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SA parliament Question Time erupts over changes to funding


Fallout from the federal government’s shock announcement to radically alter how it funds the nation’s infrastructure is sweeping through state-level politics, with one parliament descending into a shouting match over how money should be spent.

South Australian Opposition Leader David Speirs led a barrage of questions to Premier Peter Malinauskas and his Infrastructure Minister Tom Koutsantonis on Wednesday, grilling the Labor government on whether they supported the change, which would see the state pay more for crucial projects.

Mr Koutsantonis slammed the questions as “petty politics”.

“The Commonwealth government has not yet finalised what they are planning as part of this 90-day review,” he said.

“The (state) government will make a statement when it is made public, we won’t be responding to rumour.

“We will consider it like the mature government we are.”

Australia’s big build is getting cut down to size, with the federal government looking to scrap projects to recover some $33bn in cost blowouts.

On Tuesday, Infrastructure Minister Catherine King announced new funding arrangements for infrastructure, moving from a traditional 80:20 split with state governments, with the Commonwealth covering 80 per cent of costs, to a 50:50 model.

Ms King has also proposed a federal contribution floor of $250m for a project to receive support unless it is connected to social housing, critical minerals or connects to a key freight route.

When pressed whether he supported a 50:50 model, Premier Peter Malinauskas said “naturally” state governments preferred an 80:20 model.

But he said the “hyper-politicisation” of infrastructure spending on “boondoggle projects” in eastern states under the previous Coalition government meant Infrastructure Minister Catherine King had to reassess how projects were funded.

Ms King, speaking in Canberra on Wednesday, said the government would soon announce its response to an independent infrastructure review, which she said had “already highlighted just how reckless the Coalition has been when it came to managing, or not managing, our infrastructure investment pipeline.”

“Their legacy and the path that they set for this nation is $33 billion of known cost blow outs and an inability to add any new infrastructure projects to the pipeline until the year 2033,” she said.

“It is a breathtaking indictment on every single one of those opposite but particularly those in the National Party. It is an indictment on their economic management and their failure to generally deliver for their communities.”

Mr Koutsantonis was also pressed on whether he had had any contact with Ms King, with the Opposition revealing an FOI showing no written correspondence between the two since July.

Mr Koutsantonis responded with contempt to the question, which he called “extraordinary, naive and silly”.

“It is getting a little bit immature, a little bit desperate,” he said.

“I speak to Catherine King regularly, I spoke to her on Monday,” he said.

“The thing about Labor governments is we actually like each other.”

A South Australian project at risk of being cut as part of the government’s review is the $200m Truro Bypass Project on the Sturt Highway east of Adelaide.

The project has not commenced construction and finance for it is structured on an 80:20 model.

Mr Koutsantonis confirmed his government would keep the project on hold pending the outcome of the review.

“This is not our review, we are ready to go on all these projects,” he said.

“We are ready … to do our bit.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.