18/09/2013 - 15:17

Infrastructure plan needed

18/09/2013 - 15:17


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Infrastructure plan needed

With our state government battling to deal with its growing financial problems and a new federal government working with a blank canvas, it’s instructive to look again at the model provided by Infrastructure NSW.

It’s a topic this column has analysed before, and it’s worth doing so again.

The establishment of Infrastructure NSW ranks as one of the more enlightened policy decisions of the O’Farrell government, which inherited a litany of infrastructure problems in Sydney and across the state.

Infrastructure NSW has a powerful board, led initially by former premier and company director Nick Greiner, and now by former Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley.

Wouldn’t it be a good move if another former Business Council of Australia president – current Woodside and National Australia Bank chairman Michael Chaney – took a similar role in his home state?

Board members in NSW include prominent business executives such as David Gonski, Roger Fletcher, Rod Pearse and Max Moore Wilton, and four of the state’s most powerful public servants.

Infrastructure NSW also has its own executive support and a budget that has allowed it to hire expert advisers.

One of its major tasks was the preparation of a 20-year state infrastructure strategy, followed by a more detailed five-year infrastructure plan.

Contrary to the fears of some, these reports did not embarrass or undermine the government in any way.

Rather, they provided a big-picture perspective on the state, its growth outlook and likely infrastructure requirements.

Nor did the reports contain a long ‘wish list’ of projects, which had no hope of all being funded or delivered.

For the most part, Infrastructure NSW’s strategy focused on more intensive use of existing infrastructure, and incremental projects able to yield substantial benefits before committing to expensive new projects.

Compare that to what happened in Western Australia during the state election, when major policy decisions, particularly around public transport, were made on the run.

Infrastructure NSW did not try to usurp the role of government in setting final priorities or managing the implementation of new infrastructure.

In particular, it noted that the NSW government would consider its reports in conjunction with strategies prepared by other agencies.

It has also contributed to an informed debate around the role of the private sector.

Its strategy noted that private financing does not, on its own, create more infrastructure-funding capacity.

It concluded that the principal purpose of private financing is to better manage project risks and thereby deliver better value-for-money outcomes.

Having completed its strategy development, Infrastructure NSW has been given an ongoing role evaluating capital projects.

This includes assessing potential Resources for Regions projects, in tandem with NSW Farmers and Local Government NSW, which together comprise the Independent Assessment Panel.

That degree of transparency is something that would benefit decision making in WA.

Infrastructure NSW is also closely involved in evaluating spending under the Restart NSW Illawarra Infrastructure Fund.

Its role has included holding public forums across the Illawarra region.

The last word on this should go to Nick Greiner, who said: ‘The fundamental framework of the Infrastructure NSW legislation is about an independent perspective, not business as usual’.

Bring it on.


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