New Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester’s first decision should be to dump plans to squander $18 million on a propaganda blitz designed to conceal the Turnbull Government’s poor record in this critical portfolio.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released last month confirmed that since the Coalition took office, public infrastructure investment has plunged by 20 per cent.
Despite this, the Government is preparing to cut funding for actual projects by a further $18 million to fund a campaign of spin designed to climax in August, in the lead-up the next federal election.
A Senate Budget Estimates committee heard last week the campaign would focus on 88 infrastructure projects and include newspaper and television advertisements, including separate advertisements targeting regional television audiences.
It is extraordinary that the Government, having already cut infrastructure investment to the bone, will now cut it yet again to fund propaganda designed to hoodwink Australians about its performance.
It’s bad enough to fail; but to ask taxpayers to fund the cover up is extraordinary.
Despite pre-election promises of an infrastructure boom, when the Government came to office it cancelled all investment in public transport not subject to contracts and reallocated the public transport funding to new toll roads.
It transferred that funding to proposed toll roads including the now discredited East West Link in Melbourne and the Perth Freight Link, committing funding without cost-benefit analysis in a flagrant breach of its 2013 election promises.
The East West Link has since collapsed after it emerged it would have provided a paltry 45 cents in public benefit for each dollar invested, while the Perth Freight Link has been halted by the courts on environmental grounds.
The Budget for the Government’s other big-ticket project – Sydney’s Westconnex toll road – has ballooned from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.
Australia needs to increase its infrastructure investment to sustain jobs and economic activity to compensate for the decline in construction in the mining industry.
Instead, with its actual infrastructure program a shambles, the Turnbull Government will invest in spin.
Mr Chester should scrap the program immediately and focus on actual roads, railways lines and other infrastructure to lift economic productivity and create jobs.