Inquiry into Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013
Dissenting Report – Senator Sterle
Infrastructure Australia was established by the Rudd Labor Government in
2008, following passage of the Infrastructure Australia Act that year.
Infrastructure Australia commenced operations, with a Council headed by
Sir Rod Eddington, and he remains in that role. The Infrastructure
Co-ordinator, created by Part 3 of the Act, was, and remains, Mr Michael
In a short period, Infrastructure Australia has overhauled and driven
lasting improvements to the way Australia plans, assesses, finances, builds and
uses the infrastructure it needs to compete in the 21st century. To date its
completed the first ever infrastructure audit;
put in place a National Priority List to guide investment into
nationally-significant projects which offer the highest economic and social
returns – and the former government committed funding to all 15 projects identified
developed national Public Private Partnership (PPP) guidelines to make
it easier and cheaper for private investors to partner with governments to
build new infrastructure;
finalised long term blueprints for a truly national, integrated and multimodal
transport system capable of moving goods around as well as into and out of
Australia quickly, reliably and efficiently: the National Port Strategy, the
National Freight Strategy and more recently the Urban Transport Strategy; and
conducted pilot work on improving governance and developing rigour
around evidence-based road funding.
It is a credit to the Infrastructure Australia Council, the
Infrastructure Coordinator, and the staff of Infrastructure Australia that
almost every one of the submissions to the inquiry see IA as being a positive
reform, and that there is a strong mood for retaining and enhancing IA’s role
as critical adviser to government on infrastructure policy and priorities.
Consultation and change
The new Government announced its infrastructure policy two days before
the election in September 2013.
The evidence of the inquiry is that the Department drew up drafting
instructions based on the new Government’s election policy and in discussions
with the Minister’s office.
There was no formal consultation on the detail of the Bill prior to its
introduction with any stakeholders outside the Government, including interested
parties such as Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the Business Council of
Australia, the Urban Development Institute or the Tourism & Transport
Forum. Given the tenor of these organisations’ submissions, the Government
would have been better advised to have sought detailed input via an exposure
draft process at the very least.
Indeed, the Government did not formally consult on the detail of the
Bill with Infrastructure Australia or the Infrastructure Co-ordinator.
According to the latter, over twenty drafts of the Bill existed, but he saw
none, despite having an evidently large background and body of knowledge that
the Government could have drawn upon. Mr Deegan’s comprehensive submission and
oral testimony would have been valuable input into legislative drafting.
Many other organisations were also not consulted on this Bill, and such
was evident from the written submissions.
Detail of the Bill
The Bill seeks to change the governance of Infrastructure Australia via
changing its corporate character and lines of reporting, fleshing out its functions
and eliminating others.
Of greater concern however, is the enhancing of the Minister’s explicit
powers to direct Infrastructure Australia’s operations, by allowing the
Minister to add projects that are not "nationally significant",
excluding whole classes of projects from evaluation, and by defining the
Minister’s powers from general to very specific and detailed. This is corrosive
of the independence of an organisation whose primary role is to provide expert
advice to Government.
Transparency is reduced via the explicit prevention of publication of
evaluations or evidence relied upon without explicit Ministerial permission.
This runs counter to the election commitment to greater transparency.
Of additional concern is the proposal to permit the separation of
Infrastructure Australia, from the process of approving tax offsets for
designated infrastructure projects.
The above are serious defects in the Bill, and most will have the effect
of reducing confidence in the independence and transparency of the
The preferred course is for the Bill to be withdrawn and for proper and
broad inquiry on reform to Infrastructure Australia to be undertaken.
The Bill as it currently stands is not supported.
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