The much-awaited findings of the independent strategic review of Australian infrastructure projects have retained funding for most major national rail projects, while other smaller ones have been cancelled.
The program confirmed an additional $1.75 billion to be invested in the Logan-Gold Coast Faster Rail, $1b more in Western Australia’s METRONET project, as well as funding of $61.8 million for planning and development of the Western intermodal freight terminal at Truganina in Melbourne to connect Inland Rail, while also supporting the Melbourne Airport Link.
Rail projects for which Federal funding was scrapped include:
- Sydney to Newcastle-Tuggerah-Wyong faster rail upgrade, NSW
- Toowoomba, Qld to Seymour-Moree, NSW intermodal overpass
- Business case for Melbourne Inland Rail Intermodal Terminal, Vic
- Frankston to Baxter rail upgrade, Vic
- Geelong Fast Rail, Vic
- Victorian faster rail corridor investigations
Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said the program inherited from the former Coalition Government was undeliverable.
“Following consultation with the States and Territories, we now have a forward plan of projects that are properly planned and targeted to unlock significant economic, social and environmental objectives,” she said.
The list prioritises nationally significant projects at the expense of programs for which local governments needed help in funding. The independent review found while local government initiatives were a critical funding mechanism for local roads and infrastructure, they were administratively burdensome and lack sufficient funding or certainty. The Commonwealth Government’s response to these recommendations will be announced in coming days.
The Government has also acted on the review recommendations to improve efficiency and flexibility in project deliverability on nationally significant road and rail corridors.
“Many projects located along strategic national freight routes are now grouped into corridors. This approach will allow State and Territories to more flexibly manage project delivery schedules according to their priorities,” King said.
“As part of responding to the findings of the review, the Government has made necessary decisions to no longer provide funding at this time to some projects.
“This includes projects that were not realistically going to be delivered with the funding available, have made little to no progress over a significant amount of time, and projects that do not align with Commonwealth or state and territory priorities.
“We also know that there continue to be significant cost pressures in the system and we will work collaboratively and proactively with the states and territories to manage these.
“From now on the Australian Government’s investment in infrastructure will focus on productivity, sustainability, and liveability.
“We will also deliver infrastructure that makes driving on our roads safer and that sees more people on more trains.”
The review report’s executive summary, the Final Report of the Independent Review of the National Partnership Agreement on Land Transport Infrastructure Projects, and a summary of changes to projects funded under the Infrastructure Investment Program, are available at Publications | Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts.
The news was warmly received at the annual AusRAIL PLUS conference, where almost 6000 rail industry delegates convened this week to discuss issues of importance to the sector.
Organiser the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) welcomed continued support for key rail projects set to deliver critical transport for the future.
ARA Chief Executive Officer Caroline Wilkie said it was also encouraging that the independent review recognised the Melbourne Airport Link as an essential project that must go ahead.
“As a major global city experiencing considerable population growth, the Melbourne Airport Rail link is a critical project that must proceed as soon as possible,” she said.
“It is an essential piece of transport infrastructure that will not only provide an important public transport link for commuters and businesses but support the local tourism industry.”
Wilkie said the review provided much-needed certainty around the pipeline and, importantly, an increased focus on delivering significant rail projects that enable economic growth and thriving communities.
“We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation infrastructure pipeline that will greatly enhance how Australia moves its people and freight and it is critical that we have the right planning and processes in place to make the most of this opportunity,” she said.
“Having certainty around infrastructure projects ensures a viable and sustainable local rail supply chain which minimises disruptions to contractors and suppliers and enables better workforce planning and capability and reduces costs.”
Industry think tank Infrastructure Partnerships Australia CEO Adrian Dwyer said while the announcement answered some important questions on the pipeline, it also posed new questions that would need answering.
“Australia has enviable population growth and unmet demand for infrastructure. That’s a high-quality problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless,” he said.
“You need to build the infrastructure for the economy you want, not the one you’ve got. Where a project remains necessary, but the Commonwealth will no longer contribute to delivery, that leaves an unmet demand on state dollars.
“Australia’s states and territories have acute fiscal constraints and severely limited capacity to raise revenue – in short, they don’t have the big wallets, but they do have big responsibilities.
“If the practical effect is to transfer an ever-greater share of necessary infrastructure funding demand to the level of government that can least afford to pay, then the net outcome is less infrastructure.
“It seems counterintuitive to move the funding balance to the level of government least able to bear that
“Ultimately, taxpayers care little which pot of their money investment comes from – but they care greatly that they have high quality infrastructure.”