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New governments bring new perspectives on what infrastructure is most needed for the given time; in Kevin Rudd’s leadership stint it’s fair to say that the NBN was his priority infrastructure project. However, this year’s discussion on infrastructure has focused on the lack of innovative projects and funding as the issues surrounding what Australia needs becomes more and more politicised.
Last year at the AusRail Plus conference, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, battled it out at the podium in order to address the changes to Infrastructure Australia (IA). But from the latest news and editorial, a once steadfast Liberal Party ideology promoting less government and more business can now only be said to be deteriorating with recent changes.
In the words of Albanese, “Mr Truss is proposing legislative changes that will allow him to directly interfere into IA over what projects it assesses.”
“What that will mean is that if the government policy is that the federal government wants to “stick to its knitting’’ and just do roads and not rail, as Mr Abbott argues, then IA will not be able to do the comparative analysis of where investment should go to.”
Truss fired back at the allegations that IA would not be impeded by the Minister interfering with infrastructure planning, and that the changes will actually increase independent decision making.
“In collaboration with the states and territories, the Government will task Infrastructure Australia with undertaking a full evidence-based audit of our infrastructure asset base”
And yes, most people in the industry would perceive this as old news however in an article released yesterday, ABC Business Reporter Alan Kohler discusses the need to free IA from all government ties in order to efficiently deal with our infrastructure backlog.
“Not enough infrastructure is being built either, to the point where a national emergency is approaching. There is far too much focus on politically motivated big ticket infrastructure projects that soak up the available funding, and not enough on what you might call business-as-usual infrastructure.”
If we step back and look into the transport infrastructure that Tony Abbott has committed funding to, it’s easy to see that public transport has taken some of the biggest hits. If IA were made independent of the government and its decision process, projects could be weighed independently of all political agendas.
Kohler continues; “with Australia’s population growing the way it is, infrastructure has become as important to the economy as monetary policy – if not more so. IA should be given the sort of independence that the RBA has.”
As the debate continues, we’d love to know what the transport experts think about implementing measures to de-politicise IA. If this is a good idea, are there any potential impacts? And if not, how can we move forward to ensure public transport is given a fair amount of funding compared to roads. We all know that both are needed, but is it necessary to prioritise one over the other?