Public Participation and Infrastructure Planning
“Joel” posted a comment on this site on 7/7/2014: “Stop trying to derail this wonderful project. If you don’t like trams and don’t want to ride them then stay at home!!! “
His comment raises questions about the rights of citizens to participate in decision-making and also the value that citizens can bring to such decision-making. Among many others, Dr Rob Stokes (pictured left), the NSW Minister for Environment and Planning, has written about public participation in decision-making: ‘’D’- Constructing the Ideology of Public Participation: “Democracy”, “Devolution”, “Deliberation”, “Dispute Resolution” and a New System for Identifying Public Participation in Planning Law’ 8(2) Macquarie Journal of International and Comparative Environmental Law 1 – 20.
The Productivity Commission has recently published a report from its Inquiry into Public Infrastructure. It made the key points:
- There is an urgent need to comprehensively overhaul processes for assessing and developing public infrastructure projects.
- There are numerous examples of poor value for money arising from inadequate project selection, potentially costing Australia billions of dollars.
- Additional spending under the status quo will simply increase the cost to users, taxpayers, the community generally, and lead to more wasteful infrastructure.
- Reliance on the notion of an infrastructure deficit, too, could encourage poor investment choices.
- It is essential to reform governance and institutional arrangements for public infrastructure to promote better decision making in project selection, funding, financing and the delivery of services from new and existing infrastructure.
- Well-designed user charges should be used to the fullest extent that can be economically justified. However, governments will have to continue to fully or partly fund some infrastructure projects and address equity issues.
- Significant institutional and longer-term road pricing arrangements will create more direct links to road users, taking advantage of advances in vehicle technology.
- Private sector involvement in infrastructure provision and/or financing delivers efficiency gains only if well designed and well implemented.
- Private financing is not a ‘magic pudding’ — ultimately users and/or taxpayers must foot the bill.
- Government guarantees and tax concessions are not costless and often involve poorly understood risks.
- Governments will have some capacity to fund more projects than under current fiscal and debt management practices, provided the reform package in this report is implemented to ensure the selection of projects with strong net benefits.
- Data problems limit analysis and benchmarking. A coordinated and coherent data collection process will address this and improve future project selection decisions.
- Nevertheless, there is evidence of recent significant increases in the costs of constructing major public infrastructure in Australia. Elevated labour costs due to the mining construction boom has been one factor, but no single input has played a decisive role in cost increases.
- Until recently, labour productivity growth in the construction sector generally has been sluggish. There is no conclusive evidence that Australian levels of productivity in construction are significantly different from other developed countries.
- The industrial relations environment in the construction industry remains problematic, mainly in general rather than civil construction, with the problems much greater for some sites, unions and states. Governments can use their procurement policies to drive reform, and penalties for unlawful conduct should rise.
- Despite significant concentration in the market for large public infrastructure projects, the market appears to be workably competitive today, though a few simple measures would make it more so and would reduce the cost pressures facing procurers.
- There is significant scope to improve public sector procurement practices and lower bid costs for tenderers, with potentially large benefits for project costs and timing.