Freight Rail, Passenger Rail

Albanese questions IA independence

Federal shadow infrastructure and transport minister Anthony Albanese has questioned the independence of Infrastructure Australia (IA) following the federal government’s announcement of funding for Adelaide’s North-South corridor.

The Turnbull government’s pre-budget announcement that it would pay for half of the $354 million cost of the road upgrade came mere hours after IA declared that it had approved the project’s business case.

While Albanese said that while Labor supports the “long-overdue” investment, he stated he was concerned that the synchronicity of the announcements indicated that the federal government was “interfering” with the statutory body’s independence.

“[T]he timing of [the] release to suit the Government’s media strategy indicates political considerations are clouding Infrastructure Australia’s independence,” Albanese said in a statement.

“The former Labor government created Infrastructure Australia in 2008 to independently assess whether rail, road and other projects being considered for Federal funding represent value for money.

“The organisation was designed to operate at arm’s length from government.”

The business case for the project had been submitted by the former SA government in June last year, but remained without approval in IA’s most recent list of priority projects released before the state election in March.

While federal urban infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher asserted that the new Marshall government had “moved quickly to seek an agreement with the Turnbull Government”, Albanese claimed that this was no change, as both the former Weatherill government and the federal Labor opposition had made “persistent calls” to move the project along.

“The Federal Coalition government delayed the approval, advocated strongly by former South Australian government, until after the South Australian election,” claimed Albanese.

“Labor will use upcoming Senate Budget Estimates hearings to examine the simultaneous timing of the release of the assessment and government’s funding announcement.”

Albanese repeated his standing concerns over IA’s assessment of the Brisbane Cross River Rail project, implying that political pressure from the Coalition government has so far prevented the body from granted the project “High Priority” status.

“Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Project was identified by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project in 2012 [when Labor was in government], and was subsequently funded with Commonwealth and Queensland government agreement in 2013,” he said.

“[O]nce the federal government changed, so too did Infrastructure Australia’s assessment of this project.”

Following the assessment in July 2017, IA’s chief executive Philip Davies stated that the benefits Cross River Rail, as they appeared in the QLD government’s business case, were “significantly overstated”, and that the costs of the project would “likely exceed its benefits”.

“Based on a thorough evidence-based analysis of the business case, we have found that the rail patronage growth projections and the estimation of project benefits are unrealistically high,” he said at the time.