Home' Future Building Australian Infrastructure Review : Volume 5 Number 1 Contents futurebuilding 17
Volume 5 Number 1
The Hon Mark Birrell
Therefore, the challenge to each of us, and the
guiding challenge for Infrastructure Australia, is to
distil this infrastructure consensus into an actionable
programme of well-led and carefully articulated
enabling policies, which progressively deliver much-
needed projects across the Federation.
While I am optimistic about the outlook for
infrastructure, and our collective opportunity to drive
change and win real bene ts, I am also realistic about
the degree of change that will be needed.
Since Federation, Australia's infrastructure has
been viewed within a context of state assets and
state requirements. This is a legacy of a Constitution
that limited the Federal Government's infrastructure
responsibilities to those few sectors that affected
commerce between the states, or were transnational
in nature (even in 1901).
In effect, the Constitution left us a legacy where
the national government's role for infrastructure was
limited to telecommunications, interstate freight
While these neat divisions were often overridden
by the practicalities of Commonwealth-State
Financial Arrangements, the role of the national tier
of government as the dominant source of funds (and
increasingly as a source of formal project approvals)
has only become clear to all in recent years.
But the rise of the central government, and the
imperative of national networks and markets, has not
always been matched with corresponding corrections
to structural accountabilities, funding sources or
project management capabilities.
This has been compounded by the recent problems
of declining state government budget settings. And
while Canberra has emerged as a welcome source
of alternative budgetary allocations, it has not always
had the inherent skills to choose project recipients,
let alone actually deliver such projects itself.
This legacy adds rich complexity to the issues
before us. That is why Infrastructure Australia is an
important structural reform -- because if we perform
our role well, we will better equip Australia to fully
address the costly shortfalls in infrastructure.
These shortfalls have for too long depressed
productivity, and resulted in business performance
and employment creation being compromised. Let
us never forget our collective national experiences of:
• transport networks failing to keep pace with
• state-owned water and electricity utilities being
unreliable or unreasonably costly
• hospital facilities confounded by lengthening
• freight corridors being neglected.
Observations like this are now so common, and
immediately familiar, that they necessitate a strategic,
But, there is one particularly compelling reason
for us to act: if we get our infrastructure right, we will
protect Australia's quality of life at a time of sustained
population growth and global economic change.
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