In an echo of Mao Zedong’s “let 100 flowers bloom”, Victoria’s new infrastructure czar, Jim Miller, has talked of a “contest of ideas” in determining future priority projects for the state.
Miller has been appointed inaugural chairman of Infrastructure Victoria, with responsibility for developing a 30-year infrastructure strategy for the state.
The creation of IV and the appointment of Miller have been largely welcomed by industry, although there have been some grumbles as to how much independence the new body will enjoy.
“The development of the 30 year infrastructure strategy will be a contest of ideas that we encourage everyone to get involved in,” Miller said in a statement.
“Infrastructure Victoria will provide independent and expert advice on infrastructure matters but it will not be the font of all knowledge.
“To develop a long term strategy that maps out the best way to deliver the best projects at the best times will require input from stakeholders, business, industry and the community.”
Infrastructure Victoria was formally established this month, with the Infrastructure Victoria Act 2015 and appointment of the board.
The seven-member board comprises Jim Miller (chair), Maria Wilton (deputy chair), Professor Margaret Gardner AO, Ann Sherry AO, Chris Eccles, David Martine and Adam Fennessy.
A search is underway for a chief executive.
Miller said the board was excited to be leading a new approach to infrastructure planning.
“I think everyone agrees that we need to do things differently to get the best outcomes for the state,” he said.
“There will be some big conversations to be had over the coming months, and no doubt some tough decisions to be made, but the board is excited and honoured to be involved.”
Public consultation on the 30-year strategy is to start early next year.
Opposition infrastructure spokesman Ryan Smith publicly questioned whether the government had seriously de-politicised keys decisions.
“In 2007, former Premier Steve Bracks said that Sir Rod Eddington had ‘great credentials in the transport industry worldwide and in Australia’ and his report would be ‘comprehensive’ and provide ‘good, long-term planning to make Victoria a much more liveable state’,” Smith said.
“A year later (current treasurer) Tim Pallas expressed his ‘gratitude’ to Sir Rod Eddington for completing an independent report that was ‘his own work’.
“A couple of months later, then Premier John Brumby said that meeting the infrastructure recommendations of the Eddington Report would involve construction ‘for the best part of a decade’.
“Since then, most of those independent recommendations for infrastructure projects have been trashed.”
Smith said three of the departmental secretaries on the board were duty bound to implement government policy and thus were unlikely to be independent.
Despite the criticism from the Opposition, many groups welcomed the Infrastructure Victoria board announcement. Among them, the Australian Logistics Council.
“The Australian Logistics Council welcomes today’s announcement of the Infrastructure Victoria board and congratulates its inaugural chairman, Jim Miller,” said Michael Kilgariff, ALC managing director.
“Mr Miller has a long and distinguished career in the infrastructure sector, and he, along with his fellow board members, provides the board with significant experience and expertise in the area of infrastructure funding and delivery.”
Kilgariff indicated he believed IV could remove some of the politics from decision making.
“The establishment of Infrastructure Victoria to oversee a pipeline of infrastructure projects across electoral cycles represents an important step towards taking politics out of infrastructure planning and implementation,” he said.
“In particular, it is essential that the movement of freight receives equal consideration to the movement of people.
“As ALC outlined on its submission on the Infrastructure Australia national audit, there needs to be a greater focus on analysing Australia’s long term infrastructure needs, particularly in regards to ports.”
This was particularly relevant given the impending privatisation of the Port of Melbourne.
“In that vein, we see Infrastructure Victoria playing an important role in analysing Victoria’s future port needs, a point ALC made in its submission on the Port of Melbourne lease bill,” he said.
“This review should not only consider whether a second port in Melbourne is necessary, but also issues such as whether land protection mechanisms to ensure the efficient movement of freight to and from ports are adequate and need to be strengthened.”
Also supporting the IV announcement was the Victorian Transport Association (VTA), which released a statement saying it hoped Victoria could finally plan and build the big transportation infrastructure projects that had been lacking for several years.
“The VTA has always supported the establishment of an independent body that can prioritise and plan for the big, long-term infrastructure needs of the state,” said chief executive Peter Anderson.
“Victoria hasn’t initiated a new major road infrastructure project for ten years, and this is largely because politics have impeded the ability of successive state governments to make – and stand by – major road infrastructure decisions.
“We are hopeful that this independent body can fulfil its charter of providing fair, balanced and non-partisan infrastructure planning and advice so that we can start to tackle long-term infrastructure challenges that will only worsen as our state grows, and the population increases,” he said.
“We wish the board every success, and offer our assurance and willingness to contribute.”
Anderson said the top infrastructure priority for the VTA is the North East Link connecting the Eastern Freeway with the Metropolitan Ring Road.
“The lack of connectivity of Melbourne’s major freeway network has massive impacts on the productivity of operators and this is most apparent in the north east of Melbourne.
“There is no direct link between the Eastern Freeway and the Ring Road, and with curfews on trucks on arterial roads at night, the only alternative for drivers is to go around – which is costly and time-consuming, or use small roads – which is unsafe.”
This article was originally published in the print edition of Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.