John Menadue. The infrastructure mess and wasteful road spending.

Oct 12, 2015

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said that he planned to be the infrastructure prime minister. There was little to show for it apart from wasteful spending on roads. He said that the Commonwealth should ‘stick to its knitting’ and not get involved in funding public infrastructure. His focus was on roads.

Our new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull has spoken at the weekend of exploring radical road and rail funding, and has announced Commonwealth funding for a light rail project on the Gold Coast.

Last week Bill Shorten announced a $10 b. infrastructure plan which even suggested giving Infrastructure Australia a trading licence!

There is a lot of rhetoric and a lot of talk about infrastructure. Before it all gets out of hand we should stop and consider the present mess. And a mess it is. The motoring, road construction and political lobbies are promoting waste and confusion.

In July last year Infrastructure Australia put out a draft report to canvas public comment. This is quite usual practice. The report was hastily withdrawn and the Co-ordinator General sent on ‘extended leave’. It seems that the government didn’t want a rigorous and transparent discussion on infrastructure.

There were two particular media reports at the time that are worth re-reading. Extracts from an article by Alan Kohler give a flavour of his concern. “The whole problem with road funding in Australia is too much government involvement and not enough private rigour … Here’s the arresting heading of one of the chapters [in Information Australia’s draft report] … Australia’s nearly $20 b. annual road spend can only be described as hideously inefficient. … Australia has a true gamblers’ addiction to roads: the money spent is not a rational investment.”  See link to Kohler article below.

Josh Gordon in The Age said ‘“The Infrastructure Australia report … has delivered a scathing critique of monopoly state run road entities such as VicRoads, claiming a culture of resisting reform that has led to a situation in which political leaders are held captive to demands for more funding. … More than $20 b. a year of national road funding is being spent in a hideously inefficient manner. … The current Australian system assumes that roads are an answer to most transport problems and seeks more and more funding to that end with little consideration of alternatives that most other parts of the world enjoy, such as significant heavy intercontinental rail networks and dominant heavy mass transit systems. … The report is also critical of the federal government’s efforts to predict increases in road traffic, claiming urban congestion has consistently been overstated as a result.  See link to article below:

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