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Walk with me

Tony Baulderstone

In October, Cranes and Lifting editor Greg Keane travelled to Adelaide for the annual CICA conference. While there, he invited members of the sector on a walk up Mt Lofty from Waterfall Gully. Immediate past national president of the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) Tony Baulderstone took him up on the offer and chatted to Keane about his time at the organisation.

Who is Tony Baulderstone?

Tony Baulderstone is the son of Albert (Bert) William Baulderstone, who started as a bricklayer, studied quantity surveying at night and built a business that became the largest builder in South Australia. Tony studied engineering and then joined the Highways Department in SA (now Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure or DPTI), getting involved in design, planning and contract management. After a 20-year career in the department, during which he rose to a senior management level, Tony left to become a partner in civil construction contractor Bardavcol Pty Ltd at a time when Mike Barnhurst, the last of the original three founding partners (Barnhurst, Davison, Coulson) after whom the business was named, was looking to retire and the next generation was stepping up. Tony was a partner in that business with Darren Foster from 2000 to 2012, at which time he decided to retire from the business so that he could devote sufficient time to pursue some other interests, including serving the CCF at national level, first as vice president and then as president. He stepped down from CCF involvement in 2016, and now operates a modest development company, Jenton Projects Pty Ltd, with his wife Jenny.

GK: What did you most enjoy about your time as a contractor?

TB: There was a real buzz when you put a bid in, the bid was accepted and then you built something that you could be proud of – you could see the results of your efforts. You didn’t really get that in the Highways Department: you were involved in projects, but not to the same level as the contractor who actually builds it.

I was conscious that I hadn’t had the same start as most contractors, who start as an operator or on the tools and build their business up from scratch. When I became a contractor, I already had a career and came into the business at a different level to someone starting out with nothing. This is something that I’ve had to be conscious of when I’ve been involved in industry associations.

The other thing that I enjoyed as a contractor – and continued to enjoy during my time with the CCF – was the camaraderie with other contractors. You can be rivals in business, but there’s still that connection with other contractors. I don’t think you get that same feeling as a builder: it’s a bigger and more diverse sector so perhaps that’s the reason why.

GK: What were your highlights during your time with the CCF?

TB: This had started before I was heavily involved at national level, but over time, governments started to pay more attention to the CCF. We had been pushing a message of investing in infrastructure for some time, and governments started to wake up to the benefits of investing in infrastructure and creating jobs; and saw that it could also be popular with the community.

We started to get more access to politicians, and to engage with them more. It was a gradual process, but it meant that contractors started to have a voice with the people who made decisions on infrastructure spending.

In the latter period, you could really notice that contractors got a lot more recognition: CCF representatives were taken more seriously and it was possible to get in to see ministers.

GK: So, if that was a highlight, what were some of the disappointments?

TB: The short-term nature of governments means that there isn’t enough long-term planning on infrastructure. With three- or four-year terms, the main focus seems to be on the immediate term. Priorities can be set for political benefit rather than for objective reasons1.

The relationship between politicians and public servants changed in my term in the workforce. In the early days, the relevant minister would visit his department and seek a briefing from the senior people in the department. That changed, and politicians would summon the public servants to their office and decide priorities that were at times very different to the advice they received.

To some extent, Infrastructure Australia has improved the situation in evaluating and prioritising infrastructure spending, and taking a more long-term view; but it hasn’t stopped commitments being made that are outside the priorities of Infrastructure Australia.

GK: Enough of the serious stuff: let’s talk about the walk. You’ve done well: I know you were only planning to come part of the way with me but you made it to the top. It’s a great view, looking out over Adelaide. How do you feel, now that you’re here?

TB: I’ll probably curse you for a couple of days, but after that I think I’ll have a feeling of accomplishment that I’ve done something I didn’t think I could do. I’d like to get a bit fitter, and do it again.

GK: Thanks for being my first partner in Walk with Me. It’s been a real honour to have your company.

1 Consult Australia, the industry association representing consulting firms operating in the built and natural environment sectors, released a report early this year on Infrastructure Governance in Australia. It calls on all governments in Australia to enact model legislation to establish independent statutory infrastructure bodies (termed ‘IBodies’) that embody core components of independence, planning, assessment and prioritisation. The benefits are outlined as depoliticisation of infrastructure spending through establishment of long-term priorities, provision of independent and expert advice; creating an infrastructure pipeline that will deliver jobs and growth; and transparent, evidence-based decision-making. Parliamentary approval would be required to deliver projects not in the pipeline, or to alter its priorities.

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