Subjects: Black Spots Program, infrastructure.
LEON BYNER: One man who knows the ins and outs of this, and he is not a stranger to 5AA, is the Shadow Infrastructure and Transport Minister federally, Anthony Albanese. Albo, thanks for coming on this morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Leon.
BYNER: Can you explain to us, how is it that we are getting money earmarked for spending but it is not spent?
ALBANESE: Well, it is a part unfortunately of the Federal Government’s pattern of behaviour across the country. There are underspends on the Black Spot program in every state and territory. That is, at Budget time they say there will be X amount of dollars spent on Black Spots and then it simply isn’t forwarded to the states and territories. And in South Australia that underspend is some $3 million. Now the average cost of fixing a Black Spot is $157,000. That means that the 16 projects could have been done with the funding if they had just done what was allocated in the Budget, let alone the fact that there’s clearly a need for additional investment and that is of real concern.
Across the country between 2014, the current Government’s first Budget, and 2017-18, there is an underspend of $100 million. Three hundred and five million dollars was allocated; only $205 million invested. Now that is simply incompetent. What happens of course; when there are underspends like that in budgets is Treasury and Finance scoop it up and it disappears, And it’s not as if there’s not demand there. We know there is and today’s reports about a failure to fix some of the Black Spots in South Australia and Adelaide in particular are just an example of that.
BYNER: Who is holding back? I mean is there a conscious effort by somebody in the system? I guess we have to either suggest it has either got to be the Minister’s office or the public sector. Where is the problem?
ALBANESE: Well it is unclear if it is a conscious decision to pretend that money is being spent. So, for example, in the last completed financial year, 2016-17, the infrastructure budget federally was $9.2 billion. The actual spend was $7.5 billion. There was an underspend of over $1.5 billion. Now that of course makes, in a short- term sense, makes the Budget look a bit better – there has been less spending. But of course it costs you more money to fix things later than it does to fix them sooner, when they are supposed to be done, let alone of course what we are talking about here is human cost; is accidents in which people get hurt; in which there is a cost to the health budget; there is a cost to people’s lives. That is absolutely critical so I cannot understand for the life of me why this Black Spot underspend from the Federal Government has continued to happen.
And I will give the new South Australian minister the big tip, which is being all polite when you are being done over by the Federal Government won’t help. The fact is that South Australia is getting, the current financial year they are getting, $921 million from the infrastructure budget. It plummets by 90 per cent over the forward estimates to $95 million or 2 per cent, South Australia is due to get, of the national infrastructure budget. Now that is a disgrace and the South Australian Government, regardless of political parties, should be jumping up and down and demanding that South Australia get its fair share.
BYNER: What is the remedy to this?
ALBANESE: The remedy is, in part this is part of the remedy – shine a light on it. Say it’s not good enough, to make sure that the Government needs to be held to account. When funds are allocated get them spent, get these Black Spots fixed. Get also some of the major projects done. Now we know that the South Road Superway was finished. Torrens to Torrens is under way. The section in between there needs to be done and the Government needs to allocate funding for that project in the current Budget because you don’t have that pipeline of projects. It is actually cheaper of course to take workers and the capital that’s required – the machinery – from one section of the road to the next in a seamless way. That will reduce your overall cost.
At the moment the Commonwealth Government, it would appear, was prepared to starve out essentially the Weatherill Government; was determined to not put new projects on the pipeline in the coming two and three years. Well, they have got no excuse. They need to do it and they need to fix the Black Spots according to not just the Budget that is there, but I think they really need to look at an increase in the Budget because when you have a Black Spot that you know has to be fixed, why would you fix it in two or three years’ time if you can fix it today and therefore avoid the accidents, avoid the economic costs that are associated with that, reduce the cost of construction because construction costs go up, they don’t go down, and importantly reduce the human cost of these accidents?
BYNER: You will be pleased to know that we are seeking clarification from the Federal Minister. Thank you for you take on this Anthony Albanese.
TUESDAY, 10 APRIL, 2018