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New board to give SA 'better chance of winning infrastructure funding'

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Premier Steven Marshall says his new infrastructure assessment body will give South Australia a better chance at winning major project funding from the Turnbull Government.

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Marshall says the Liberal Party will introduce legislation to establish Infrastructure South Australia next week.

Founding members of Infrastructure Australia, Sir Rod Eddington and Mark Birrell, who joined Marshall at a press conference this morning, have been helping to draft the bill.

Birrell said South Australia had likely missed out on funding for major projects in the past because of poor-quality submissions to the national infrastructure assessment body and the Federal Government.

“To win over the Canberra bureaucracy and win over federal governments, you need a consistency of approach and you need the detail that answers all the questions in advance – that’s what a good submission will provide,” he told reporters.

Asked whether unfocused submissions had cost South Australia infrastructure projects, Birrell said: “That could be suggested, yes.”

“I think that has been lacking in the past, not just from South Australia.

“This (Infrastructure SA) will ensure that the Australian Government looks at the detail a lot better.”

Marshall accused the former Labor Government of delaying applying for infrastructure funding for South Australia for political purposes.

“I believe that they deliberately stalled projects going to Infrastructure Australia because they knew that by stalling … they could maximise the unencumbered GST distribution to South Australia,” he claimed.

“This would give them the dual political benefit of being able to bash the Federal Government over a lack of infrastructure funding and then subsequently also ensure that they had increased GST distribution to fix the structural deficit.

“It really did starve this state of the productive infrastructure that we so desperately need … to lower costs for our exporters, and to provide a more productive base for the overall state.”

He argued that the former government’s method of selecting projects was “around pet projects, electoral cycles (and) marginal seats”.

“For too long, South Australia, I don’t believe, has chosen the right infrastructure projects,” he said.

“We haven’t had the right methodology for deciding how we spend the finite capital that the taxpayers … provide to the Government.”

But Opposition Transport and Infrastructure spokesperson Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily: “Labor’s record of infrastructure investment speaks for itself.”

“So far, the Liberal party’s only infrastructure commitments are to spend $37 million to rip up freshly laid tram tracks and a vague commitment to fund part of the Regency Road to Pym Street section of the North-South Corridor, with no specific dollar figure attached,” said Koutsantonis.

“Neither of these commitments have set timeframes.”

He added that Labor would wait to see the detail of the legislation to establish Infrastructure SA before taking a position on it.

Eddington said Infrastructure SA would “evaluate, review and prioritise the important infrastructure projects in the … state”.

“There are lots of different projects out there in the ether,” he said.

“The question is, which one should be prioritised?”

But the body would only provide advice, he said, and decision-making was ultimately a task for government.

“At the end of the day, it’s the Premier and the Government that decides what projects to press ahead with,” he said.

“But they’ll do so in a sensible way, based on a strategic overview.”

Marshall stressed that if the Government disagreed with the board of Infrastructure SA, the body was “completely entitled to go out and make their own public statements”.

He said it would consist of an independent chairperson, three government representatives – the chief executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the chief executive of the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure and the Under-Treasurer – and three members “appointed from the private sector”.

Birrell said Infrastructure SA would focus the government on “long-term needs not just short-term needs”.

“Infrastructure South Australia will provide the structural change (required for) focusing on the long term, and solving problems like congestion.”

Marshall said the Government would suggest projects for Infrastructure SA’s consideration but, in addition, “they’ll have their own mechanism for identifying potential projects”.

He said the body would develop a 20-year “productive infrastructure plan”, as well as “five-year capital intention statements”, which the Government would release.

“We want an open and transparent system,” said Marshall.

“We want the people of South Australia to know that when we spend a cent of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars we are doing it to advance the highest value, highest return project for the entire state.”

InDaily has contacted the office of Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas for comment.

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