Infrastructure Australia head rails against bureaucratic ineptitude

By Julian Bajkowski

The head of Infrastructure Australia, the Commonwealth’s chief advisor on national rail, roads and ports policy, has delivered a blistering critique of all three layers of bureaucracy, openly accusing elements of the public service of putting their own self-interest before that of the nation’s.

In a speech on Tuesday to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s ‘State of the Nation’ conference in Canberra, National Infrastructure Coordinator Michael Deegan said that parts of bureaucracy had become “inhibitors rather than facilitators” to infrastructure policy innovation hit out at them for being “stolid, hesitant and reluctant.”

Mr Deegan’s spray against bureaucratic resistance comes as the peak infrastructure body attempts to break what it calls a logjam that is impeding real national coordination and progress on investments the vital areas of roads, rail and ports that have historically developed in isolation to each other to the detriment of the economy and business.

He said that prior to the creation of Infrastructure Australia there was no national planning when it came to ports and related infrastructure despite the fact that as “as an island, almost all of our trading economy relies on the efficiency of our ports, sea channels and road and rail connecting networks.”

“You would expect that somebody knows all the key pieces of economic infrastructure, what is needed for the future and that all relevant land spaces are monitored, protected and planned. You would expect common sense, and effective planning. You’d be wrong.” Mr Deegan said.

Mr Deegan warned that “bureaucratic charades and displays of truculence” held real consequences for jobs and national productivity.

“The internal conflicts have implications for land transport infrastructure, urban form, economic growth, international reputation and ultimately all of the pillars of sustainable development,” he said.

He said that ports were not even mentioned at the Transport Ministers’ Council jibing that that “the bureaucracy, presumably, didn’t see fit to bother them with such trivia.”

Mr Deegan warned that if governments did not get the port of Gladstone in Queensland right, gross domestic product would suffer by percentage points.

Rail and land transport was also in the cross hairs, a particularly the land freight strategy reports of 2011 and 2012 that were aimed at planning a network of roads and rail lines linking major ports and industrial centres which could grow as major freight flows were attracted because it was “designed to take the most productive.”

Mr Deegan said such a network would “give freight a chance to be planned and lower its cost to the users.”

“The Prime Minister, Premiers and Ministers received our proposal enthusiastically. But the bureaucracy said no,” Mr Deegan said.

“Not only is there the turf protection and bureaucratic ineptitude … our complex government structures, three tiers, both delay infrastructure rollout and increase costs.”

Mr Deegan said that Australia now not only needed “innovation in policy” to break through bureaucratic inertia but that streamlined approval processes and the removal of remove duplication was required.

He called for new “funding means and avenues” to be embraced including governance reform and better transparency and public access to reports.

“We have to look outside the stultifying governance box we presently live in. We need better governance when it comes to governance in infrastructure and procurement.

“That’s not a contradiction. It’s a fact,” Mr Deegan said.

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3 thoughts on “Infrastructure Australia head rails against bureaucratic ineptitude

  1. It is so refreshing to find a role in government with the perspective and freedom to express how it actually is. The silo’s of government provide a pre-established framework that blinker the bureaucracy from integrated options and the best outcome. Most often this is obscure to the public and the best option is simply lost. In infrastructure, the best outcome is often obvious to the voters, but lost in the government process. There is a need for stewardship from our leaders to force the bureaucracies outside their comfort zone and explore solutions that provide Australia with a prosperous late 21st century our forebears bravely gave us.

  2. Dear Sir,

    Thank you for a most interesting article. I have long wondered how much income Australia lost because of its’ failure to invest in adequate infrastructure, allowing the country to take full advantage of the Asian boom. I wonder also if there was a failure of the Federal public service in anticipating the boom, and its magnitude. Australia seemed to react to it rather than prepare for it.My suspicions lead me to this conclusion.

    I feel that the politicians find it so easy to say no to a major project, to say yes requires too much justification, and the short term political and financial nature of Australia, combined with a media that concentrates on the negative aspects, ensures that projects of any complexity and intricacy are not done until absolutely necessary, and in social terms too late. The media criticism placed on the road tunnels in Brisbane, executed in a timely manner, considering their life-span, and the anticipated development south of the Brisbane River, is a case in point, as the media trumpeted their perceived failure to gain adequate traffic density immediately upon opening.

    The idea of building casinos in Sydney, however, is treated as some lightweight issue, with no concern for the social ramifications, and alternative solutions that offer more to society at large.

    Best Regards,

    Deena Bennett

  3. I have found it interesting to compare the development of cities of comparative population size. In this regard, an interesting group of cities is Singapore, and Sydney or Melbourne. All are of approximately 4 million people.

    In Singapore we have a city state, with no natural resources, that has dragged itself from being a 3rd world country into the 1st world by its own bootstraps. Its public transport system is comparable to the best in the world. I do believe that the economic, and consequently social health of a city depends upon a functional public transport system. Sydney’s and Melbourne’s public transport systems are, if a generous eye is cast, of 2nd world status. Neither city has an automatic fare collection system, working across both buses and trains, which comes close to matching that in Singapore. I must ask why?
    I think it is disingenuous to suggest that Singapore is not a democracy. To manage a city of some 4 million, a mix of Chinese, Tamil, Malay and others for such a long period indicates that many social investments have been made that find agreement with the majority of the people.
    Surely the question must be asked about Sydney’s and Melbourne’s failure to make progress that comes even close to matching that of this resource poor island, beset, as it is, by countries who have no love for it.

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