Infra Australia pushes for merging funds, privatisations

The Sydney-based body has crafted a 15-year plan encouraging the government to forge on with selling off water utilities and power networks.

Infrastructure Australia (IA), an independent statutory body, has recommended fundamental changes to the way the Australian government plans, fund, delivers and uses infrastructure.

Its first 15-year Australian Infrastructure Plan, released today, sets out 78 recommendations for reform that aim to provide a vision and roadmap to address today’s infrastructure gaps. 

Some of its key recommendations include the consolidation of existing funding pools into an integrated and transparent government infrastructure fund, as well as transferring all remaining publicly owned electricity networks and retail businesses and water utility businesses to private ownership. 

It also suggests reforming the funding and operation of transport infrastructure, completing the national electricity market, improving the quality and competitiveness of the water sector and delivering a telecoms market that better matches user demand. 

Among the 93 projects and initiatives on the plan’s priority list, two projects, the CityLink-Tullamarine Widening and Perth Freight Linkare, are flagged as high priority.

Other key investments recommended in the list include the new metro rail systems in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane as well as urban renewal in Hobart and metropolitan water supply upgrades to support Darwin’s growing population. 

To create the incentives for change, the plan recommends linking Commonwealth payments to the State and Territory governments to the delivery of national reform objectives. 

Mark Birrell, IA’s chairman, said that implementing such a plan would allow Australians to benefit from more affordable, innovative and competitive energy, telecommunications, water and transport services. 

“This is a very honest prescription of what’s needed to fix Australia’s infrastructure and it warrants a calm and considered response from the major parties,” commented Brendan Lyon, chief executive of Infrastructure Partnership Australia, the country’s infrastructure industry body.

Critics believe, however, that without a clear data set accounting for the performance of previous infrastructure initiatives and robust analysis for green-lighting major projects the list may “yet be doomed to repeat the inefficiencies of the past”, according to local reports.