Jun 24, 2014

Labor thwarts Abbott’s infrastructure attack

Labor has thwarted Tony Abbott’s attack on the independence of Infrastructure Australia, with the Senate passing 29 amendments to wind back his plans to muzzle the organisation.

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.

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

However, 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.

While the Government gagged debate on the Bill in the House of Representatives in November, last night the Senate agreed to 29 amendments, including changes that would prevent the Government from meddling in IA’s business or preventing the publication of its research.

The amendments would require IA to continue to consider the effects of climate change in its assessments of infrastructure proposals – a function the Government had proposed to eliminate.

These changes will preserve IA’s independence and reduce the opportunities for the Coalition to waste scarce public dollars on the pork-barrelling that blighted the Howard era.

Business groups including the Business Council of Australia had expressed concern at a range of the changes proposed in the Government’s original flawed legislation.

During last year’s election campaign, the Coalition promised that it would maintain IA’s independence.

Labor‘s amendments were aimed at holding Mr Abbott to his election promises.