The nation’s infrastructure pipeline is being blocked because the money isn’t there to build everything that has been promised.
Infrastructure Minister Catherine King has announced a federal government review of its multi-billion dollar Infrastructure Investment Program, saying the former Coalition government had over-committed.
The 90-day review will be led by hand-picked infrastructure experts Reece Waldock, Mike Mrdak and Clare Gardiner-Barnes.
The review was endorsed by state and territory governments at the last National Cabinet meeting.
Consultation with local governments is a commitment of the process, Minister King promised.
She said the government maintains a strong commitment to the 10-year, $120 billion infrastructure pipeline, and will ensure “nationally significant and nation-shaping projects” are still delivered.
But Ms King stressed that the number of infrastructure projects in the pipeline had blown out from nearly 150 to 800, under the former government whose “appetite for announcing projects wasn’t matched with a commitment to deliver”.
“It is time to clean up the mess left by the Liberals and Nationals clogging the pipeline with ‘press release projects’ – announced but unable to be delivered,” she said.
She said projects were left without adequate funding or resources, and projects without real benefits to the public were approved.
The pipeline has been clogged with smaller projects – 160 projects had a commitment of $5 million dollars or less – that had never been started and added to the detriment and delay of more significant projects.
“A properly functioning infrastructure investment pipeline means projects can be delivered with more confidence about timeframes and budgets,” Ms King said.
“Easing the pressure on the construction sector will help drive inflation lower and deliver more predictable investment and delivery outcomes from governments.
“Communities will benefit from national significant infrastructure with shorter and safer travel, more livable cities, suburbs and regions, while the economy benefits from the certainty brought by a smoother delivery of investment matched to project timelines.
“Importantly for industry, projects under construction will proceed and we have committed to maintain significant infrastructure investment for the medium term.
“This review will put confidence back into the investment pipeline, benefitting the states and territories and the communities we all serve.”
This process will give all levels of government the opportunity to consider the projects that are actual priorities and assess their cost and deliverability in the current economic climate.
Ms King said the federal government remained committed to delivering on election commitments and following through on projects already under construction.
Canberra light rail stage 2 has a federal government funding commitment of $218.4 million, with the project expected to commence in early 2024 and be completed by early 2026.
Infrastructure Australia estimates there is a shortfall of about 95,000 workers on public infrastructure projects across the country.
Since 2020, the cost of construction raw materials has increased considerably, with gravel and bitumen having increased by roughly 50 per cent in some places.
Supply chain pressures are also forcing up the cost of major projects, with many key projects across the country needing additional funds to ensure their timely delivery.
Ms King said federal government funds will be spent in accordance with federal government values, with longer-term sustainable spending based on the national interest.
“Australia should have a pipeline of land transport infrastructure projects that are genuinely nation-building, economically sustainable and resilient to our changing climate,” she said.