Infrastructure

CountryMinded is committed to the notion that Australia needs to be a country that grows, builds and makes things. The political aspiration to promote a shift to a services based or tertiary industries nation belies our natural asset base and what should be the competitive advantage of being an island.

By even the crudest measures we are decades overdue for meaningful nation building infrastructure, particularly outside of the major urban hubs. In consideration of population growth and water security for domestic use, irrigation and industry, Australia is decades overdue for more dams and essential water infrastructure. By the same measure our national investment in transport infrastructure, particularly efficient rail and port facilities is equally deficient.

It appears that up until the 1970s, Australian governments and industry were capable of conceiving spectacular nation building engineering works that significantly and purposefully added to the productivity and capital base of the country. These assets included power stations and transmission lines, ports, railways, roads, grain handling facilities, airports, dams and telecommunications.

Since then and contrary to the obvious need for greater investment, we have seen increasing divestment by all levels of government of public built and funded infrastructure and assets. The rationale that suggests that a commercial entity can better manage and maintain our essential assets than our Government, is an indictment on the quality of management in the public sector. Such a revelation should prompt the reform of the public asset management capacity, rather than a weak capitulation to inadequate public service and subsequent sale of essential assets.

Public assets that are conceived and built with a public or national interest often provide monopolistic market structures. This is because the infrastructure gap is not likely to be provided by private sector investment in a timeframe or design that is needed to support the community and or industry.

In turn this means that the sale of such assets means the new owners have an extraordinary market power that is in fact a legacy of an uncompetitive development process. It is fair to say that the increasing deregulation of the market environment around these legacies provides an environment that is too easily abused in the process. The general trend is an immediate and short-term cost benefit to consumers as part of the purchase contract undertakings, but ultimately the cost of service or access increases disproportionately.

CountryMinded is strongly opposed to the sale of essential public infrastructure. CountryMinded rejects the notion that a commercial entity with strong financial motivation to act in self-interest can better manage essential services in the national interest where infrastructure provides (geographical) monopolies.

One of the main triggers for the sale of public infrastructure is the run down in these assets and associated ongoing maintenance and renewal costs. This results in depressed asset pricing at sale. Often the real strategic value of the assets is not realised which means the tax payer ends up paying for the initial asset and subsequently, once the asset is privatised, paying for it again to the new commercial owners who seek a handsome profit on an asset that has been subsidised to them by the tax payer.

The decision to sell assets is often short-term rationale in relation to election cycle budget timeframes. If this rationale had been at the front of mind of the nation at its inception, no nation building infrastructure would exist today. It is essential that this thinking be reversed to facilitate retention and maintenance of existing infrastructure and to deliver new projects of meaningful benefit to the nation.

CountryMinded is committed to ongoing investment in public infrastructure and the ongoing and timely maintenance of these assets for the benefit of all Australians now and in the future.

Telecommunications
Internet and telephone access is a specific area of infrastructure investment that needs particular discussion. Rural and regional communities are subject to unreliable and disproportionally expensive services with limited competition.

CountryMinded is fully committed to investment in infrastructure for communications to ensure adequate capacity to support ongoing business investment across all of Australia and that rural and regional based people are not disadvantaged in terms of price or quality of service.

In an increasingly digital age the requirement for fast and reliable telecommunications is unprecedented and the private sector is unlikely to provide the necessary investment to rural and regional Australia without Government intervention. The key rationale for developing and implementing a suitable telecommunications policy for rural and regional Australia must focus on the economic return to the nation from the investment rather than simply on the number of people with access to the service. Rural and regional areas contribute to the Gross National Income and Gross National Product disproportionately per person and therefore it is essential to ensure the service provision is not justified simply on a population basis.

Innovation is critical to the evolution and success of all industry and community. It is essential that we keep rural and regional professionals in rural and regional areas to stimulate and support this innovation and development. We need to ensure there is adequate capacity to support their enterprise and entrepreneurship.

CountryMinded will pursue policies that:

  • promote the construction of new dams;
  • deliver better road and rail infrastructure to facilitate regional investment;
  • deliver more effective and efficient power transmission networks;
  • mandate a national interest test to the privatisation of any public assets;
  • ensure monopolistic infrastructure cannot be used by private enterprise to distort markets or constrain competition;
  • prevent the sale of essential assets, public or private, including agricultural land and resource assets, to foreign companies and/or sovereign entities without caveats to protect the national interest; and 
  • establish and promote a government bond market to establish a pool of money specifically for investment in infrastructure.
  • promote investment in telecommunications to rural and regional communities to facilitate a competitive digital operating capacity

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  • commented 2017-01-27 07:59:22 +1100
    Nation building projects such as Inland Rail need to be progressed and completed in 6 years. Industry ha the capacity to design and build the work. The studies have been done, with the rural community along the route ready. Pay back is proven by IA. Followed with a project like the Bradfield scheme turning the water from the north down the inland river systems can lead to Australia being the food bowl for the world on Aussie owned farms. This is not rocket science, just leadership by Government.
  • commented 2016-07-02 09:01:17 +1000
    Can I suggest a distributed regional ownership model for both rail and telecommunications? So-called “municipal” telecom networks have gained traction in the US, where cities or counties have funded their own high-speed broad-and networks, even in rural areas. I suggest that the original Telstra network being upgraded by NBN should have been broken up into smaller community operators based around the local exchanges prior to privatisation, and that rather than a single NBN co demanding millions in ransom to upgrade local communities to fibre it should even now be split up into locally-controlled entities controlling the network and required upgrades.

    As for the largely state-owned, dilapidated and abandoned rail network, I think the overseas experience has shown that aside from high-traffic, long-distance freight networks, what is needed is small, “short-line” regional operators and local regional ownership of infrastructure, whether it be a locally based owner-operator, or a regional “joint authority” which either operates or contracts out services for the local community and businesses, but which effectively owns and controls the infrastructure and investment. See https://docs.google.com/document/d/1×1ysOF7D0R3KkEvAQYGBmPf9TBG66qaQzlq5_wNT39M/edit?usp=sharing