Professionals Australia has welcomed the Baird Government’s pledge to build $20 billion in infrastructure projects.
However, Professionals Australia warned that the State needs to “get its engineering house in order” first, to avoid wasting billions of taxpayer dollars.
Professionals Australia’s director Paul Davies said that before the Government embarked on any new projects, it needed to reinvest in its engineering ranks and expertise, to ensure it had the capacity to design, scope and deliver its proposed infrastructure program – without bankrupting the state.
Over several years the NSW Government has cut engineering numbers and expertise to the point that the government can no longer properly assess or oversee infrastructure projects it commissions the private sector to build.
“The depletion of engineering capacity in government agencies has resulted in “situation normal” consisting of cost blowouts, delays and huge amounts of waste in infrastructure delivery.
“Industry data from Deloitte Access Economics shows that costs on large-scale infrastructure projects blowout by an average of 12.7 per cent. If the Government proceeds with this $20 billion program without more engineers, it stands to waste over $2.4 billion.
“This State can’t afford to waste a single cent in infrastructure, let alone more than billion dollars. The scale of this potential waste is obscene and can be mitigated with more engineers with the knowledge and expertise to ensure the taxpayer will get best value for money.
“Imagine the infrastructure we could build with an extra $2 billion in the pot.”
“If the Government is serious about delivering better infrastructure for our state and being fiscally responsible, it must rebuild its engineering capacity in agencies such as RMS – before a single sod is turned on any new project.
Mr Davies said that without proper engineering capacity in its agencies, the Government would effectively be “a cashed-up, uninformed purchaser”, and the private sector would be able to scope projects to suit their interests and in the process, name their price.
“The current situation is similar to doing a renovation on your house and letting the builder run free, with a blank cheque.
Mr Davies said that engineers were also concerned about the absence of transparency in the infrastructure development process, as it meant that taxpayers were unable to determine if they were getting best value for money.
“Before this Government embarks on spending huge sums of taxpayer funds on the biggest cash splash seen in NSW for a long time, it has a responsibility to ensure that it has adequate engineering capacity to minimize waste and get best value for taxpayers.
“The experience and knowledge of engineers, and the ability of those engineers to be actively involved and respected at all levels of the infrastructure decision-making process, is a vital factor in building capacity.
“To fix current levels of waste in infrastructure delivery, the Government needs to make a comparatively minuscule investment on engineering compared to what they stand to spend all up.
“It is worth noting that the unprecedented spend on current projects (South East light rail, North West rai; Westconnex and Northconnex already puts enormous strain on engineering workforce capacity – without even considering taking on any further projects,” said Mr Davies.
$20 billion should not come from power sell-off
Professionals Australia is also calling for the Government to source funding for its infrastructure program from alternative sources and not force voters to sacrifice NSW’s electricity network to fund new infrastructure.