Ian Wood,   President SOS, Executive Committee Member   Research & Planning, IMPA

Ian Wood, President SOS, Executive Committee Member Research & Planning, IMPA

 

Submission to Infrastructure Victoria on

Victoria’s 30-year Infrastructure Strategy

March 2016 (amended) 

 

Save our Suburbs is concerned that three main aspects of process and principle are met with respect to the identification, assessment and provision of infrastructure projects:

  • the necessity for governments to remain in control of urban planning and infrastructure provision, through government borrowing rather than PPP financing. Either way, this must be done transparently and without subversion of state planning goals, and should include the publishing of key information such as cost-benefit analyses

  • the conclusions of independent local and international research must be taken into account in determining choices and priorities of infrastructure projects. In particular, the work of the late Dr Paul Mees on public transport and population density has demonstrated that higher urban densities are not critical to the viability of properly integrated and operated metro-wide public transport (rail & bus).

    Secondly, the Downs-Thomson Paradox has clearly established the efficacy of building rail in parallel with arterial roads to permanently reduce road congestion. Some key information on these two issues respectively can be found at: http://atrf.info/papers/2009/2009_Mees.pdf https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downs%E2%80%93Thomson_paradox (an easy-to-digest summary with further links)

  • governments must involve local communities in deliberative consultation to help identify relevant infrastructure projects and preferred methods of delivery, if community support of the consequent plans and policies is to be achieved.

    While PPPs appear to be the best way to more quickly provide urgently-needed projects, much better public scrutiny is required to ensure they are value-for-money. Many critics (eg the UK National Audit Office in 2011) have found that PPPs increase the cost of public investment compared to government borrowing (at lower interest rates) to achieve the same result.

    Maintaining state control of projects is also a crucial aspect of the PPP process. There have been many cases where private sector involvement resulted in the re-design of projects primarily to achieve greater private sector profit, rather than to produce better or more appropriate infrastructure that met community aspirations.

 

The Western Distributor is arguably a current example of the private sector manipulating state infrastructure priorities and projects to both maximize private sector benefits and increase private sector control over public policy. Refer to recent Fairfax articles on Transurban:

http://www.theage.com.au/national/investigations/toll-giant-transurban-wants-to-charge-for-all- roads-20160513-goup2i.html

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/transurbans-vision-of-our-future--every-australian-road-a- toll-road-20160512-gottcx.html

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/transurban-the-making-of-a-monster-20160512-gotjm9.html

http://www.smh.com.au/business/transurban-pays-just-3-million-tax-despite-collecting-1- billion-in-tolls-20140805-100le8.html

Senior economics journalist Tim Colebatch points out in his recent article How to Bridge the Infrastructure Gap that,

"it is simply a no-brainer that our governments should be borrowing as much as they can sensibly invest to start repairing the infrastructure backlog, and fit our big cities for the growth they have had in the past decade, let alone the growth to come."

http://insidestory.org.au/how-to-bridge-the-infrastructure-gap

Reflecting majority public and expert opinion, respected economists Max Corden and John Freebairn have argued,

"it is important to avoid purely political or populist decisions in choosing government investment."

https://www.melbourneinstitute.com/downloads/working_paper_series/wp2013n30.pdf

Colebatch has also written an important explanatory piece on the Australia Infrastructure Plan:

http://insidestory.org.au/in-infrastructure-you-get-what-youre-willing-to-pay-for

Finally, Infrastructure Victoria should publicly recognize and address the huge economic difficulty of meeting increasing infrastructure demands in an economy with a rapidly-growing population at the same time as we are trying to improve societal resilience by reducing our carbon footprint and diversifying our economy. The excessive costs involved are outlined by Global Change Institute researcher Dr Jane O'Sullivan (U.Qld) in: https://www.academia.edu/20686395/THE_BURDEN_OF_DURABLE_ASSET_ACQUISITI ON_IN_GROWING_POPULA TIONS

A simpler and shorter summary for the layperson is argued by scientist Dr Greg Davies in a recent article in the Age: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-huge-hidden-cost-of- population-growth-20160219-gmyddb.html

 

Ian Wood
BSc, Grad.Dip.Planning & Environment, MPIA President, Save Our Suburbs Inc. (Vic)
www.sos.asn.au

 

FOOTNOTE:
Regarding our third point above about community consultation, we are pleased to note that two Citizens Juries are planned for inclusion in the infrastructure debate, and that their unedited
conclusions will be publicly available.

However, one of the important advantages of using deliberative community consultation is to employ it fairly early in the consultative process in order to help scope the debate and identify and then focus on factors of importance to the community. If used later in the process, for example to just prioritise proposals already drafted by politicians or the bureaucracy, it may amount to little more than window-dressing to rubber-stamp pre-determined directions, albeit with some tweaking round the edges.

In this case, there are no dates or details provided but it appears that the two events are still being organized, despite the closure in mid-March of public submissions. We look forward to finding out more about the CJ process and its timing.

We strongly suggest that the scope of the CJ process be kept as wide as possible and with input from independent as well as government and construction industry experts so all the issues outlined above will be considered, in order to maximize the voice of the community and its subsequent support for the future agenda of Infrastructure Victoria.