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Infrastructure: genuinely new roads money, but check the detail

There’s definitely new money in Joe Hockey’s budget for road infrastructure. But the detail reveals it’s not as much as the government wants us to believe.

There definitely is new roads spending in last night’s federal budget, but you have to check the fine print. And the bigger question is where the fresh money has come from.

Treasurer Joe Hockey’s claim on Sunday that it constitutes the largest road funding increase in Australian history definitely belongs in the political puffery basket. A comparison of the big-ticket items in the new infrastructure package with the infrastructure project funding announced in Labor’s budget in 2013 (and spread over four to six years) shows:

  • A big jump in much-needed funding for Queensland’s two-lane Bruce Highway, from $4.1 billion to $6.7 billion, but note that the higher spend is spread over 10 years;
  • A big jump in funding for the Pacific Highway, from $2 billion to $5.6 billion, but again that’s over a decade;
  • Funding for Sydney’s WestConnex is definitely higher, by $2 billion, but this is a loan and only the interest is accounted in the budget;
  • Genuine, new $1.5 billion funding for stage two of Melbourne’s East West Link, taking the government’s total commitment to $3 billion;
  • Genuinely new $1.6 billion in funding for the Perth-Fremantle road freight link (which Labor knocked back because it goes through an environmentally sensitive wetland);
  • Genuinely new $1.3 billion in funding for a Toowoomba second range crossing;
  • Genuinely new $944 million in funding for Adelaide’s north-south corridor; and
  • Genuinely new funding of an extra $779 million into the pre-existing “Black Spot”, “Roads to Recovery” and “National Highway Upgrade” programs.

It is impossible to tell what’s new in the $2.9 billion allocated to the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan — again, over 10 years — because the specific projects haven’t been identified.

Setting that money aside, and not counting the WestConnex loan, that adds up to roughly $14 billion in new commitments to big-ticket items, albeit in many cases spread out over a longer period than Labor budgeted.

As opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese has pointed out, much of that money has come by abandoning other projects, particularly in rail, such as the axed Melbourne Metro ($3 billion), Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail Project ($715 million), and the Perth Airport rail line and light rail ($500 million). Re-indexation of the fuel excise will raise another $2.2 billion over the next four years and more as the fuel price keeps rising.

This morning Albanese estimated the combination of cuts and tax increases would add up to roughly $9 billion, which was more than enough to pay for the new road projects announced last night. “[Prime Minster Tony] Abbott’s infrastructure package, hyped for so long to create the impression of activity, does not involve a single new dollar of investment,” he said.

It is too early to be definitive but that is probably overstating it. Crikey’s calculations would suggest some $5 billion in brand-new extra infrastructure funding, spread out over a decade. Which is far less than the government would have you think.

2
  • 1
    Krueger Paul
    Posted Thursday, 15 May 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Cancels rail, builds roads. Most of the funding for which will fall outside of this term of gov.

  • 2
    Liz Connor
    Posted Thursday, 15 May 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    As a person living in Tasmania, I admit my bias. But Bass Strait is our interstate highway, and I cannot find any mention in the Budget of spending (or supporting investment) on infrastructure to improve freight or passenger sea transport from Tasmania to Victoria - our only gateway to the rest of Australia. This would increase our ability to contribute to Australia’s prosperity since even a relatively small improvement in this would increase Tasmanians’ employment prospects and productivity, and reduce our above-average dependence on the welfare system.

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