Can iA guide the 2022 Budget?

Infrastructure Australia:  main challenges  for negotiation ed 1

The Albanese Government has appointed the former CEO of Infrastructure NSW Jim Betts as head of its infrastructure department, after the long-term legend Mike Mrdak was replaced by Turnbull by the top-level blunderer Stephen Kennedy.

I am in a battle with the Albanese Government and particularly its Treasurer Jim Chalmers over internal corruption, incompetence and a vendetta since 2015 against me and my family by its Secretary Kennedy. I stymied the Morrison/Frydenberg parallel incompetence and manipulations which were also via Kennedy.

This page looks at consequences of the backdoors in the Rudd Government’s 2007-08 legislation leading on to

  • Political manipulation including iA lack of professionalism in the project pipelines
  • Major urban contexts in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane
  • NSW port catastrophes – iNSW & iA
  • Climate and demographic gaps in 2022 iA Priorities

Infrastructure Australia was set up in 2008 to conduct health checks on Australian cities after two previous periods of national reform (Uren and Howe);  but there is a growing realisation that city assets are ageing and too inflexible and money is being wasted on replacing viable systems and not funding “missing links”. 

There were to be comparisons with trends against international exemplars, an overall plan, asset appraisals, investment rules, and guided grants and subsidies.  It was chaired by a city transformational leader, Sir Rod Eddington.  It lived in a political context and former PM Tony Abbott attacked its sponsoring Minister’s first decision round as over-political , reflecting Lindsay Tanner’s earlier concerns (under the Albanese tab).  

Leaping forward then Deputy PM Truss changed the discipline and control side a little but the more fundamental problem was that the economic bureaucrats fell in love with the gung-ho managerial vigour of Mike Baird. The annual Priority list became a Chinese restaurant wall chart, pick your number, pay at the register and off you go to enjoy the windfalls.

iA no longer guides Budget decisions except where it suits the grifters and gifters in the Parliaments. There were always problems in that respect.

Evidence has been presented on the jim’n’albo page of iA’s inabilities and decreptitude, here is another copy of the same evidence I tried so hard to correct the situation from 2015.

On Feb 22, 2011 then PM Abbott gave a major speech in Perth which included the following words:

In 2008, infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese said that all infrastructure decision making would be based on rigorous cost/benefit analysis to ensure the highest economic and social benefits to the nation over the long term”.

He also declared that the government had a “commitment to transparency at all stages …” and that infrastructure Australia would routinely … ensure that “value for taxpayers’ dollars” was achieved.  Only a year later, the government failed to release cost/benefit analyses for any of the 15 big projects selected for funding in the 2009 Budget.  Some of them were not even on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list. . 

A subsequent National Audit Office report found that before Infrastructure Australia had come to any conclusions about the 28 “pipeline”  projects that it had identified, the government had already announced funding for 10 of them.

Failures under the “Baird Model”, including falling transit capacities as population grew, rising debt as the shiny toys were unremunerative and anyway Berejiklian told MTR they would not have to pay us to take over the Bradfield system via a pesky PPP – she paid them; and a complete mismatch between metropolitan and regional population and industry movements and infrastructure budgets which remained bogged in the privileged inner areas who had traditionally received their facilities free of tolls and special levies.

iA had an important role to play but it made serious errors since Sir Rod Eddington’s departure in 2014 – apparently then in appeasement of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and the NSW Premier, with the then PM supporting the WestConnex, Metro and tram ideas without apparently being briefed on process defects including non-consideration of options. (Labor was complicit in most such decisions, especially in NSW, but questioned Inland Rail and WestConnex details.)

The iA and iNSW Board compositions were always questionable.  Mixing proponents and inspectors within a closed room is neither a good idea nor necessary:  there was a strong integrative non-statutory committee in NSW from about 1974 called CUMPTAC, URTAC and then TRANSAC within the Ministry of Transport.  It had gone by 1995 when NSW Transport Minister Bruce Baird mused about bring it back.

One prominent Australian sat on the board of Infrastructure Australia, which has to assess State proposals, and on the board of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, which pushes States and Federal governments in various directions, and in particular supported the CBD Metro that was savaged by iA, and on Treasury and on Moorebank (supplicant and debtor to Treasury, owned by Feds).  The contrary directions that the NSW Government is moving in versus the Federal concern over reducing congestion suggests this situation might re-occur in which case there would be a conflict, ceteris paribus.

