Federal and state Liberal politicians have accused the Albanian government of “playing favourites” with infrastructure spending, complaining about the distribution of funding between states and the rejection of controversial statements by the former Morrison government.
The federal Labor government on Sunday announced $9.6 billion in infrastructure commitments for next week’s budget, making good on numerous campaign promises and vowing to reform the way money is spent on major projects.
But NSW Infrastructure Minister Rob Stokes and Transport Minister David Elliott said the federal government had “shortchanged” their staff, noting other jurisdictions were getting much more money.
“It’s time for the federal government to stop playing favorites when it comes to allocating taxpayer dollars and prioritize spending where it’s needed most,” Elliott said.
Sunday’s announcement included confirmation of $2.2 billion for Melbourne’s commuter rail loop, $1.5 billion for Darwin’s Middle Arm section, $300 million for the western Sydney road package and $586 million for the Brisbane Freeway upgrade.
But broken down by state, the announcement allocated $1 billion to NSW, $2.57 billion to Victoria, $685 million to Tasmania, $1.47 billion to Queensland, $2.5 billion to the Northern Territory, $670 million to Western Australia and $660 million South Australia.
Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King is also at it again marked cuts to discretionary grant programs committed by the former government.
Shadow Infrastructure Minister Bridget McKenzie has criticized the decision to continue funding Melbourne’s commuter rail, a key promise from Premier Daniel Andrews ahead of the Victorian state election.
The state auditor general last month criticized the projectsaying that the Department of Transportation and the Commuter Rail Administration did not present a full economic case for the project and did not “demonstrate the economic case for the entire project.”
“This budget is being shaped as a politicized budget to support Dan Andrews’ re-election campaign,” McKenzie said in a statement.
At a press conference in Melbourne, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, called the commuter rail loop an “exciting” and “nation-building” project. He brushed off the concerns of critics of the program and noted that his government is fulfilling its election commitments.
“I’m totally committed to commuter rail,” Albanese said.
Speaking on the ABC’s Insider programme, King said the Albanian government trusted the “substantial” rationale for the rail project presented by the Victorian government, but admitted her Australian infrastructure advisory body had not checked the rationale.
“This is for the early works of this project. We did not undertake any additional obligations. We will be talking to Victorians about this as we go forward,” King said.
Western Australian Liberal senator Michaelia Cash has criticized the government for failing to fund the Perth freight line, which was backed by the former coalition government.
“We get less funding than Tasmania, only slightly more than South Australia and significantly less than all the other states and the Northern Territory,” Cash said of her state.
Stokes pointed out that the federal government on Sunday had given Victoria and the NT twice as much funding as his state.
“That means $10,729 was allocated for every citizen in the Northern Territory, while just $122 was allocated for every citizen in New South Wales,” he said.
Posting a screenshot of an insider interview with King, independent senator David Pocock complained that his Australian Capital Territory had also been “duped”.
Asked why New South Wales, the most populous state, received so much less than Victoria, King said opposition Labor made spending decisions based on what projects were presented to them and that the New South Wales government had not made enough advances to finance.
However, later in the day Elliott said the NSW government had handed the federal government “a long list of infrastructure projects that are in desperate need of funding”.
King also told insiders that the government would scrap “a large part” of the $2 billion regional acceleration program announced in the Morrison government’s May budget, which offered grants for manufacturing, essential minerals, training and supply chain programs in regional areas.
King called the program “amazing,” but said the federal government would retain some elements of training and education funding. She also said decisions were still being made on whether to keep the latest round of the Building Better Regions fund.
McKenzie called for more information about the future of regional programs.