The Snowy announcement shows why we need a better way


My latest column for The CEO Magazine looks at Malcolm Turnbull’s recent Snowy announcement and asks: isn’t there a better way to make infrastructure decisions?

The particular process I’d like to see around the Snowy announcement is an independent and structured assessment of its benefits and costs.

More broadly, the column takes up a theme that Nick Gruen has pursued frequently over the years, at the Business Council, at Troppo and elsewhere: given the complicated decisions we must make, there’s a good case that we will benefit from independent bodies advising on matters like infrastructure, economic regulation and fiscal policy.

The One model here is the Reserve Bank of Australia, which not only independently advises but independently implements. Not every independent body needs to loom as large as the RBA. The argument rather is that all these bodies should be empowered to do broad, deep and honest reviews of major proposals. They will also need to have some of the sort of respect the Reserve Bank has earned.

We have bodies for regulation (the Productivity Commission) and infrastructure (Infrastructure Australia) that could eventually become equivalents of the RBA. But they’re a long way from being there right now, and governments don’t seem inclined to help them.

Announcements like the Snowy proposal and the apparent arrangements around it aren’t helping either, by ignoring arrangements for proper review. But such events do underline how unsatisfactory are our current arrangements.

About David Walker

David Walker runs publishing consultancy Shorewalker DMS (shorewalker.net). David has previously edited the award-winning INTHEBLACK business magazine, been chief operating officer of online publisher WorkDay Media, held policy and communications roles at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Business Council of Australia, and run the website for online finance start-up eChoice. He has written professionally on economics, business and public policy since 1987 and spent three years in the Canberra Press Gallery for News Limited and The Age.
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5 Responses to The Snowy announcement shows why we need a better way

  1. John R Walker says:

    No, the problem is Parliament i.e. representative , responsible government ,is not working as well as it could.

    Delegating what are by their very nature intrinsically, political choices to ,expert insider committees is not a good answer to the current failings of ,democracy.

    Sortition citizens juries could be a better direction to take.

    • David Walker says:

      John, I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that Parliament should ultimately decide these issues. That’s why I emphasise empowering bodies to do “broad, deep and honest reviews of major proposals” (and to publish them). Then Parliament and people can then have an informed debate. The Parliamentary Budget Office is another model here.

      • John R Walker says:

        David
        I have a lot of sympathy for democracy.

        If Parliament is reduced to deciding questions-choices that have been framed by expert committees , then democracy is dead.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Fortunately the Government has moved ahead in a new, unexpected but decidedly innovative manner towards a new approach to these kinds of dilemmas.

    Take a hefty lump of coal into the chamber and hold it up. It seems strange, but I can imagine this doing the trick. It’s also cheaper and less trouble than everyone wearing wigs and gowns which is possibly another way of grappling with the issues.

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