Governments would need to gain parliamentary approval for infrastructure projects not on an independent infrastructure body’s pipeline, under a new plan to remove politics from infrastructure planning.
The idea is contained in a new report from built environment industry association Consult Australia, Infrastructure Governance in Australia, which calls for standardised statutory infrastructure advisory bodies to be enacted across all jurisdictions.
“Our nation’s ability to efficiently connect people to places and products to markets is critical for continued economic growth,” Consult Australia chief executive Megan Motto said.
“Yet still politics can interfere with this process, placing stress on jobs and growth, and wasting taxpayer funding.”
Ms Motto said infrastructure required “decades of foresight” though currently there was potential for all this to be lost in the weeks of an election campaign.
As an example, a Grattan Institute report in 2016 found that since 2012 more than half of Commonwealth funding had gone to projects where Infrastructure Australia had not published an evaluation.
Many projects were “roads that are not very important to the economy, but are popular with local voters”.
The Grattan Institute called for an independent body to assess all infrastructure proposals on a like-for-like basis with assessment of net benefits to be tabled in parliament.
Consult Australia is now calling for a similar strategy, through a “model IBody” that would be adopted uniformly across all states and territories, and which Ms Motto said would “ensure we can plan beyond the short term for sustainable economic growth”.
The association said the “IBodies” would:
- Take the politics out of infrastructure development by establishing long-term strategic plans
- Provide independent and expert advice about current and future infrastructure needs
- Create a pipeline for the roll-out of infrastructure projects
- Make infrastructure decision-making transparent and evidence-based
The bodies would be established by an act of parliament, and all strategies prepared would need to be tabled in parliament and responded to by government within a specified period.
“They will strengthen independence through reporting directly to parliament, and build stronger collaboration across jurisdictions in conjunction with Infrastructure Australia,” Ms Motto said.
Projects the government wanted to deliver that were not contained in a published pipeline of plans, or were deemed of lower priority, would require parliamentary approval to go ahead.
Under the plan, Infrastructure Australia and the other IBodies would work together to develop national guidelines for business case development, consistent with Infrastructure Australia’s assessment guidelines. States that currently had infrastructure bodies – such as Infrastructure NSW, Infrastructure Victoria and Building Queensland – would be encouraged to review their legislation to align with the model.
“It is critical that Australia has the right framework in place to enable holistic infrastructure strategies that are interconnected, integrated and sustainable,” the report said.