Apr 16, 2018

Opinion Piece – The Federal Government is Failing to Invest in Tasmanian Infrastructure Needs – The Mercury – Monday, 16 April 2018

Imagine you had kept your brick-size mobile phone from the 1980s and tried to use it to meet your communications needs in 2018.

No internet. No graphics. No games. It simply would not be fit for purpose.

It would inhibit your productivity. You would be unable to function in line with the needs of the 21st century.

Just like computers and other technology, railways, roads and other infrastructure must be fit for the demands that face communities in the 21st century.

That means they must not only be maintained but, where appropriate, upgraded to meet emerging needs.

When it comes to infrastructure in Tasmania, this message should be top-of-mind for the Turnbull Government as it prepares next month’s Federal Budget.

At a time Tasmania needs investment to support growth sectors like tourism, federal funding for Tasmanian infrastructure, already way too low, is about to fall off a cliff.

Budget documents show in this financial year the Commonwealth will provide Tasmania with $174 million in infrastructure grants.

But by 2020-21 the figure will plummet to $61.5 million.

That’s a huge decline on the average of $316 million a year invested over the six years of the former Labor federal government on the Midland, Brooker and Bass Highways as well as freight rail revitalisation, port upgrades and a range of other projects.

The Coalition, which has been happy to deliver billions for new toll roads interstate, must use the 2018 budget to reverse its cuts in Tasmania.

It’s not just about ensuring Tasmanians have adequate infrastructure to enjoy their lives as they move around the state, as important as that is. It’s also about the economy.

Investing in infrastructure provides short-term benefits of construction jobs and economic activity. Good projects also deliver productivity gains that drive growth and jobs for years.

This is critical for Tasmania because good roads are important to support one of the state’s strongest growth industries — tourism.

Tasmania leads the nation in growth in international tourism, with visits up 18 per cent in the past year. Already, the industry provides 37,000 jobs — 16 per cent of the state’s workforce.

The local industry is excited about the potential for further expansion.

To unlock that potential we must invest in infrastructure like roads, but also invest directly in tourism attractions and associated facilities at iconic destinations like Cradle Mountain and Three Capes.

It’s not enough to ensure our infrastructure meets current tourism industry needs. It must also have the capacity to facilitate ongoing growth, because more growth means more jobs.

All the political players at the state level understand the importance of infrastructure investment to jobs in tourism.

But since its election, the Commonwealth has not commenced one major new infrastructure project in Tasmania. The Federal Government has not even delivered the reduced money it has committed to Tasmania.

Budget documents show that in its first four budgets, the Government announced infrastructure grants worth $589 million for Tasmania. But it has only invested $479 million — $110 million short.

The non-delivery affects road safety programs like the black spots program, which provides funding for roads known to have been the site of serious or fatal accidents.

Since taking office, the Government has allocated $8.4 million to Tasmania in black spots funding, but invested only $5.6 million.

Had it delivered the money promised, it could have delivered safety upgrades to an additional 17 black spots.

Tasmania deserves the infrastructure fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

This piece was first published in the Mercury on Monday, 16 April 2018: https://bit.ly/2H5KRHC