Federal election: voters skeptical about infrastructure spending

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Voters are skeptical about one thing in the wake of the federal government’s massive $17.9 billion cash outlay, a new study finds.

Voters are more skeptical than ever that taxpayers’ money is being spent on infrastructure projects, according to a pre-election poll.

More than two-thirds of respondents to the ANU’s Australian Perspectives on Infrastructure study said politicians have too much influence over how projects are selected.

A further 59% said they believed the projects were approved for political reasons.

Study director Professor Sara Bice said the study reflected frustration that local communities are being ignored to engage in infrastructure projects.

“Community members in some of Australia’s most infrastructure-intensive environments told us they felt less able to influence the process and less confident in infrastructure developers as impacts on them and their communities are growing,” she said.

The ANU study is the first national report on how communities think about infrastructure and stems from the federal government’s massive $17.9 billion budget commitment to projects ahead of the election.

While 71% of Australians agree investment could be key to rebuilding the economy, Prof Brice said the perceived politicization of project selection was damaging trust in development.

“Community members recognize that infrastructure is highly politicized in Australia and it undermines their trust in government to select the projects they need most,” she said.

“As a result, we see people relying on independent regulators and their fellow community members, not representative government, to make sure infrastructure developers do the right thing.”

Only 15% of the projects announced in the government’s latest financial report were ticked as priorities by Infrastructure Australia.

Danielle Wood of the Grattan Institute said many of the projects “don’t yet have a business case” and the likelihood of cost overruns was “increased”.

“The pipeline of road and rail projects across the country is already huge,” she said.

“State governments running these projects have highlighted the challenges of raw material, machinery and labor shortages, even indicating that some projects may have to be delayed as a result.

“Adding more non-urgent projects to this pipeline doesn’t make much sense.”

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