Feb 17, 2016

Report highlights more than two years of inaction

Labor welcomes Infrastructure Australia’s publication of an updated infrastructure priority list and urges the Turnbull Government to heed its call to return to an evidence-based approach to the funding of major infrastructure projects.

The report’s recommendations, if followed, would restore the proper process followed by the former Labor Government, which required IA to assess value for public money in major projects before they received government funding.

After the change of government in 2013 the Coalition cancelled investment in public transport projects not under construction and funded new toll road proposals like Melbourne’s East West Link, which we now know has a benefit of 45 cents for every dollar invested.

This collapse of process was highlighted in December when the Auditor General produced a report condemning the government’s funding of the East West Link in defiance of departmental advice.

The Government has also marginalised Infrastructure Australia, cutting the organisation’s budget and leaving it without a chief executive for more than a year.

While today’s report is welcome, it highlights how the Coalition has wasted this electoral term with regard to nation building by making decisions on the basis of political whims rather than the national interest.

The inertia was confirmed in stunning terms by last month’s Australian Bureau of Statistics report showing public sector infrastructure investment collapsed by 20 per cent between the September quarter of 2013 and the September quarter of 2015.

The Government is now preparing to cut actual investment by a further $18 million to fund a pre-election advertising campaign to conceal its failures. Incoming Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester must dump this wasteful proposal immediately.

And given that the IA report rejects once and for all the absurd view that the Commonwealth should not invest in public transport, Mr Chester should restore funding to important public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link and Adelaide’s Gawler Line project.

All of these projects were cancelled by the Coalition in 2013 and all feature on the new IA priority list.

The IA report also calls for preservation of a corridor for the construction of a future High Speed Rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra to ensure the project is not made impossible by urban sprawl.

Labor agrees. Indeed, since 2013, I have had a Private Members Bill before the Parliament that would create a High Speed Rail Authority to do just that. The Parliament should adopt my Bill in line with the IA recommendations.

It is perplexing that the IA report is its call for the adoption of a National Freight Strategy.

Infrastructure Australia itself completed a comprehensive National Land Freight Strategy and a National Ports Strategy in 2012 after several years of research and consultation with the freight industry.

The Government should acquaint itself with the 2012 plan, not waste more time trying to reinvent the wheel.