Federal Election 2016: Poor governance at the root of infrastructure problem, experts say
Australia has doubled the amount it spends on infrastructure, but poor governance has made it hard for everyday Australians to notice the benefits, experts say.
Transport audit predicts major city car travel times to increase by 20 per cent over 15 years
Average 90 per cent increase in demand for public transport in capital cities
Australia has doubled the amount spent on infrastructure to about $500 billion in the past decade
A transport audit conducted last year by Infrastructure Australia predicted major city car travel times would increase by at least 20 per cent over the next 15 years, and could double along the most congested routes.
The audit said there would be an average 90 per cent increase in demand for public transport in capital cities, leading to what it called an increase in "crush loadings" at peak hour.
But the head of the Better Infrastructure Initiative at Sydney University, Garry Bowditch, said for the past decade in Australia there had been a radical, if stealthy, transformation in government spending.
"Most Australians will be surprised to know we've doubled the amount of infrastructure spending to about $500 billion in the last decade," he said.
"So we've done the revolution, and I think most of us are saying, 'well, where are the benefits?'
"A lot of people have the pleasure of paying $30 or $40 a day on tolls for the opportunity to either sit in traffic jams or travel well under the speed limit."
Mr Bowditch said the problem was how governments decided which projects they would fund.
"There's been very poor governance within the infrastructure regime — that's been across the board, across all political parties," he said.
"They've seen the role of the infrastructure as very much one that's stimulating the economy, pursuing pet projects, and having very little accountability for the money they spend."
'Time has come for a long-term bipartisan national vision'
Election campaigns in particular are a boom time for promises on roads and public transport.
The Grattan Institute said that in this year's campaign, the Coalition had promised $5.4 billion and Labor had promised $6.7 billion.
Marion Terrill, a researcher from the Grattan Institute, said those promises were sprinkled over dozens of projects, and most of them were chosen for the wrong reasons.
"Most of the promises are located in Queensland and Victoria; New South Wales a little bit further behind that," she said.
"Even though Queensland is the third biggest state, it tends to get the biggest share of Commonwealth money, particularly around election time, because Queensland is a state where federal elections are won and lost."
Glenn Withers, an economist at the Australian National University, said infrastructure spending was badly out of whack with the national interest.
"Despite the existence of good bodies such as Infrastructure Australia, much of it is contaminated by short-term political ends," he said.
A veteran of the productivity building reforms of the Hawke and Keating governments, Mr Withers said the time had come for a long-term bipartisan national vision.
"People are desperate for clear, systematic solutions to how we recreate our future post the China mining boom, and our politicians haven't quite realised that," he said.
And Mr Withers said that with record interest rates, there would not be a better window to begin genuine nation-building projects.
"This is the time to make those investments, because the cost of capital is down and the payoffs are still there," he said.
But not, said Mr Bowditch, until the system has been fixed first.
"The price of money and historically low interest rates is completely meaningless in this context, unless we have good governance for choosing the right projects," he said.
Source: ABC News