On June 18, 2019, Mannkal had the pleasure of welcoming Dr Ken Michael AC to our Subiaco office for a Socratic Seminar on Infrastructure in Western Australia: What is the Role of the State? Dr Michael is a widely admired Western Australian leader, who, among a plethora of other roles throughout his career, served as the thirtieth Governor of Western Australia, the Commissioner of Main Roads, Public Service Commissioner and member of the Economic Regulation Authority. In the seminar, a small number of the top Mannkal scholars were given great insight into historical drivers of infrastructure investment in Western Australia, explored the political economy of infrastructure provision and examined pathways for future reform.
Dating back to the influential works of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, the role of the state in the provision of infrastructure has been a recurring debate between policymakers, economists and industry figures. In Western Australia, infrastructure spending has often been distorted by political cycles resulting in malinvestment at the expense of the taxpayer.
Dr Michael highlighted the contributions of three key figures in Western Australia’s infrastructure history – C.Y O’Connor, Gordon Stephenson and Sir Charles Court, and the lessons the next generation of leaders can take from their esteemed careers.
Mannkal scholars also discussed the implementation of user-pays frameworks. In terms of road and transport infrastructure, Dr Michael was extremely well positioned to give great analysis of the potential efficiency and equity gains which can be made through reform of current road pricing and charging mechanisms. With technology now allowing the widespread adoption of accurate user-pays frameworks, the concept of user-pays is growing in momentum and is supported by leading infrastructure groups. It will certainly be a highly contested area of political debate over the coming years and proves just how enduring the seminal works of the great classical economists explored in the seminar continue to be in economic policy spheres.
The discussions and insights from the Socratic Seminar will be incorporated into Mannkal’s upcoming study titled Project WA which will outline a new reform agenda for the next government.