Better infrastructure planning: can politicians be trusted?

Controversy around Victoria’s East West Link raises questions on how to improve state infrastructure planning. Is greater independence the answer — or just better politicians?

There’s widespread agreement that state infrastructure decision-making processes need improvement. Funds are frequently misallocated by politicians driven by political considerations and personal obsessions instead of cost-benefit analyses. More independent input into decisions is often cited as a solution — but perhaps the best antidote would be more effective political leadership.

One solution being floated in Victoria is to appoint an infrastructure “tsar”, creating the Victorian equivalent of Infrastructure New South Wales or Infrastructure Australia, which Labor has promised to do if it wins the state election in November.

“It does help to have public processes,” said Dr John Stone of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, though he is sceptical whether the federal and NSW bodies have led to an improvement in decision-making.

“Infrastructure Australia did start to ask questions about cost-benefit analyses, but IA are limited in what they can do. Often such agencies don’t have the resources to check or critique government proposals fully.”

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.