Shadow minister for transport and infrastructure Anthony Albanese has again called out the Government for its propensity to fund major road projects, suggesting that Infrastructure Australia is being ignored in Federal decision making.
Speaking at an Australian Logistics Council forum in Melbourne on March 12, the former deputy prime minister said the Labor Government, when it was in power, used Infrastructure Australia to its advantage to make wise planning decisions.
“When Labor Government took power, Australia was 20th in the OECD for infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP,” Albanese recalled. “When we left, Australia was 1st.”
While the budget for roads was doubled under Rudd/Gillard/Rudd, that government also rebuilt more than a third of the national freight rail network, Albanese said, with $3.4 billion spent on 4000km of track.
“One outcome of our investments is that by 2016, the average trip from Brisbane to Melbourne will have been shortened by seven hours,” he said. “The journey from the nation’s east to west coasts will have been reduced by nine hours.”
Albanese praised recent decisions by Woolworths and Australia Post to move some of their freight to rail.
“That’s highly significant,” he said. “There will always be a role for moving freight by road. But when we move freight on to efficient, properly maintained rail systems, we make the roads safer and we reduce carbon emissions.”
Albanese said the former Labor Government’s propensity towards rail projects was triggered by analysis from Infrastructure Australia; analysis which – Albanese believes – the Abbott Government doesn’t follow closely enough.
“I am deeply concerned that the current government is drifting away from the Infrastructure Australia model,” Albanese said.
“Despite pre-election promises that it would adhere to, and indeed strengthen, the model, the current government appears to have succumbed to political temptation and is drifting away from transparency and evidence-based policy making.”
He said the worst example of this is the Government’s $3 billon commitment to the (now shelved) East-West Link in Melbourne, to which it committed $1.5 billion in advanced funding in its 2014 Budget.
“It did this without Infrastructure Australia having seen a cost-benefit analysis, let alone having approved the project,” Albanese said.
“As those of you who live in Melbourne know, the project was at the very centre of November’s state election campaign.
“After the election, documents released by the incoming Andrews Government showed that the project had a benefit-cost ratio of only 0.45. That’s a paltry return of only 45 cents in the dollar.”
Albanese said the government’s decision to fund East-West Link over other projects – including the Melbourne Metro Rail Project – was therefore not a good one.
“In this case, proper process went out the window along with common sense and respect for taxpayers,” he said.
“The last thing this nation needs is political parties fighting election campaigns on the basis of the delivery of major infrastructure projects that have not undergone independent scrutiny.
“Only the facts can empower voters to make informed judgements about what politicians say in the heat of electoral battle.”
Albanese also questioned the Government’s decision to fund Sydney’s WestConnex road project, which he said had also been questioned in recent months.