May 11, 2018

Opinion Piece – South Australia dudded again on infrastructure – The Advertiser – Friday, 11 May 2018

On Tuesday night, Scott Morrison tried to con South Australians.

Attempting to gloss over his Government’s woeful record on investing in the state’s railways and roads, the Treasurer said he would provide funding for Adelaide’s Gawler Line Electrification project.

Mr Morrison presented this investment as though it was new and that South Australians should be grateful for his generosity.

What Mr Morrison didn’t mention is this important public transport project was funded five years ago by the former Federal Labor Government.

But in 2013, the incoming Coalition Government scrapped it.

Mr Morrison’s apparent view that no-one would notice his attempt to rewrite history tells you everything you need to know about the Coalition’s treatment of infrastructure in the 2018-19 Budget.

The Budget was about spin, not substance.

Proof can be found on page 141 of Budget Paper Number 2.

It reveals that this year’s allocation for South Australian infrastructure projects is zero.

Next year is also zero, just like the subsequent three years — zero, zero and zero.

The Budget did not include a single new dollar of rail and road funding for South Australia, despite the Government producing a glossy brochure to suggest it was providing $1.8 billion in new funding.

The truth is that all of that money comes from unallocated funds set aside previously.

But the real rub is that there is no indication of when this funding will be delivered for projects like the Gawler Electrification project, the next stage of the ongoing North-South Corridor or the upgrade of the Joy Baluch Bridge at Port Augusta.

There is no funding for them over the next 12 months. And the Budget documents indicate that of this promised $1.8 billion, less than one out of ten dollars will be available over the next four years.

Of course, any infrastructure investment is welcome, given that since the Coalition was elected, it has slashed investment in everything from major rail and road projects down to small Financial Assistance Grants for local government for road maintenance.

Based on this week’s Budget papers, the Commonwealth will invest $832 million in South Australian infrastructure in 2017-18.

But that will fall off a cliff in coming years to $504 million in 2018-19 and $311 million in 2019-20.

By 2021, the South Australia will receive just $135 million in Commonwealth infrastructure investment. That is three per cent of the Budget for a state which has seven per cent of the national population.

The business community was not taken in by the spin.

In a joint statement the State’s leading industry lobby groups — the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy, South Australian Freight Council, Royal Automobile Association and Civil Contractors Federation South Australia described the Budget as “a misleading, untimely and inauspicious deal for South Australia”.

The other big infrastructure news out of the Budget was confirmation of the Coalition’s inability to deliver whatever it promises to spend each year on infrastructure.

Over the Coalition’s first four budgets, the difference between infrastructure funding allocated to SA in the budget papers and the amount actually delivered is $425 million.

That includes $225 million for railways, $74 million for roads and nearly $13 million for rebuilding bridges.

The Government can’t even get it right on road safety. In its first four budgets the Coalition undertook to invest $21 million on the Black Spot Program, which delivers safety upgrades to sections of road where there have been serious accidents involving injuries or deaths. But it ended up spending $2.6 million less than promised.

Had the investment been delivered as per the undertaking, it could have funded literally dozens of extra projects, creating economic activity in regional areas but, more importantly, improving safety.

SA needs a Labor Government to deliver the railways, roads and other infrastructure it needs to boost productivity and promote jobs and growth.

This piece was published in The Adelaide Advertiser on Friday, 11 May 2018.