Home' Future Building: The Australian Infrastructure Review : Volume 5 Number 1 Contents futurebuilding 29
Volume 5 Number 1
Peter Harris AO
simply rush in to announce the next big project that
seems likely to capture the public imagination.
Rushing in to announce big, new investments
is something that has been heavily criticised, most
recently in the case of the National Broadband
We have also neglected to undertake projects
with high bene t-cost ratios, which do not have such
substantial political salience.
It appears that regardless of who is in government,
the same rush to announce still seems to be with us.
The sequence of announcing the project concept,
then doing the planning -- after which the concept
is almost always revised -- with the cost-bene t
analysis either not done at all (for lack of time) or not
released (generally on the unconvincing grounds of
commercial sensitivity) is unfortunate.
Without naming individual projects, most states
have, since last year, seen exactly this sequence of events.
If this process provided some political bene t,
it might be understandable -- it would not be
supportable, but it might be understandable. But it
seems not to do that, either.
Instead, far from a swift move after the press
release into a tender process and the commencement
of construction, the next step after the press release is
Silence while the planning is done, the
risks assessed, the interaction between the
new investment and the existing system further
considered, and the business case prepared for the
public or private nanciers.
There may be occasional hints of net bene t for
the community, and there are inevitably speeches
to selected groups of targeted bene ciaries, but
the disappointment in broader public terms arises
because -- far from the implied swift decision-making
of the announcement -- there inevitably follows a
long period of apparent inaction.
Those who work on infrastructure projects know
it is not a period of inaction -- far from it. But the
Government's action agenda subsequently feels
keenly the public disappointment, all of which is
generated by the untimely announcement in the rst
place. Announcement remorse, you might call it.
It would be refreshing to see governments choose,
in future, to do the analysis and release it rst.
My judgment is that it is in the interests of
governments to rst undertake the detailed analysis
and release it. In most cases, this is not beyond the
current capabilities of government agencies and key
external advisers. The resources are there, they're just
not deployed effectively.
Moreover, this is the only plausible way of
establishing a pipeline of opportunities. It is axiomatic
that to achieve a pipeline's purpose of providing
analysable ideas of future investment opportunities in
Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), and an indication
of their timing, you need to publish a sequence of
analyses. Not just one every now and then, but a
sequence of analyses.
It will be of very little use just to publish a snapshot
of today's ideas without comparable analyses of the
alternatives to them. Who -- investing seriously -- can
respond effectively to a snapshot?
There is some reason to hope that a better
system will come about. The renewed interest
in infrastructure, and the abandonment of the
nonsensical view that all debt is bad, provides a
context that could see the infrastructure planning and
purchasing system reformed.
The Inquiry Report into Public
One contribution to support this is our recently
completed Inquiry Report into Public Infrastructure,
which was, in effect, two inquiries in one, and done
at a rapid pace, just on six months from start to nish.
A second cause for optimism is that the
Commonwealth Assistant Minister for Infrastructure,
the Hon Jamie Briggs MP, recently released a
statement on behalf of his colleagues from around
the nation that seeks to apply some of the directions
suggested in our Inquiry Report.
A third cause for optimism can be found in the
earlier comments of the Deputy Prime Minister, the
Hon Warren Truss MP (see page 3), who said that as a
result of reform to Infrastructure Australia, in future he
expects to see assessment ahead of announcement.
Our Inquiry was as deep as it was broad. It
was well supported by industry and public sector
submissions, and there was a high level of public
commentary provided by the media.
I am optimistic that such a detailed piece of
work has a fair prospect of actually being turned into
public policy. That process will take time, and it may
be a ve- to seven-year process, but it is my belief
that there is a fair prospect of it happening.
There is no doubt that infrastructure investment
is one of the wisest things that a government can
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