THE Australian Government will call for expressions of interest from the private sector to participate in the $600 million Northern Australia Roads Programme, Minister for Major Projects Paul Fletcher announced last week.
"This month the Australian Government will release a discussion paper on how the private sector can put forward ideas on innovative funding and delivery models that can maximise benefits of investment in transport infrastructure in the north," Mr Fletcher said.
"We want to test the appetite for a public-private partnership approach to the delivery of new and upgraded road infrastructure in Northern Australia—and find out whether there is any interest from infrastructure and construction companies, or from major road users in industries such as agriculture, resources and tourism.
"This will complement the process we have already commenced to seek proposals from the Western Australian, Queensland and Northern Territory governments.
"We are looking for ideas that will help leverage the investment by the Commonwealth and states and territories in northern Australia infrastructure.
"For example, if an upgraded road can deliver faster or more reliable transport times, commercial users of that road may be interested in contributing to the cost of the upgrade—through an upfront co-contribution to the capital cost of the upgrade or through paying a user charge or in some other way.
"There may or may not be commercially viable models—but the best way to find out is to call for expressions of interest.
"I encourage interested private sector players to put forward creative ideas in response to the discussion paper once it is issued," Mr Fletcher said.
"Projects to be funded will primarily be selected for their ability to maximise northern Australia's economic growth, such as projects that improve connectivity between states and territories, or upgrade the north's key freight routes and hence overall network capacity.
"Roads connecting communities or regional towns to ports and airports will also be considered."
Infrastructure Australia's Northern Australia Infrastructure Audit, which was published earlier this year, identified specific road infrastructure needs and this information will help to inform project selection.
"This expression of interest process is an example of the Turnbull Government's interest in testing alternative funding and financing mechanisms for Commonwealth-supported transport infrastructure projects," Mr Fletcher said.
"The time frame for a response to the paper will be reasonably tight—as we have said we aim to be choosing projects in early 2016.
"But we will allow enough time for ideas to be put forward—and if a compelling idea for public-private partnership project emerges we will be open to extending the time frame if that is necessary to turn the idea into reality."