The Better Infrastructure campaign has had a moment in the spotlight at a sitting of the NSW Legislative Assembly last month. The Hon. Edmond Atalla MP, member for Mount Druitt and Professionals Australia member, has been pushing for improved planning and practices for state infrastructure projects, referring to our Better Infrastructure campaign in his speech on the 21st of June to the NSW Legislative Assembly. See his address below:

The following is an extract from the NSW Legislative Assembly, published June 21st 2016.

Mr EDMOND ATALLA ( Mount Druitt ) ( 21:18 ): I bring to the attention of the House a matter of great concern relating to the delivery of infrastructure projects by the New South Wales Government. The system for delivering major infrastructure projects in New South Wales is broken. We can say what we like about the merits of any of these projects, from WestConnex to the Sydney Metro, but the problem is the same for all of them. Governments and their asset owners and operators have lost the expertise in the engineering and project management needed to properly scope, design, manage and maintain critical infrastructure. And if members think that this is not a problem because the private sector will fill the gap, they are wrong. Some public sector managers like to think that the expertise they once developed in-house is now distributed or shared among the construction companies and consultants engaged to deliver projects.

There are two problems with this view. The first is it is wrong. It is true that the private sector does more of the work, and it has done so for decades, but it is incorrect to say that it has the capacity to do all of this work cost-effectively. The private sector does not invest in graduates and cadets; it does not invest in mentoring and continuing professional development. The private sector just puts its prices up and scrambles to poach the skills it needs, from job to job. Over time—and this has been going on for quite a long time—overall workforce capacity and capability is lost. That is why there are more and more disputes, delays, reworking and higher maintenance bills and, in many instances, costs blowouts by up to 20 per cent.

Secondly, even if a 20 per cent add-on to the price of new roads and rail can be accepted, what happens when engineering and technical capacity is outsourced and the private sector is relied on to scope and design projects? It results in a lot of market-led proposals and unsolicited tenders, but no effective independent assessment. Projects get approved without sufficient scrutiny, oversight and accountability. It is not that the projects are unwelcome or unneeded; it is more that there is no effective public interest-based technical scrutiny of the proposals and the alternatives.

At a recent Roads Australia conference the Federal Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government, Paul Fletcher, said it was a great thing that Transurban was able to leverage public sector planning work to come up with the unsolicited NorthConnex project, which includes Australia’s longest and deepest road tunnel. What he did not acknowledge is that future projects of this sort will not be able to rely upon public sector planning work because of lost capacity and that there are very serious concerns with the NorthConnex tunnel itself, based on poor ventilation and lack of effective public interest-based technical scrutiny.

That is why my union, Professionals Australia, has started the “Better Infrastructure” campaign. The campaign recommends reforms to procurement practices and infrastructure delivery to drive engineering and technical workforce development; to make governments and asset owners informed purchasers; for the registration of professional engineers; and for improved infrastructure financing. I support this campaign and call on the New South Wales Government to deliver better infrastructure by investing in the employment and training of professional engineers. Having more professional engineers in government and the public sector saves money and improves public safety. It is a fact.