report released by the Grattan Institute today shows the true cost of governments allocating infrastructure funding to marginal (and often regional) electorates.

Australia faces a serious infrastructure challenge: government funding for infrastructure has gone down significantly since 2013 and governments must grapple with the real problem of whether to fund major new projects by debt or user charges. Every dollar wasted on a road to nowhere or a dubious rail project means a dollar less for much-needed infrastructure projects in our cities and major regional centres, where population growth is placing strain on existing networks, especially transport networks. Any government where the National Party exerts its influence is likely to be grossly misallocating precious infrastructure funding.

A fully transparent system for all infrastructure investments would go some way to fixing this problem — so that it is clear when governments are wasting money on boondoggles and pork-barrelling ahead of valuable projects. Ultimately, though, that might not be sufficient, as the scornful rejection of this report by regional MPs demonstrates.

A genuinely independent allocation process for major infrastructure projects may be the only way to prevent politicians from putting political and sectional self-interest ahead of the national interest. An independent, Reserve Bank-style body that controls the majority of Commonwealth infrastructure funding and allocates it based on transparent cost-benefit analyses would address the serious economic damage that results from political pork-barrelling.

Peter Fray

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