Infrastructure: merit vs. votes

The Federal Government has released Infrastructure Australia‘s “Prioritisation Methodology” and guidelines for the evaluation of infrastructure proposals just as The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a high-level meeting to allocate funds where there are “federal Labor votes in it”.

According to the government’s release, “the guidelines outline the evidence-based approach that will be taken to select the transport, water, energy and communication projects that Australia needs.

“All proposals will be assessed against their ability to:

•         lift national productivity,

•         strengthen Australia’s international competitiveness,

•         develop our cities and regions,

•         reduce greenhouse gas emissions,

•         and improve the quality of life of Australians.”

But the Herald reports that “the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, told a meeting in February involving the former premier, Morris Iemma, and senior state bureaucrats that they were not interested in the rail project because Labor had no marginal seats in the area it would service, senior NSW sources said.”

The Herald’s revelations fly in the face of continuing assurances given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese that the funds will be allocated based on merit, and not used as a federal Labor “slush fund”, as the Opposition has charged.

The NSW Government’s priority list contains a large number of road projects, with only the West Metro ($10 billion) focusing on public transport and the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor ($3.1 billion) having direct and significant impact on freight movement around the state.

Infrastructure Australia comes to life

feThe twelve members of the recently established Infrastructure Australia advisory council have held their first meeting to develop a blueprint for the nation’s infrastructure.

The Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 came into effect in April this year, with $20 million allocated over the next four years to provide support for upgrading transport, water, energy and communications infrastructure.

Federal infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese said the government’s expectations of the council were to develop nationally consistent Public-Private Partnership guidelines by this October, finalise the National Audit by the end of the year, and compile and deliver to COAG the first National Priority List by March 2009.

Mr Albanese said the council would also consider environmentally sustainable strategies to develop and use infrastructure networks.

“We know that infrastructure has a long lifespan and can impact on efforts to tackle environmental challenges such as climate change. Accordingly, as well as social and economic factors, I’ve asked Infrastructure Australia to be mindful of our environmental responsibilities when conducting all its deliberations,” he said.

“Under the leadership of Sir Rod Eddington, this group has the capacity to cut through and identify the critical issues, as well as the proven abilities to find innovative solutions to the infrastructure challenges Australia faces.

“The Rudd Labor Government is serious about bringing national leadership and new thinking to the planning, financing and building of economic infrastructure.

“We are getting on with the job of nation building,” Mr Albanese said.

Road cannot do it, but rail can: ARTC

The Australian Government should spend more money on upgrading the rail infrastructure between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has said.

ARTC CEO David Marchant, speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, said Australia would become incapable of providing sustainable freight services without dedicated rail freight lines to and from capital cities. 

Mr Marchant, who has been lobbying the Australian Government to provide a further $830 million on the rail upgrade projects in northern Sydney, said in stark contrast to the investment in making road transport more productive and efficient, the freight rail transport system has been progressively run down.

As a result, rail’s share of freight movement between capital cities of Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane plunged from 50 per cent to less than 12 per cent over the last four decades, while the volume of freight increasing almost 17 times.

With freight demand continuing to increase, he said under-utilisation of rail is not viable also in light of the volatility in oil prices and meeting the carbon emissions target.

He refuted the recently publicised plan to construct an inland railway linking Melbourne to Brisbane, saying it would have no impact on the freight movement to and from Sydney, at the core of Australia’s logistics operations.

He said the rail corridors between Melbourne and Sydney, and Brisbane were “most depleted in performance over the last 30 years” and the ARTC, partially funded by the Australian Government, commenced a major program of improving the infrastructure. 

He also expressed high hopes for the southern Sydney freight line, with its completion targeted for January 2010.

“This line will separate freight from the urban passenger system in Sydney from Chullora to Macarthur.

“It will overcome the curfew on freight movements in the southern metropolitan area…and will be connected to the freight line from Chullora to Sydney Ports which will also be separated from the urban passenger system,” he said. 

The ailing rail system could overcome decades of neglect through AusLink, Infrastructure Australia and the government’s stimulus package, he said.

“There’s an ad running on US television at the moment extolling the virtues of rail over road. I’ve converted from imperial to metric the figures used in the ad.

“Consider this: a tonne of freight can be carried 680 kilometres using just 3.7 litres of fuel. Road can’t do that. Rail can.

“These are not issues that can be solved tomorrow; however, the road map for the adjustment needs to be commenced today,” Mr Marchant said.

Submit your infrastructure wish-list

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese and Infrastructure Australia chair Sir Rod Eddington have urged the public to take part in shaping of Australia’s infrastructure spending.

The public and business can submit their project ideas to Infrastructure Australia by October 15 for evaluation and possible inclusion on the national infrastructure priority list.

“We want both industry and the community to be our partners in the long-term effort to fix and modernise the nation’s critical economic infrastructure: our roads, railways, ports, water, energy utilities and telecommunications,” Mr Albanese said.

“In making a submission, we are asking people to look beyond their own street or neighbourhood and put forward ideas and suggestions that will strengthen the national economy.

“We as a government do not believe that we have a monopoly on all the good ideas for Australia’s future,” he said.

Sir Eddington said the call for submissions was to facilitate public discussion of how the nation can better plan, finance and build major infrastructure.

“We have indications that members of the community, including people working in industry and government, have both ideas and information potentially of great value to our work,” he said.

“We know that for a long time we’ve had a major infrastructure deficit and that the Reserve Bank warned on 20 occasions that was leading to capacity constraints in the economy, leading to upward pressure on inflation and interest rates."

Mr Albanese said $400 billion plus infrastructure spending in the long term was critical in ensuring sustainable economic and social development.

“We know that urban congestion, if left unaddressed, will cost some $20 billion by the year 2020. That’s a good example of why this is not just an economic issue, but a social issue because many working parents are spending more time commuting to and from work in their cars, than they are at home with their kids,” he told the Nine Network.

 

“After all, when we talk about infrastructure, we’re talking about areas that have an immediate impact on people’s lives.

“Often, we only notice it when it doesn’t work, when you can’t get the train, or urban congestion is occurring, or we have water restrictions. So we want the community to have input, because this affects people’s everyday lives,” Mr Albanese said.

The discussion paper calls for evidence-based submissions, which should be no more than 15 pages and sent to mail@infrastructureaustralia.gov.au with "Submission" in the subject field.

A copy of the discussion paper, as well as information about how to prepare and lodge a submission, is available at www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au.

Lower Hunter needs transport

Tenders have been called for an independent study into the transport needs of the Lower Hunter Region, with submissions closing on July 14.

Commissioned by the Department of Infrastructure and the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), the study will be used for developing strategies to improve access connecting Maitland, Cessnock and Singleton with Newcastle and the F3 freeway.

 

Acting federal infrastructure minister Chris Bowen said: “The tender is for an independent consultant to review the performance of land transport networks in the study area and connections to adjacent areas, and to identify current issues and future challenges.”

NSW roads minister Eric Roozendaal said the study will provide land transport strategies to meet passenger and freight needs over the next 25 years, along with an independent review of the existing cost estimate for the F3 to Branxton proposal.

“A Council Reference Group will be established to make sure there is appropriate consultation with key local stakeholders and will include representatives of Maitland, Cessnock and Singleton Councils and the NSW Department of Planning,” he said.

“Community consultation will be held with a wide range of local stakeholders and their input will be sought at workshops.”

The final study report will be completed by November 15, and be submitted to Infrastructure Australia by the end of this November.

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