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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Paul Karp

Labor cleans out Infrastructure Australia board amid concerns over ‘partisan appointments’

Catherine King
Federal Labor MP Catherine King thanked Infrastructure Australia board members who stepped down while announcing a review into the organisation. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Catherine King has made changes to Infrastructure Australia’s board with senior members agreeing to leave by September due to Labor’s concern about “partisan appointments”.

In a statement on Friday, the federal infrastructure minister announced a review and thanked “board members, some of whom have agreed to step down, for their understanding and contribution as the government reviews and refreshes Infrastructure Australia”.

When in opposition, Labor criticised Barnaby Joyce’s appointment of the former mayor of Tamworth, Col Murray, to the position of chair of the independent body.

Murray has previously rejected suggestions he was given the job because he is a “mate” of Joyce’s, telling Guardian Australia: “I don’t go to his parties; he doesn’t go to mine.”

Murray declined to comment when asked on Thursday to rule out that he had agreed to leave the chair position.

King has appointed the chair of Infrastructure Western Australia, Nicole Lockwood, and Mike Mrdak, a former infrastructure department secretary, to review Infrastructure Australia.

The terms of reference include “the optimal size, mandate, responsibilities, and composition” of the board and its relationship with the minister.

King said in recent years Infrastructure Australia, which provides expert advice to government regarding infrastructure priorities across the nation, “has been allowed to drift with partisan board appointments and a lack of clear direction”.

She said the appointment of “two of Australia’s pre-eminent infrastructure experts” will result in a thorough review and “recommendations to get it back on track”.

“Our nation has big challenges ahead, whether that be in dealing with population growth, managing skills shortages, decarbonising the transport and infrastructure sector or dealing with the uptake of electric vehicles,” she said.

“This review and the changes it proposes will be essential in ensuring that the Australian government receives the expert and non-partisan advice it needs to build a better future.”

The review will also consider whether Infrastructure Australia’s advice “remains fit-for-purpose”, how its work relates to state-level bodies and how it “addresses the priorities and requirements of the Australian government”.

Earlier in July King told Guardian Australia some projects pledged by the former Coalition government will be impossible to deliver, blaming Joyce for having left behind a “substantial mess” after showering Nationals seats in taxpayer-funded “largesse”.

The Coalition’s March budget contained $21bn in regional infrastructure and development spending, including a $7bn energy security plan for projects in the Northern Territory, north and central Queensland, Western Australia’s Pilbara and the Hunter in NSW.

The spending largely targeted National-held or targeted seats, and Guardian Australia analysis found just 15% of projects announced were endorsed as priorities by Infrastructure Australia.

Asked whether she would commit to more closely following Infrastructure Australia’s priority list, King said she wanted to “sharpen the focus” of the advisory body to large-scale projects, and had commissioned a review to that effect.

“If you look at the list of priorities, I don’t know the actual number but it’s 600 pages of priorities,” she said.

“I would anticipate there would be a smaller number [of priority projects].”

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