Jan 7, 2016

Fletcher ignores infrastructure difficulties

For a government that says it wants mature policy debates, junior ministers such as Paul Fletcher seem to have not received the memo.

Yesterday I wrote to the Auditor General Grant Hehir, requesting the Australian National Audit Office to undertake an audit into the Federal Government’s infrastructure program, announced in the 2014 Budget.

This is a prudent response given the collapse of some of the government’s road projects, cost blowouts in others and the 20 percent decline in public sector infrastructure investment since the change of government.

Mr Fletcher’s blithe rejection today of the clear difficulties facing the Government’s infrastructure program is disappointing.

It would be prudent for the Federal Government to support the Auditor General undertaking an assessment of its program.

But the Government’s preoccupation with playing politics is exemplified by its diversion of $18 million of infrastructure funds to an advertising campaign during an election year.

On Sydney’s transport needs, my position is clear.

I have supported improvements to both rail and road networks as well as a second airport for Sydney.

At the same time, we need to make sure that we get these projects right.

The following is a transcript from the interview with the Nine Network that I gave yesterday, which Mr Fletcher has today sought to misrepresent.

I criticised advance payments, which are against government policy, and with regard to projects said: “You do your planning first, you get your design, you get your cost benefit analysis and you do it in a transparent way’’.

REPORTER: When you were Infrastructure Minister you did say you committed some funds. If you were sitting there when you made that decision and you had all the information that we have now about what WestConnex looks like, would you have committed those funds?

ALBANESE: Well, what we did was we committed $25 million for proper planning to make sure that they got it right in terms of Sydney’s road network. Now that proper planning was about getting goods to the port, primarily – was the number one problem that was identified by Infrastructure NSW as requiring action.

Now at the moment, as it stands, WestConnex won’t actually go to the port. So there’s a real concern here that these advance payments have been made. It’s something that we would not have done.

They need to do proper processes when it comes to infrastructure. You do your planning first, you get your design, you get your cost benefit analysis and you do it in a transparent way.

What’s happened with WestConnex is that money has been paid in advance without the proper planning, without the proper business case being published in a transparent way and that’s why I think people are very concerned about the cost blowout of $6.8 billion of additional money for a project that was already originally due to cost $10 billion.