Framework and long-term plans needed to address untapped opportunities: Diane Smith-Gander

“It’s very hard to strive and be aspirational if you are in an over-regulated environment,” Transfield Services Chairman, Diane Smith-Gander said at the second event of CEDA’s three-part infrastructure series in Western Australia (WA).

“And that’s why I think we see this lack of certainty and often rework in projects, which makes us less efficient.”

She said that without a framework, WA will continue to spend too small an amount on too many projects whereas it would do much better to have a framework and focus on the really big-ticket items that are going to turn the State around and ensure its future.

“I think one of the big opportunities for better partnerships across Australia is in public housing,” she said.

“The model that we’re using to deliver public housing is unsustainable.

“I’m very attracted to the sort of mixed use where you bring in a private developer and you’re not creating public housing isolated in a particular area but you’re blending it up with market-based housing, commercial-use retail and so forth.”

She said another really big opportunity is to do things differently with our Indigenous communities.

“The conversation we’re having at the moment about the unsustainability of the service model we have for remote communities should be a very troubling one for all of us,” she said.       

Also speaking at the event, Department of Treasury, Office of Strategic Projects Executive Director, Richard Mann addressed the issue of implementing tolls in WA.

He said demand is better managed through effective transport planning, picking the right modes and using them effectively.

“Then in the short to medium term we are far more likely to see targeted user charges as distinct from more global tolls in order to drive those demand trends in the right areas,” he said.

Brookfield Rail Chief Executive Officer, Paul Larsen said: “We have to move to a model of greater user pays but one of the issues … is that whilst we might get our urban road network being paid for by the users, what are we going to do about our regional road network?

“Because the reality is if we charge the users the true cost of using those regional roads, no one will be living in the bush.”  

To fund infrastructure, Mr Larson suggested selling assets, particularly ports.

“I think there are some constraints on our ability to grow economically and some of these port projects are big, expensive, and going to take time, so let’s free up those assets now,” he said.

Mr Mann agreed selling assets is an important fiscal policy direction to address net debt and being able to fund future infrastructure.

“In selling assets … it won’t be purely about the commercial outcome,” he said.

“It really does need to be demonstrable in the public interests in two respects: We get more efficient service delivery from the sale of assets but also that we encourage private sector investment into those assets that otherwise would be very difficult for government to be able to achieve.”