22 November 2023

State smiles give way to widespread disappointment in government’s infrastructure review

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Ministers looking at plans

State MP Nadia Clancy, Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King, Federal Member for Boothby Louise Miller-Frost, and SA Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Tom Koutsantonis study plans for Adelaide’s North-South Corridor. Photo: Facebook.

Despite all the recommendations of the 140-page review into the $120 billion Infrastructure Investment Program being accepted by the Federal Government, most states have been critical of the planned cancellation of 82 projects yet to start work.

Commissioned in May by Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King, the final report of the Independent Review of the National Partnership Agreement on Land Transport Infrastructure Projects described the previous government’s plan as undeliverable.

It recommended a raft of cuts to projects not yet started, or the rescoping of other projects into ‘corridors’ to reduce risk to the budget and pressures on inflation.

But, few states held back in expressing their disappointment at the cuts.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said on the day of the review’s release that he “has not and will not cooperate to support Catherine King’s cut”.

In a more considered response, Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said the decision to reduce Commonwealth funding on joint projects would cost the state between $600 million and $1 billion a year.

“Although Queensland has only the third largest population of any state, our vast state has the largest regional road network in the nation, so the proposed change from 80/20 funding to 50/50 has the largest impact on regional Queenslanders than regions in any other jurisdiction,” he said.

The Northern Territory Government was more positive, saying it welcomed the review which would see an additional $200 million allocated towards upgrading and sealing 150 km of the Tanami Road in the territory’s west by 2025.

Northern Territory Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Joel Bowden said: “The Territory Government will work with the Australian Government to maintain the current split to ensure we continue building a sustainable, productive and liveable territory.”

The Liberal Tasmanian Government said it would fight to protect state “infrastructure projects from the Albanese Government’s chopping board”, despite all but one of the state’s projects – the planned $16 million Old Surrey Road/Massey Greene Drive Project in Burnie – surviving the review.

South Australian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis described the removal of project funding as “disappointing”.

Adelaide’s planned North-South Corridor between Gawler and Old Noarlunga remains fully funded by the Commonwealth. But Mr Koutsantonis said other projects had seen compulsory acquisitions made. He said they had been planned and budgeted for but would need to be reviewed.

In Victoria, the main issue remains the ongoing dispute over funding to the airport station end of Melbourne’s $10 billion Airport Rail Link.

But despite Minister King committing to continuing to fund the project – reportedly against the advice of the review – she said the dispute over whether to locate the station above or below ground was between the Victorian Government and the airport owners.

READ ALSO Government’s Infrastructure Review recommends 82 national projects be cancelled

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan said because the airport was on land leased from the Commonwealth, the Federal Government needed to be involved in the negotiations.

“The airport is a very different project … Victorian planning powers don’t reach into the airport footprint,” she told the ABC. “So, we do need to have the Federal Government work through their planning processes in order to get the approvals in place for both the rail line and the station built on airport land.”

But Minister King said she was looking at the option of appointing an independent mediator, but was still awaiting advice.

“There’s a fair bit of legal issues at play here,” she told Radio 3AW. “There’s the sort of lease the airport has with me. There’s also the airports act, which is the sort of planning act for our airports. And then there’s obviously the relationship with the state government as well.”

In NSW, perhaps the biggest criticism from state and local government was of the Federal Government’s axing of federal funding to the M7/M12 interchange, a key road transport hub for the future Western Sydney Airport and surrounding growth areas.

But in an interview with ABC Radio National, Minister King said the project had not been defunded, and was actually jointly-funded by the NSW Government and Transurban, the company which builds and operates most of Sydney’s toll roads.

In Western Australia, the State Government re-affirmed its commitment to its projects despite saying the Federal Government had withdrawn $300 million from the state’s transport projects.

“We are naturally disappointed with the outcomes of this review,” WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said. “Our position has always been that we did not want to see any projects cut, and that our preference was to work cooperatively on smoothing the pipeline of projects, rather than cutting support entirely.”

Original Article published by Andrew McLaughlin on Riotact.

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