The political street-fighter

After much internal debate, we are delighted to announce that Anthony Albanese is Infrastructure Investor’s Minister of the Year for 2012. He becomes the fourth winner of our annual award, following
in the footsteps of India’s then-roads minister Kamal Nath in 2009, Mexican president Felipe Calderon in 2010 and Canada’s Finance Minister James Flaherty last year.

Albanese is a colourful character, rarely shying away from a dispute. For example, this year Australia’s Minister for Infrastructure and Transport in the Labor government has been involved in a lively
exchange over plans for a A$2 billion (€1.6 billion; $2.1 billion) freight hub in south-west Sydney. In pushing his own plan for the so-called Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, Albanese put himself in opposition to his own government’s Treasury and statutory body Infrastructure Australia – both of which supported a rival proposal from a private sector consortium led by businessman Chris Corrigan.

Legacy

But at least the dispute served to highlight the independence of Infrastructure Australia, which was established by the government’s Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 on Albanese’s watch and will form
an important part of his legacy. Albanese oversees the appointment of Infrastructure Australia’s members and pulled off something of a coup when he announced the appointment of former British Airways chief executive Sir Rod Eddington as the inaugural chair of the organisation back in 2008. Eddington remains at the helm.

In a country that has a long tradition of investing in infrastructure and which has produced some of the infrastructure asset class’s most prominent organisations, such as Macquarie and Industry Funds Management, it’s always been something of a surprise to outsiders to learn just how deficient Australia
feels itself to be in an infrastructure context. Infrastructure Australia was set up to address many of the perceived weaknesses – for example, by developing new and improved funding mechanisms and investigating infrastructure policy and regulation.

The significance of Infrastructure Australia was captured by Australia’s Power Index (www.powerindex.com.au), which said it had brought about “a change in the role of the Commonwealth in relation to infrastructure funding that has occurred under this government, with the Commonwealth now involved in strategic planning and direct funding of major infrastructure and assessments of major national projects via Infrastructure Australia”.

Incidentally, the same index ranked Albanese the eighth-most powerful person in the Canberra government – making the observation that “the government turns to Albanese when it struggles to get its message across”. This is not surprising since Albanese has a reputation as something of a political streetfighter who revels in verbal jousts with opponents.

The ability of Albanese to get his message across is clear from his ministerial website. Politicians will never be shy about drawing attention to their achievements, and Albanese arguably makes a better
job of highlighting his achievements than most. Daily updates regarding various infrastructure related
milestones come with occasionally excitable headlines such as “The Job Is Done! The Bypass Is Built!” (A reference to final construction of the Ballina Bypass in April 2012).

Passion

Among the achievements we have noted about Albanese (and without reference to the website): his skill and tenacity in overseeing infrastructure development in one of world’s most active and mature infrastructure markets; his passion about infrastructure and its role in economic growth and job creation; and his recently launched $A6 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund to unlock investment in mining communities.

Others mention his role in kickstarting major rail projects and the way he has involved the federal
government in urban infrastructure, where it has not traditionally been particularly influential.

It should be pointed out that Australian infrastructure is very much a work-in-progress. That much
was evident at the recent roundtable Infrastructure Investor hosted in Sydney. For example, David Roberts, executive director, head of project advisory at ANZ made the point that, with a large number of projects set to come through the pipeline, how the deal flow is organised by government will be crucial.

“There are a number of major projects but there is a need to bring order to the pipeline so that it’s properly planned. Different infrastructure bodies have their own lists of projects and there is a need to bring them together to develop clear priorities for major projects,” he said.

It’s a reminder that Albanese still has a job to do. But for what he’s done so far – and for the dynamism applied to the task – we feel the Minister of the Year award for 2012 has found its way to a worthy recipient.

Other honourable mentions go to:

George Osborne (UK Chancellor): Active and voluble engagement with infrastructure macro-story with will to make things happen with private capital/expertise [and a reworked PPP/PFI model inherent to the plans].

Cesar Purisima (Finance Secretary, Philippines): Ambitious PPP pipeline has been slow to deliver and question marks hover over its credibility. But Purisima as proactive as ever, lately encouraging moves towards a regional infrastructure bond market. The Philippines has been taking its case overseas, for example with recent attempts to win support from the large Canadian pensions.

Dipuo Peters (Energy Minister, South Africa): Overseen large and ambitious renewable energy programme, which has been bearing fruit with financial close being reached on a number of IPP projects including Cookhouse and Bokpoort. Vocal supporter of natural gas exploitation which could win more friends in the private capital community (and more enemies outside it).