31 July 2014 — The federal government will attempt to get its $5.9 billion spending on roads through the Senate by legislating it in a supply bill, after being knocked back by Labor, The Greens and the Palmer United Party last month.
The move, reported by The Australian, would force the Senate to make the controversial move of blocking supply if it did not allow an appropriations bill to pass.
Treasurer Joe Hockey said the government was committed to creating the “Asset Recycling Fund”, which would provide $5.9 billion in roads and infrastructure funding to state governments in exchange for them privatising assets.
The move follows a leaked Infrastructure Australia report, which blasted irrational spending on roads, calling them “the nation’s worst asset class, by all measures”.
The report, which Infrastructure Australia acting coordinator John Fitzgerald said had not been read or approved by the board and sent out in error by as consultant, said Australia’s spending on roads was outstripping revenue raised from roads taxes and charges, meaning roads could be being funded at the expense of other measures.
It said that it would be prudent to ensure taxpayer funds were being spent productively and fairly, and that alternative capital uplift sources were actively encouraged. Neither of these things, however, were occurring.
The report found that roads were “not a rational investment”, and likened their funding to a gambler’s addiction where governments believed that “major improvement [was] just around the corner, if they could just spend more”.
“The current Australian system assumes that roads are an answer to most transport problems and seeks more and more funding to that end, with little consideration of alternatives that most other developed parts of the world enjoy, such as significant heavy intercontinental rail networks and dominant heavy mass transit systems.
“This matter needs resolution in the interests of national fiscal and economic efficiency, as politically-driven infrastructure may – and often does – consist of white elephants as well as of highly useful roads.