Sydney’s controversial WestConnex toll road’s federal funding will be scrutinised by the Australian National Audit Office following a request by federal Labor minister Anthony Albanese.
Mr Albanese said he was concerned about the government funding infrastructure projects before Infrastructure Australia assessment or finalisation of business case.
In the case of WestConnex, the federal government committed $1.2 billion in direct funding (with another $300 million following) and a $2 billion concessional loan before the business case had been finalised.
“That was a direct breach of the Liberals’ 2013 election promise not to fund major infrastructure projects without the finalisation of cost-benefit analysis,” Mr Albanese said.
He said Infrastructure Australia had been installed to have proper processes for assessing the economic benefits of infrastructure projects and guide government investment decisions.
“It is clear that the Abbott-Turnbull governments have undermined this process and their own election promises by cutting public transport projects that had been properly assessed in order to make advance payments for toll road projects that have not been properly assessed.”
The audit office, which provides independent assessment of public sector administration and accountability, will assess whether “appropriate steps” were taken to obtain value for money and protect the federal government’s interests, asking the following questions:
- Was the Commonwealth’s decision to make a financial commitment to the project informed by appropriate advice and made through the processes that have been established to assess the merits of nationally significant infrastructure investments?
- Were the decisions to approve the commitment of $1.5 billion in direct Commonwealth funding, and make respective milestone payments to date, informed by appropriate advice?
- Was the decision to enter into a $2 billion concessional loan arrangement with the NSW Government informed by appropriate advice?
- Do the terms of the concessional loan arrangements represent value for money and protect the Commonwealth’s interests?
The news was welcomed by The Greens, whose federal candidate Jim Casey – battling Mr Albanese in the seat of Grayndler – said the audit came about because of community pressure.
“Congratulations to the steadfast community campaign that has been calling for the federal Auditor General to investigate this shonky project for over a year and have been standing strong against the arrogance of the Baird government pursuing the motorway,” he said.
He called for the project to be halted while the audit was conducted. It is expected to be tabled in the Autumn 2017 session of Parliament.
NSW Greens member Jenny Leong said both Labor and Liberal parties had “blindly” promised $1.8 billion to the project during the 2013 election campaign.
“Let’s not forget it was the former federal Labor infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese that initially announced the seed funding for this disastrous motorway in January 2013,” she said.