Govt sharpens axe for infrastructure review

The federal government has announced a ‘short, sharp review’ of hundreds of items in its infrastructure investment program to determine which ones should be ditched.

Catherine King

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King says the number of projects in the pipeline has blown out from 150 to 800 in recent years, while construction costs have increased.

Ms King says this includes some projects “without real public benefit”, with almost 500 of them under $50 million about 160 budgeted at $5 million or less, which has clogged the pipeline and delayed “important, nation building projects”.

Many of the projects are completely underfunded, and only viable programs can go ahead, she said.

“Billions of dollars are needed to actually deliver all of the projects in the pipeline, that’s new money we would have to find, and we’re just simply not in the position to be able to say today can we deliver each and every one of those projects and have we got enough money,” she told the ABC.

“I’ve concluded the only way to deal with  (it) is to do a short, sharp review and work very closely with states and territories to make sure we’ve got projects in the pipeline that are able to be delivered, are properly costed, where the cost overruns are understood, and we’ve got headroom into the future to bring new projects into the pipeline.”

Extent of cuts ‘a matter for review’

The number of projects to be cut will be a matter for the review, the minister said.

“What I want is a very detailed knowledge of every single project that’s in that pipeline,” she said.

“Can it be delivered? Are states and territories stumping up their share of the money, and when can it be delivered?

“If it can’t be delivered then we’ve got to be upfront and say we can’t deliver this project.”

The review will be undertaken by former WA transport director Reece Waldock, former head of strategy and innovation at Infrastructure NSW Clare Gardiner-Barnes and  federal infrastructure secretary Mike Mrdak.

Ms King says while the government maintains its commitment to a ten-year, $120 billion infrastructure funding envelope, projects that are included must be nationally significant.

She says state and territory governments have agreed to support the 90-day independent review, and all levels of government will be able to consider which projects should be prioritised.

Infrastructure Australia warning

Infrastructure Australia declined to comment ahead of the review’s findings.

However, its latest market capacity report released last December found the public infrastructure pipeline had increased by $15 billion in value over the last 12 months, accompanied by growing labour shortages and increasingly costly construction materials.

 “Improving risk management and proactively sequencing the major infrastructure pipeline are necessary steps to control the effects of today’s untenable market pressures,” the report warns.

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