Members of industry have hailed the Coalition’s decision to emphasise Infrastructure Australia’s role in the long-term strategic planning of the nation’s infrastructure development.
Infrastructure Australia's duties are set to expand significantly following the issuance of the first Statement of Expectations from the Abbott government for the commonwealth statutory body.
Warren Truss, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, said the Abbott government expected IA to shift toward strategic consideration of Australia's long-term infrastructure needs.
"Through our changes, IA is moving away from assessing lists based on previously announced government priorities to instead focus strategically on Australia's future infrastructure needs," said Truss. "This will inform decisions, rather than simply catch-up to decisions already made.
"It's a far better result for all, with an informed government delivering strategic and truly significant infrastructure to people and businesses."
As part of this shift in emphasis, the Statement of Expectations requests that IA conduct a thorough audit of Australia's entire infrastructure base in order determine the condition and capacity of infrastructure assets of nationwide importance. The audit is expected to be completed prior to the end of 2014 and revised at least once every five years.
IA will also be required to develop a 15-year rolling Infrastructure Plan based on the nationwide audits which clearly outlines infrastructure priorities at both the national and state-levels and time frames for the development of these priorities.
The nationwide asset base audit and 15-year Infrastructure Plan will require IA to engage in closer and more extensive cooperation with infrastructure stakeholders at all levels in both the public and private sectors
"I expect IA under the direction of the new Board to consult and establish productive working relationships with key infrastructure stakeholders, including all levels of government, other relevant bodies and organisations, investors in infrastructure and owners of infrastructure," said Truss.
IA will also play a prominent role when it comes to the evaluation of large-scale, government-funded infrastructure proposals. IA will review the cost-benefit analysis for any project proposals where Commonwealth funding of more than $100 million is sought, excluding those related to defence.
Industry bodies have welcomed the changes outlined in the Coalition's statement of expectations.
"Infrastructure Australia is an important structure, but one that has yet to deliver its full potential in either better policies, or more projects," said Brendan Lyon, chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia. "Done well, the economic audit will allow the Commonwealth to prioritise state projects through the prism of their national projects.
"In this way the 15 year plan has the opportunity to bring real science and transparency into the allocation of billions in national infrastructure investment every year."
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, said the governmental direction will benefit both the country and IA itself.
"The Statement of Expectations for Infrastructure Australia will help cement IA's role as the lead adviser to governments on national infrastructure priorities," she said.
Westacott hailed the shift toward long-term strategic planning of infrastructure development and the emphasis upon cost-benefit analysis.
"Government funding has to prioritise infrastructure projects that will have the greatest social and economic benefit over those that deliver political benefits," she said. "With IA now specifically charged to provide advice in the best long-term interests of the community, we look to all governments, now and in the future, to take that advice."
Infrastructure Australia will issue a Statement of Intent in response to the Statement of Expectations prior to the year's end.