As the budget is about to be handed down, there is nervous optimism about a possible increase in infrastructure spending but will it go to the right projects?
At a CEDA conference in June 2013, Infrastructure Australia’s national infrastructure co-ordinator, Michael Deegan, said that groups within the public services were putting “self-interest before reform” and were “stolid, hesitant and reluctant” about implementing changes.
“You would expect that somebody, somewhere, knows all the key pieces of economic infrastructure, what is needed for the future and that all relevant land spaces are monitored, protected and planned,” Mr Deegan said. “You would expect common sense and effective planning. You’d be wrong.”
The Coalition came to power promising to overhaul Infrastructure Australia but what they did, almost immediately, was introduce legislation without consultation that would allow the Minister to take control over what projects the body assessed and whether their assessments would be publicly released.
Dr Deegan objected through a submission to the Senate warning that the statutory body’s independence would be compromised by such an arrangement. The changes were “diametrically opposed” to providing the government and public with fearless and transparent advice.
In answer to a question from Senator Rhiannon about the East-West link in Melbourne, Dr Deegan provided the following information on notice:
The Victorian Government provided Infrastructure Australia with a ‘short form business case’ for the East West Link Stage One in June 2013. In this document, the Victorian Government claims the project has a Benefit: Cost Ratio of 1.4:1 if wider economic benefits are included and 0.8:1 if wider benefits are not included.
That sort of truth would not be tolerated. Shortly afterwards, Deegan was gone. The government appointed a whole new board and a new CEO.
Since then we have seen a plethora of reports and recommendations with yearly updates on priorities.
But the new head of IA, Mark Birrell, is of a similar mind to Mike Deegan regarding transparency.
“Governments – federal and state – have come a long way over the last decade, but still need to establish a more rigorous evidence base for infrastructure investment decisions,” Mr Birrell told the AFR’s Infrastructure Summit in June 2016.
The government has claimed they cannot release business cases because they contain commercially sensitive information. But Mr Birrell said it was still possible to release thousands of pages of documents, with governments only keeping the most sensitive numbers confidential.
With the cost of congestion in capital cities expected to rise to about $53 billion in 2031 from $13 billion in 2011 if action is not taken to address it, Birrell has called for more debate on how to best incentivise government departments and agencies to make good decisions and plan for the long term, and urged governments to take advantage of technology, such as building information modelling, when building projects.
The home page for Infrastructure Australia describes their role as following:
“Infrastructure Australia is an independent statutory body with a mandate to prioritise and progress nationally significant infrastructure.
We provide independent research and advice to all levels of government as well as investors and owners of infrastructure on the projects and reforms Australia needs to fill the infrastructure gap.
We publicly advocate for reforms on key issues including financing, delivering and operating infrastructure and how to better plan and utilise Australia’s infrastructure networks.”
So imagine my surprise when, on the Austender site, I found the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development lodged on April 28 a call for “Tender for the establishment of a Panel for the provision of Infrastructure Advisory Services.”
The Panel will be used to provide the following advisory services relevant to infrastructure (Service Categories):
• Transport Planning, Regulation and Policy
• Economic and Financial Analysis
• Engineering and Operations Services
• Infrastructure Project Services
The Department requires expert advisory services from providers that have extensive experience and capabilities on:
(a) major infrastructure projects;
(b) government policy development; or
(c) a combination of the two.
As a guide, the Department is seeking providers that have either project-related experience on at least five economic infrastructure projects with a total project cost of $250 million or more; or have policy experience in strategic infrastructure policy at a Commonwealth, State or Territory level.
Huh? Don’t we already have one of those?
Or are we going to shop around for a private firm who will agree that secret deals with mates in the right electorates are the way to go?
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