By Julian Bajkowski
The head of Infrastructure Australia, the Commonwealthâ€™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 nationâ€™s.
In a speech on Tuesday to the Committee for Economic Development of Australiaâ€™s â€˜State of the Nationâ€™ conference in Canberra, National Infrastructure Coordinator Michael Deegan said that parts of bureaucracy had become â€œinhibitors rather than facilitatorsâ€ to infrastructure policy innovation hit out at them for being â€œstolid, hesitant and reluctant.â€
Mr Deeganâ€™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 â€œas an island, almost all of our trading economy relies on the efficiency of our ports, sea channels and road and rail connecting networks.â€
â€œYou 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. Youâ€™d be wrong.â€ Mr Deegan said.
Mr Deegan warned that â€œbureaucratic charades and displays of truculenceâ€ held real consequences for jobs and national productivity.
â€œThe internal conflicts have implications for land transport infrastructure, urban form, economic growth, international reputation and ultimately all of the pillars of sustainable development,â€ he said.
He said that ports were not even mentioned at the Transport Ministersâ€™ Council jibing that that â€œthe bureaucracy, presumably, didnâ€™t see fit to bother them with such trivia.â€
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 â€œdesigned to take the most productive.â€
Mr Deegan said such a network would â€œgive freight a chance to be planned and lower its cost to the users.â€
â€œThe Prime Minister, Premiers and Ministers received our proposal enthusiastically. But the bureaucracy said no,â€ Mr Deegan said.
â€œNot only is there the turf protection and bureaucratic ineptitude â€¦ our complex government structures, three tiers, both delay infrastructure rollout and increase costs.â€
Mr Deegan said that Australia now not only needed â€œinnovation in policyâ€ to break through bureaucratic inertia but that streamlined approval processes and the removal of remove duplication was required.
He called for new â€œfunding means and avenuesâ€ to be embraced including governance reform and better transparency and public access to reports.
â€œWe 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.
â€œThatâ€™s not a contradiction. Itâ€™s a fact,â€ Mr Deegan said.
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