BUDGET 08/09: Ports Australia hits out at 'carping critics of Building Australia Fund

By: Jason Whittaker

Peak industry body Ports Australia has thrown its support behind the Government’s Building Australia Fund while simultaneously launching a broadside

Peak industry body Ports Australia has thrown its support behind the Government’s Building Australia Fund while simultaneously launching a broadside at would-be critics over the running of the initiative.

Ports Australia Executive Director David Anderson says Treasurer Wayne Swan’s announcement of a $20 billion fund finally recognises the important role ports play in the transport supply chain. In handing down the Budget, Swan announced the fund would be used to bankroll road, rail and port projects.

"It is now comprehensively documented that Australia’s ability to efficiently facilitate predicted growth in both our container and bulk trades is contingent on addressing key port infrastructure needs, including road and rail access", Anderson says.

Anderson says the industry must now actively push for the development of critical infrastructure projects rather than focusing on the administrative details of the fund such as governance arrangements and the running of the board.

Immediately after announcing the initiative, Swan was accused of setting up a "slush fund" by shadow treasurer Malcolm Turnbull while Australian Road Train Association Chief Executive Duncan Bremner told ATN it was easy to be cynical due to the "scant" details that accompanied the fund’s establishment.

"We don’t want to join the carping chorus," Anderson says.

The Government has not yet finalised when the governance arrangements will be determined or whether the board will be independent when approving funding allocations for projects.

Furthermore, while Infrastructure Australia will be providing a list of infrastructure priorities to the Building Australia Fund, it is not certain whether the board will be required to follow through with these recommendations.

But Anderson says it is illogical to expect everything to be set in place one day after the establishment of the fund.

"These things don’t happen overnight," he says.

But while these details have not been confirmed, the chairman of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Mark Birrell, is confident the fund will be independent of the Government.

"By ensuring that the investment decisions of the Fund are informed by new lead infrastructure agency Infrastructure Australia, the Rudd Government is signalling that this money will be invested at arms-length and in projects that are of overwhelming national importance," he says.

Anderson says it is obvious the establishment of Infrastructure Australia and the Building Australia Fund demonstrates the Government is serious about putting in place measures to boost supply chain efficiency.

Birrell agrees, calling the fund "a landmark investment in national infrastructure and an unprecedented down-payment on the priority projects that can sustain economic and job growth".

Ports Australia is also supporting the announcement of a $75 investment for all states to conduct studies into reducing congestion levels and improving transport network efficiencies.

"The proposed measures will not only promote the safe and efficient movement of people and freight through built up areas, it is also an important component in reducing traffic conflicts and promoting good relationships between ports and the communities with whom thy co-exist", Anderson says.

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