Trump administration seeks Aussie help for fixing America's infrastructure

By Politics FOXBusiness

FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks with reporters after signing the tax bill and continuing resolution to fund the government, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. For Trump, that energy-sapping ... 2017 cocktail of blistering presidential tweets, salacious White House infighting and jaw-dropping feuds with foreign adversaries has given way to, well, more of the same. Indeed, the first three days of 2018 brought a new array of targets for the president and the return of some familiar foes. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

President Donald Trump’s administration may turn to an Australian named Joe Hockey for advice on how to kick start the $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, FOX Business has learned.   

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Hockey, the Australian Ambassador to the U.S., is known for delivering one of the largest federal infrastructure packages in the history of his home country by using private -public partnerships. 

He's previously met with DJ Gribbin, the president’s senior adviser on infrastructure policy and formerly the head of government relations at Macquarie Capital, to brainstorm ideas, according to sources familiar with the matter. 

“The President’s team spoke with [Hockey] early on in the process of formulating the president’s infrastructure plan, mostly focused on the permitting side,” a senior White House official confirmed to FOX Business. When asked if private-public partnerships were discussed, the official said “I’m sure that was touched on as well.” 

Since the meeting with Gribbin, Hockey has been in touch with members of the House Transportation Committee to discuss the benefits of private-public partnerships if they were implemented across the U.S., according to numerous congressional aides familiar with the matter. 

The committee, one of the key groups on Capitol Hill putting together a bipartisan infrastructure reform bill, is keeping these types of partnerships on the table, as well a potential gas tax, as a way to pay for the final infrastructure product, those same aides tell FOX Business. 

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A spokesman for the Committee’s chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), declined to comment at the time of publication. Trump’s infrastructure plan is scant with details on how it will be funded.  

The administration’s 2018 budget shows they intend to call on Congress to invest $200 billion in infrastructure spending for the next 10 years and on Tuesday, the White House released a memo describing how the proposal will generate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next decade. 

Before being nominated by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to be the next Australian Ambassador to the U.S., Hockey was the countries Treasurer under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott from 2013 until 2015. 

When he was Treasurer, Hockey delivered “the largest federal infrastructure package in a generation through a commitment to a new airport in Sydney [and] new roads in each state,” according to his personal website. 

A spokesperson for the Australian Embassy did not return requests for comment by FOX Business at the time of publication. 

Public-private partnerships, also known as asset recycling, have been part of the infrastructure industry for over a decade. With most of these partnerships, state governments turn to banks as financial advisers or investors in order to jumpstart extensive projects such as bridges and toll roads.

The financial sector, in most cases, can see a huge upswing in profit through the entire process because they can make millions off being an adviser and when banks are investors they can have control over pricing when the final product is complete. For instance, a reconstructed toll road could see an increase in the tolls in order for the investors, which at times can be banks, to start making a profit out of their original investment.

Hockey’s access to Republican circles also may have to do with his efforts to make amends between the Trump and Turnbull administrations as ambassador. As Trump settled into the White House, he reportedly got into an argument with Turnbull about allowing Australian refugees to come into the U.S., a deal made under President Barack Obama. Hockey met with then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former chief strategist Steve Bannon to quell the tensions between both offices.

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