May 9, 2014

Labor to protect Infrastructure Australia

Labor will protect the independence of Infrastructure Australia with legislative amendments that will block Tony Abbott’s attempt to undermine it.

Labor created Infrastructure Australia in 2008 as an independent agency tasked with assessing proposals for infrastructure projects like roads and railways and ranking them according to their potential to add to national productivity and jobs growth.

But late last year the Government’s rushed through the House of Representatives changes that would gut IA’s independence by allowing the Government to exclude classes of infrastructure from its considerations.

This provision would allow the government to order IA not to investigate or assess proposals for urban rail projects in line with Mr Abbott’s bizarre prejudice against public transport.

Under the Abbott changes, ministers would also be able to order IA to assess their own pet projects and ban the publication of its evidence-based analysis.

Labor will not oppose the Government’s proposed organisational restructure of Infrastructure Australia, even though the Government has undermined its own argument by breaching its promise to reappoint Sir Rod Eddington as Chair.

The Government has also appointed an Acting Infrastructure Coordinator, even though there is no vacancy and it proposes to abolish the position.

When the legislation goes to the Senate in coming weeks, Labor will produce amendments that will retain full transparency over publication of IA’s research and prevent Mr Abbott hijacking the organisation’s research agenda for his political ends.

Independent, non-political advice is critical if governments are to invest scarce public funds in projects that have the greatest potential to boost productivity and create jobs.

While governments make spending decisions, without genuinely independent advice to guide decision-making, there is a risk of the political pork-barreling that plagued the Howard era.

It is also critical that all IA research continues to be publicly available so citizens and potential private sector investors can measure government decisions against the independent, non-political advice provided by IA.

When Labor took government in 2007, Australia was 20th on the list of OECD nations in terms of investment in infrastructure as a proportion of GDP.

Thanks to increased investment by Labor, guided by the independent Infrastructure Australia, it is now 1st.