Oct 1, 2015

Newbie Minister Paul Fletcher falls at first hurdle

FLEDGLING Turnbull Government Major Project Minister Paul Fletcher has “announced’’ plans to use technology to reduce traffic congestion – blissfully unaware that his own government cut all funding to an existing program that was already doing so.

In an embarrassing gaffe published in today’s edition of The Australian, Mr Fletcher sought to establish his reform credentials by saying he wanted to use technology that tracks cars and matches traffic signals to actual traffic flow to make better use of existing roads.

It’s a great idea, but not new. This is why the former Labor Government launched the Managed Motorways Program in 2011.

MMP projects featuring smart infrastructure were put at the top of the priority list of Infrastructure Australia and were being rolled out when the Coalition took office in 2013.

But as one of its first acts, the government cut all MMP funding.

So we have a government that cuts effective programs one year and then, two years later, re-announces the same proposals presenting them as new ideas.

It is as though this government, having dumped Tony Abbott, has decided it is Year Zero when it comes to policy development even if, as in this case, the policy work has already been completed and projects are ready to go.

Mr Fletcher is apparently so keen to demonstrate his suitability for the ministry that he has rushed to print without even checking the existing policy slate.

It makes absolute sense to use technology to secure greater productivity from existing infrastructure.

Indeed, a cursory check of the 2013 Infrastructure Australian Priority list, which the government has not updated since taking office, shows that MMP investment of just $19.7 million on part of the Monash Freeway in Melbourne would return $10.50 in public benefit for every dollar invested.

Publication of that list followed the MMP upgrade of Melbourne’s Westgate Freeway, commenced in 2012, which delivered $14 benefit for every dollar invested.

The former Labor Government also invested in the University of Wollongong’s $62 million Smart Infrastructure Facility late in 2011 and insisted that for all new road projects, smart infrastructure be included, which is more cost effective than retro-fitting.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures releases on Wednesday show the Coalition has presided over a 20.1 per cent decline in infrastructure investment.

To cover its inaction, it has re-announced dozens of road projects developed, funded and commenced by the former Labor Government.

It now appears that under Malcolm Turnbull, the Government wants to move from re-announcing individual projects to re-announcing entire policies.

All of the work has been done on the Managed Motorways program.

All it requires is for the government to recommence the program that it stopped.