Slash and burn: Angry premiers vent fury over $33b of federal infrastructure cuts

Commuter car parks, highway upgrades and fast rail projects across the country will have their funding slashed as the federal government tries to rein in spending after a $33 billion budget blow out.

Nov 16, 2023, updated Nov 16, 2023
Australian Infrastructure Minister Catherine King speaks to the media . (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Australian Infrastructure Minister Catherine King speaks to the media . (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The Geelong Fast Rail, the Sydney to Newcastle faster rail upgrade, the Truro Bypass and the New England Highway project are among 50 projects that will no longer receive money from the Commonwealth.

The government has also taken an axe to commuter car parks in Queensland and NSW, which were criticised in an auditor-general report and labelled as pork-barrelling by Labor.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said the cuts represented projects that were not realistically going to be delivered with the available funding, had made little to no progress over a significant amount of time, or did not align with national priorities.

“(The infrastructure review) painted a sad and frankly sorry picture of the health of our infrastructure investment pipeline,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“From now on, the Australian government’s investment infrastructure will focus on productivity, sustainability and liveability.”

Ms King said the government had undertaken “considered consultation” with states and territories.

Though jurisdictions did not always agree, they had created a list of projects the Commonwealth will partner on, and there should be no surprises for state leaders.

“Every single state is getting a fair share of the infrastructure pipeline,” she said.

However many premiers, including Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk and Chris Minns in NSW previously said they were not happy with the new arrangement and are unlikely to be impressed as their major projects are scrapped.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan said on Thursday that every cent of federal funding committed to Victorian projects must stay in the state.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick has also made his displeasure known.

“Our message to Catherine King: treat Queensland more like Qantas and less like Qatar,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, in reference to critic’s questions about her preferable treatment of the Australian airline.

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About 400 projects have survived the chopping block and are expected to be completed or substantially developed over the next 10 years including the Tanami Road upgrade in Central Australia and the M1 Pacific Motorway Extension.

The Melbourne Airport Rail Link, the Milton Ulladulla Bypass and a Tasman Bridge are also safe, with no overall cut to the $120 billion infrastructure pipeline.

The government is tipping in additional funding to 11 projects, including South Australia’s North-South Corridor ($2.7 billion), Queensland’s Logan-Gold Coast Faster Rail ($1.75 billion) and Western Australia’s Metronet ($1 billion).

Some nearby projects will be grouped in “corridors” while others will have a business case developed while remaining cash is saved for future construction.

Ms King said the new program was fit for purpose, fiscally responsible and deliverable, an improvement from the previous government’s plans where the number of infrastructure projects ballooned from 150 to 800.

“The independent review found the Infrastructure Investment Program we inherited could not be delivered,” she said.

Smoothing the infrastructure pipeline would also address inflation in line with recommendations from the International Monetary Fund.

In a major funding overhaul earlier this week, the Commonwealth said it would contribute 50 per cent of major project funding going forward.

It previously fully funded projects or at an 80-20 split with the states.

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