Australia’s road spending ‘hideously inefficient’

A government-commissioned report says road agencies are gambling away taxpayer dollars.
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01.Australian roads gamble

Dollar sign road on a cliff

A leaked report allegedly commissioned by government authority Infrastructure Australia has slammed Australia’s spending on roads as "hideously inefficient".

Titled "Spend more, waste more. Australia's roads in 2014: moving beyond gambling" and emblazoned with an image of a roulette wheel, the report is not subtle in its summation of road spending in Australia. 

"Australia has a true gambler's addiction to roads: the money spent is not a rational investment," it argues.

The report says despite that spending of $20 billion a year on roads – more than ever before – roads rank as Australia's worst asset class. Among the other issues the report raises:

  • Road spending now outstrips road taxes and charges.
  • Governments assume major improvement can be achieved if they could spend more.
  • There is little consideration of alternatives such as rail. 

Billions spent on roads in "hideously inefficient" way

However, Infrastructure Australia has distanced itself from the report, issuing a statement saying it has no knowledge of the release of the document, has not reviewed it and does not want it to represent their views.

"On learning that the document had been released and purported to state views of Infrastructure Australia, I requested that it be withdrawn," said interim infrastructure coordinator, John Fitzgerald.

Nevertheless, the Yarra Campaign for Action on Transport, a campaign group for public transport in Victoria, went ahead and uploaded the report onto its website anyway. "Australia’s nearly $20 billion dollar annual road spend can only be described as hideously inefficient," the campaign group quotes from the report on its site.

Monopoly road agencies

The "Spend more, waster more" report lambasts monopoly road agencies that spend money without questioning efficiency or value to the taxpayer, arguing that "the culture of road agency monopolies is extremely resistant to change". It says those monopolies are focused on securing road funding instead of examining the problems their projects are trying to resolve, and suggests private sector investment in roads that bypasses the agencies as an alternative funding model.

The report says rail projects are also disadvantaged by road agencies continuing to upgrade highways that are in direct competition with rail, such as the planned north-south rail link on Australia's east coast.

In the build-up to last year's federal election campaign, then opposition leader and now Prime Minister Tony Abbott outlined his commitment to continue feeding the road-spending poker machine. "The Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads," he told reporters in April 2013. "We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it's important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth's knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads."



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