Federal Labor has asked the Australian National Office of Audit to review the Turnbull Government’s entire infrastructure program amid a 20 per cent decline in infrastructure investment and the collapse of two of its major road projects.
The call for greater scrutiny comes as Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss has confirmed he wants to raid his own infrastructure budget for $18 million which he plans to squander on advertisements about his own performance.
Since taking office, the Coalition has performed abysmally on nation building, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that public infrastructure investment plunged 20 per cent between the September quarter of 2013 and the June quarter of 2015.
The government has cut funding for public transport projects and re-allocated it to new toll road projects which it did not subject to cost-benefit analysis to determine whether they represented value for money.
Two of those new projects - Melbourne’s East-West Link and the Perth Freight Link - have collapsed, with a recent ANOA report criticising the government for allocating $3 billion to the East-West Link without cost-benefit analysis and against the advice of departmental experts.
The budget for the Government’s other big-ticket project – Sydney’s Westconnex toll road - has blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.
News that Mr Truss is planning further cuts to fund an advertising campaign to back his absurd claim that he has actually lifted investment signals it is time for a systematic look at what is going wrong with the Government’s infrastructure program.
In particular, the circumstances surrounding the government’s funding for the Perth Freight Link, which the WA Supreme Court rejected last month on environmental grounds, deserve scrutiny.
When the Commonwealth announced the Perth Freight Link in the 2014 Budget, the WA State Government told a parliamentary budget estimates committee hearing it knew little about the project - an indication that it was also the subject of inadequate planning.
The auditors should also examine the rationale behind Mr Truss’s planned $18 million advertising campaign, which will be funded from existing funds which had been allocated for investment in actual infrastructure projects.
This is truly Orwellian.
Mr Truss is cutting actual spending to fund spin when he should be spending the money for the purpose for which it was allocated - actually building something.
For example, the money would fund more than 100 projects to address dangerous intersections under the longstanding Black Spots program, which the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has reported averages $157,000 per project.