Call for national works authority

HSBC chief economist John Edwards has called for a national authority to coordinate infrastructure development to avoid constraints that are hindering exports.

“We need some kind of authority to identify trends in demand and where we’re going to run into constraints,” Edwards said.

“We need to know what the capacity of our infrastructure is and how needs ought to be met, whether by State or Commonwealth government intervention, or by private sector intervention, and how it should be paid for.”

Edwards is to host an interactive debate on how infrastructure constraints are holding back exports at the NSW Infrastructure Summit on 10-12 October in Sydney.

“We’ve had a very puzzling experience over this decade,” he said in a pre-event interview.

“Export growth over the last few years of the commodities boom has been much less than it was over the previous 20 years.

“In the two decades of the 80s and 90s our export volume growth was running on average at about 7% and for the last six years it’s been running at about 3%.

“That states the case pretty plainly. We’ve run into some very considerable constraints that weren’t evident in the previous 20 years.”

Edwards said the coordinating authority needed to take a view on where problems were going to occur and the only authority capable of doing that nationally was the Commonwealth.

Asked about who was responsible for current problems, he said: “If you take a case like Port Waratah, the principal coal port in NSW, it’s owned by the coal operators and exporters, but it’s supplied by trains that are operated by the Government of NSW.

“So it’s pretty clear that everyone’s responsible: the exporters, the coal miners and the government.

“We need a coordinating authority that tries to prevent these infrastructure problems from emerging.”

Edwards said the conference session he would be hosting would aim to have delegates share their experience of infrastructure constraints, where there are problems, how they might be remedied and what problems were likely to arise in the future.

The NSW Infrastructure Summit 2007 will be at Sydney’s Amora Jamison Hotel on 10-12 October.

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