided over by the Abbott-Turnbull governments than in any of the 21 quarters under the Rudd -Gillard governments after the first Labor Budget in 2008.

It is time for Malcolm Turnbull to get out of the propaganda business and start investing in the railways, roads and other infrastructure requires to underpin sustainable economic growth.


This Opinion Piece was first published BY Online Opinion on Thursday, 2 February, 2017