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Is the Australian Infrastructure Plan on the money?

By Alan Davies - posted Friday, 26 February 2016

Cost recovery of public transport across global cities

Cost recovery of public transport across global cities (source: Australian Infrastructure Plan)

Contrary to what most would expect, the Australian Infrastructure Plan released last week by Infrastructure Australia isn’t a guide to which particular infrastructure projects should proceed with the aid of Federal funding and which should not.


It isn’t even about specific projects; it’s actually a high level policy document with a long list of mostly quite general recommendations.

The recommendations relating to cities are mostly worthy ones and generally consistent with the views I’ve espoused in these pages e.g. moving to congestion charging, using existing infrastructure better, greater public transport cost recovery, more attention for the suburbs, local government consolidation.

There are some recommendations I’m less convinced by e.g. privatisation of water authorities; some of questionable feasibility e.g. higher population growth in smaller capital cities; and some where the evidence provided is very poor e.g. development costs in inner vs outer areas.

This is a pretty “thin” report in the sense there’s not much in the way of supporting argument for the numerous recommendations. If you don’t already know where you personally stand on a particular issue this report won’t provide you with the information to convince you either way.

The value of the report is that it provides a statement of Infrastructure Australia’s position on most of the key issues. That’s useful; we need to know how the organisation, which was established in 2008 by the Rudd Government, is thinking.

It’s inevitable that such a sweeping document won’t satisfy everyone. I expect some will find recommendations like this one far too weak:


The Australian Government should initiate a public inquiry…into the existing funding framework for roads and development of a road user charging reform pathway.

Adjunct Professor John Stanley from Sydney University thinks the Plan “has some way to go to give our cities what they need”. He thinks it should’ve taken a stronger line in a number of areas, including urban governance, integration of land use and transport, and transport externalities.

I also think there are some important weaknesses in the Plan. In particular, I’m amazed it doesn’t discuss at length the high cost of constructing infrastructure in Australia. That’s an extraordinary omission; it’s like the Australian cricket team going into bat without bats.

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This article was first published on Crikey.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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