But the biggest economic benefit would come from bringing forward major projects. Up to $400 million is scheduled to be spent on the Newell Highway, which floods every time the Lachlan River breaks its banks, cutting off the inland route and towns between Melbourne and Brisbane.
The budget shows not a dollar is due to be spent on the project until 2024.
In Western Australia, the long-demanded upgrade to the Fremantle traffic bridge over the Swan River is expected to cost $115 million. All but $20 million of that will be spent beyond 2022.
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe, among others, has called for a pull-forward of infrastructure projects to help drive down the jobless rate and put upward pressure on wages. Official figures on Thursday showed a net 500 jobs were created in June with the unemployment steady at 5.2 per cent.
Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge is now pushing the states and planning authorities to get planning and business cases finalised so that funding can be re-profiled. However, the federal government is sitting on its own $100 billion, 10-year plan where many of the projects are not slated to begin until beyond 2022-23.
“We will bring more federal money forward if more projects can be planned, started and completed sooner,” Mr Tudge said.
“The Morrison government plans to deliver hundreds of congestion-busting projects across the country as quickly as possible.”
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has urged the government to be cautious about which projects it selects and told it to focus on smaller-scale projects and maintenance to stimulate the economy out of its slowest growth in a decade.
The group’s chief executive, Adrian Dwyer, said the last thing government would want was to drive up costs for taxpayers just to bring a major project forward by six months.
“Smaller-scale, quick-to-market projects that are more easily delivered are a smart way of directly stimulating the economy,” he said.
“If the aim is to get people into work quickly and drive productivity, the federal government should be working with the states to bring forward maintenance programs and smaller-scale projects.”
Mr Morrison rejected suggestions the government and RBA were at loggerheads, saying they “could not be more in sync”.
He said after meetings with premiers in WA, Queensland, SA, NSW and Victoria, there were plans to bring forward some projects.
“We’ve spoken about the projects that can come forward under the existing schedule and we will be doing that,” he said.
Labor has put up a string of projects that it believes could be fast-tracked.
They include the $700 million South Geelong to Waurn Ponds rail upgrade in Victoria that the government promised during the recent federal election. Work on it is not slated to begin until 2024-25.
In NSW, Labor believes $500 million of safety improvements on the NSW section of the Princes Highway, which won’t be finished until 2028-29, could be started along with the planned $1.6 billion extension of the M1 to Raymond Terrace, of which only $50 million will be spent in the next three years.
Labor’s infrastructure spokeswoman, Catherine King, said some of the projects that would bring tangible congestion and safety benefits could easily be brought forward.
She said the government ran the risk of being caught out if the economy materially weakened.
“You need to make sure that people are going to stay employed. You don’t want to be behind the ball if the economy gets worse, and that’s the real risk they’re running if they don’t pull forward some of these infrastructure projects,” she said.
“Once their gone, you don’t get that skilled workforce back overnight, particularly in country areas.”
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said there were signs the infrastructure pipeline of all governments was starting to slow down rather than accelerate.
He said while the combination of the recent lift in the minimum wage, interest rate and tax cuts should boost the economy, the government should start preparing “shovel-ready” projects now.
“Should this not occur, or if some of the risks currently threatening the global economy intensify, the case for bringing forward some of the infrastructure spending will strengthen,” he said.
“Under these circumstances, Ai Group would rather see a modest increase in government spending on infrastructure than a rise in unemployment with all that brings with it.”
Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.