The infrastructure revolution that Australia so desperately needs will not occur unless all governments give Infrastructure Australia the power that it needs to build national projects with a minimum of government interference.
It was originally established as an advisory body on infrastructure to Federal and State governments, but they were told in advance what projects every government wanted to push — most of which were not in the national interest. They were pork barreling projects designed to help politicians win elections, particularly in marginal seats, and bore no relationship to the long-term needs of the nation.
This made it extraordinarily difficult for Infrastructure Australia to get any project off the ground, oversee its financing and get it built. Since the last election, their powers have been increased slightly in acknowledgement of their considerable efforts so far — but are still a long way short of what is needed to achieve meaningful results.
Clearly, the Commonwealth has to give Infrastructure Australia some real teeth. It must become an independent statutory authority sanctioned by all governments so it can bypass all the bureaucratic bottlenecks that delay projects for years at great cost to us all. I reckon that the cost of building infrastructure will drop by 20 per cent if the multilayered, territory-defending bureaucracy gets out of the way.
There is no reason why Infrastructure Australia can’t be given authority immediately to originate, plan, finance and build national projects — and to have the right to do so though Public Private Partnerships if it believes that this is appropriate for a particular project. It must also have the right to issue and sell infrastructure bonds to private investors so as to avoid having to rely totally on government budget allocations.
Their first project should be to create new rail tracks for high-speed passenger trains from Adelaide to Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane, and save us all from the grind of air travel which has long since ceased to be a pleasure. It will also achieve massive reductions in emissions.
At the same time, they can create water channels from the Gulf Country to achieve a constant flow of water into the Murray Darling river system. A dozen other national projects easily come to mind.
The only thing that is stopping this from happening is that politicians and bureaucrats at every level of government are resisting the giving-up of their power and their ability to win votes by pork barreling wastefully. Their greed, vanity, primitive parochial attitudes and extreme aversion to change will continue to hold Australia back mightily unless powerful voices demand change. Their attitude is just like that of the Senate — make sure that you do all you can to make sure that no good projects ever get off the ground.
It would help the cause dramatically if we could rid ourselves of State Governments. But, we had better get rid of the Senate first. We don’t want too many dead bodies lying around at the same time. We could find ourselves on the front page headlines in one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers.