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Infrastructure - the end of an era of no vision

By Everald Compton - posted Monday, 18 July 2005

The 2004 federal election was notable for the absence of infrastructure as a campaign issue.

The polling done by both John Howard and Mark Latham at that time showed the electorate was not interested in infrastructure. They were concerned with issues such as interest rates, education, health and security. So, the party leaders concentrated solely on those.

I did my best to make infrastructure a campaign issue through speeches, news releases and letters to MPs, but it all fell on deaf ears. I felt an enormous sense of frustration. But to my utter astonishment, just a few months after the election, infrastructure became a topic of increasing interest and has now grown to become an unavoidable part of the national agenda.



There are dozens of theories. But probably people woke up to the fact that they were conned by all the election hand-outs, and found they were really sick of crowded and inadequate roads, poor railways, declining water resources, inefficient power supplies and ports that cannot handle our exports.

Kim Beazley has worked out that it is a significant issue about which he can find a soft spot in the government's armour and he has set out to do just that. John Howard is already aware that it has to be faced and so infrastructure has hit the front pages and stayed there.

Now the key challenge is to have the right decisions made, rather than the usual quick-fix political solutions that have been a disease of governments at every level in Australia for the whole of the last century. In fact, Australia's infrastructure is in such poor shape that quick fixes will only cause worse problems for the next generation.

Real visionary planning is now the only solution, provided that the planners have the courage to bite the bullet and build these national assets - a virtue I have rarely seen in political circles.

While Peter Beattie deserves to be highly commended for his initiative in preparing a detailed infrastructure plan for South-East Queensland - something that has not been a habit of governments in my lifetime - infrastructure has to be planned nationally as the problems cross state borders.


So the creation of any national infrastructure plan has to have its origins in the prime minister's office, either as a federal government initiative or by providing an incentive for the private sector to do it and for which tax deductibility must be granted as research and development expenditure.

I favour the latter as this task requires an entrepreneurial skill that bureaucrats do not have; their skills lie in the arena of administration.

If a national infrastructure plan is to get moving, one giant corporation must take the initiative by forming a consortium with other corporations to announce they will prepare the plan. They would need to put in $5 million each over five years as it will take $25 million to complete the plan. They will also need a lean, mean team of old Turks with vast experience, combined with Young Turks with vision and imagination.

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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