Well, now Kevin Rudd is Prime Minister again, the media will be able to give up its soap opera/sports team coverage and analyze policy, right? Tim Dunlop scrutinizes this notion, put by The Age in its fateful editorial, and is rightly skeptical.
It’s not like there isn’t any policy out there to analyze. The Coalition, way back in February, put out 50 glossy pages of it. At the time, the indefatigable Andrew Elder didn’t have to try very hard to poke massive holes in it. It’s terrible. As he put it:
It’s a statement of aspirations, not a plan, in the same way that buying a lottery ticket is not an investment strategy.
That’s just the half of it. Mangling phrases is in fashion again – “it’s a sunny day in Australia” – was “it’s morning in Australia” too obvious a Reagan ripoff to try? So, to mangle phrase, there are good and specific parts of the Liberals’ Real Solutions manifesto. It’s just that the good parts are not specific, and the specific parts are not good. And, as an extra bonus, there are a few things hidden in there that should cause almost as much ruckus as WorkChoices did, were anyone paying attention.
So, to kick off the conversation about the conservatives’ “plans”, let’s start with transport policy – covered in section 11.
- We will strengthen the role of Infrastructure Australia, improve its governance and make it more transparent and accountable, as well as a more effective adviser.
- We will require all Commonwealth-funded projects worth more than $100 million to undergo a cost-benefit analysis by Infrastructure Australia to ensure the best use of available taxpayer monies.
- We will require Infrastructure Australia to publish justifications for all of its project recommendations.
- We will prioritise projects based on a proper cost-benefit analysis
- Within 12 onths of election we will announce infrastructure priorities and construction timetables in consultation with the States
None of this is horribly objectionable – while cost-benefit analyses should hardly be the be-all and end-all, they are important.
But then, they go on to promise the following (in their election manifesto):
- We will contribute $1.5 billion to get the M4 East (WestConnex Project) underway in Sydney to complete the east-west corridor.
- We will contribute $1.5 billion to get the East-West Link road tunnel underway in Melbourne to link the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road and will will further improve the Geelong Princes Highway.
- We will contribute $1 billion towards the upgrade of the Gateway Motorway in Brisbane and we will develop the Toowoomba Range Crossing
- We will contribute $400 million and get the duplication of the Midland Highway between Hobart and Launceston done in Tasmania
- We will contribute $5.6 billion to complete the duplication of the Pacific Highway from Newcastle to the Queensland border.
- We are committed to the Perth Gateway project and will make further road infrastructure commitments in South Australia before the next election.
It might be worth having a look at what Infrastructure Australia have reported in their last public report back in 2012, and what’s been going on with that organization since.
The East-West link road tunnel has not had the business case assessed by Infrastructure Australia, and appears to be being deliberately kept from that body.
Similarly, as best I can tell, Infrastructure Australia hasn’t even reported on the WestConnex proposal, though both major parties want to throw money at it anyway.
IA’s take on the Midland Highway duplication is that it’s at the lowest state of readiness, “early stage” – which is akin to “tell’em they’re dreamin’ in the short term”
If anybody feels like examining the rest, go at it, but the trend seems pretty clear to me. On the one hand, they’re promising to strengthen the role of an independent assessor body in determining transport infrastructure spending. On the other, they’re promising, from Opposition, to hand out money hand over fist to politically popular road – and only road – projects that in some cases have actively ducked scrutiny by the body specifically set up to do this assessment.