Turnbull removed that conflict, against Albanese’s objections, after this analyst pointed out a cascade of such conflicts – with no attribution or payment by Turnbull.  He left the head of the Federal Department on the Infra Partnerships Aust Board, wrongly, so that when he removed Mrdak from DIRD, we had both the past and current heads on the board at the same time.  I am most unimpressed that the former head of iA, Sir Rod Eddington, is now IPA’s chief safecracker.

Reform ideas have been prepared by a correspondent to John Menadue’s blog, by Professor Derek Scrafton – but iA is steadfastly isolationist.

iA’s recent update to its Priority List was greeted by inexpert journalists but the usual defects remained – 

  • no SWOT or critical issues list
  • no better infrastructure plans for WS airport, Inland Rail, ports and logistics systems (except for local improvements), or the failure of the “Baird Model” and of value capture.  It went fishing on Moorebank – “issue identification and options development – 0 – 5 years”, when that is simply running from reality
  • no meaningful mention of critical challenges including waste (iA, Grattan and me), port insufficiencies and congestion, and no mention at all of migration, Berejiklian’s clustermucks at Rozelle and with the Metro – in fact, iA’s text is ingenious (none of the sentences is true):

The project’s major benefits will be for public transport users through travel-time savings and reliability improvements. New metro stations will improve accessibility to existing suburbs and precincts.  The project will contribute to reducing rail and road congestion and enable housing and employment growth.

When the Greater Sydney Commission was being protected by Turnbull through a concocted “30-Minute” “cloak of invisibility”, one of my major criticisms was lack of proper options- and scenario-testing.  iA stole that idea and published a further cloak, the Sydney “Future Cities Paper”.  Its conclusions were invalid:

City Deals are now mainstream, starting with Turnbull’s and Baird’s betrayals of the Illawarra, SW and W Sydney, the Aerotropolis and re-balancing of population to reduce congestion – the greatest act of stupidity and corruption of due process in Australian history, something iA is totally blind to.

As Professor Richard Tomlinson said in response to the PM’s/Baird’s announcement:

This is an extraordinary assertion of power over planning for, and infrastructure investment in, cities. It has no constitutional foundation.   Australia City Deals are to be based on federal and state/territory partnerships to “drive national priorities tailored to local needs”. So, at the local level, national priorities prevail.  The federal government knows best.  In the UK, City Deals are premised on “devolution” and the creation of metropolitan governments.  Deals are negotiated with local and metropolitan governments and business leaders, with reference to civil society as well.  Metropolitan governments are seen as desirable because it is believed the economic growth of cities is best promoted by city leadership.

That topic is the third pamphlet in the “Save Sydney” trilogy.

Greiner’s iNSW produced First Things First in October 2012.  That February, Infrastructure Australia (supported by iNSW) had questioned

whether it was worth spending $8.5 billion on the line to Sydney’s north west suburbs, and lamenting a lack of detail about the plan. The criticism, released yesterday by the state government, mirrors arguments made internally by Barry O’Farrell’s advisory body, Infrastructure NSW.

The chief executive of Infrastructure Australia… expressed support for focusing on transport links around Parramatta. He added he had been given no information on how the state government planned to bring trains to the city from the north west when train paths into the city were almost full.  ”We can’t see what happens at Chatswood,” Mr Deegan told the Herald….

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, however, rejected Mr Deegan’s criticism. She said the government had put together a 2200-page environmental impact statement and a ”detailed” submission to Infrastructure Australia of more than 70 pages.

Whatever the respective merits of argument in the paper warfare were, that represented a critical crack in NSW’s planning credibility.  Greiner’s iNSW’s Board was full of heavy-hitters and it produced very interesting material that, in a mature democracy, would have produced a signature debate.  There were also contentious elements, especially from the Ministry of Silly Walks (CBD underground bus tunnel and Parramatta Road undergrounding – both impractical and with very low cost effectiveness

PORT BOTANY has received undue preference through the Government’s ownership interests replacing the State’s strategic needs.  Its capacity has been misstated and its longevity is limited to within the lead-in time required for alternatives.

We have the respective Governments’ constrictions on Kembla and Newcastle and the implications of the Calfas Panel’s pro-monopoly recommendations, together with the poor quality of the draft Freight and Ports strategy,  making the sad and sorry conclusion that the Berejiklian Government (as fused with Turnbull’s) has mismanaged the economy to a decisive degree.


{NB further text is held off-line with restructuring of sequence of sections, in the hope that the Treasurer Jim Chalmers will act on Integrity)

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