Jun 18, 2014

Labor forces Abbott backflip on infrastructure

Tony Abbott has folded in the face of Labor pressure to scrap parts of his attack on the independence of Infrastructure Australia.

Labor created IA in 2008 to work with states to rank competing proposals for new roads, railways and other infrastructure according to their ability to contribute to national productivity growth.

Critically, IA was required to publish its research, allowing taxpayers to compare the evidence-based advice tendered to government with its actual decisions. This provision was designed to discourage pork-barrelling.

However, soon after taking office Mr Abbott proposed empowering his Government to dictate IA’s research agenda, including ordering it to exclude “certain classes’’ of infrastructure, like public transport, from its considerations.

Proposed legislation rushed through the House of Representatives late last year would have also allowed Mr Truss to prohibit publication of its IA’s independent findings.

But today, after months of Labor campaigning, Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss produced amendments to his own legislation responding to Labor’s concerns by removing these provisions.

The Opposition welcomes this decision.

It is critical that Infrastructure Australia be independent from government and that its activities are transparent.

Otherwise taxpayers would be entitled to conclude the Government wanted to throw process out the window and return to the pork barrelling of the Howard era.

However, despite the Government’s concession to common sense on these changes, Labor will continue to press it to dump another misguided proposal – its plan to order IA not to consider the effects of climate change when assessing infrastructure proposals.

Labor understands that Mr Abbott does not believe in climate change.

But when billions of public dollars are being spent building roads and bridges that will be used for decades, it is only prudent to give the planet the benefit of the doubt and consider potential climate change impacts at the planning stage.