The Bligh government’s case for asset sales rests in part on a supposed fiscal emergency arising from the global financial crisis and in part from the general ideological claim that putting infrastructure assets into the hands of the private sector will promote economic efficiency. Both parts of the case have taken a knock in the last couple of days. A study by Access Economics confirms the findings of the union-commissioned study by Bob Walker and Betty Con Walker (derided by the government and state Treasury at the time) that the budget position is much stronger than has been admitted so far.
On the second point, Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane Campbell Newman has conceded that the days of private toll roads are probably over. As I’ve been saying for years (getting on for decades now) these projects always involve a social loss. In the 1990s, it was almost always the public that took the loss while private operators made out like bandits. In the easy money environment of the 2000s, private investors made silly investments, and often lost the lot. Now that everyone has wised up, there will be no more deals like this.
By far the best solution would be for the state government to buy back all the toll roads, and replace ad hoc tolls with a coherent system of congestion pricing. The Bligh government instead, plans to sell off its own toll roads. As for congestion pricing, Anna Bligh has made her view pretty clear “not while this government is in office”. In reply to which I can only quote Men in Black – “Your offer is acceptable”.
H/Ts Darren Godwell, Tom Miller, Nancy Wallace