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Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey wants a new round of infrastructure projects under way by no later than 2016-17, when the mining boom is expected to start ebbing and economic growth begins to slow.

To ensure there are sufficient projects than can deliver the required economic stimulus, Mr Hockey recently offered the states and territories incentives to get on board: sell your old and underperforming assets and receive funds from the Commonwealth for new works.

To sweeten the deal, Mr Hockey is prepared to give back to the states and territories the corporate income tax the privatised companies would pay the Commonwealth, providing they invest the sale proceeds in new infrastructure, particularly urban roads.

The Commonwealth would also guarantee the debt raised to finance new projects, which would cut the cost of interest payments because of its gilt-edged AAA credit rating. However, the states and territories are on notice to decide quickly to ensure building is under way when work on new resource projects subsides.

Mr Hockey was a persistent critic of the waste and shoddy outcomes of Labor's stimulus measures during the global financial crisis, and his invitation to get the states to invest skin in the game should help ensure that new projects pass the tests of economic merit and value for money.

Nonetheless, the plan warrants careful scrutiny, not just for its ambitious timetable, its slant towards road projects, and its questionable bias towards states with something to sell.

Two years to identify readily liquidated assets and to produce detailed and costed plans for large infrastructure projects is a tight schedule by any definition.

The government's apparent preference for road building is understandable given the traffic congestion that routinely afflicts Melbourne and Sydney and which grows worse every year.

Alleviating it may improve people's daily lives somewhat, even perhaps boost productivity. But new roads built to relieve congestion in Sydney and Melbourne all too frequently become gridlocked in turn.

Investing in public transport would seem a safer and wiser alternative, but when the Coalition has made great mileage from its promises to invest in roads, particularly in Sydney, convincing Mr Hockey of this fact may be a forlorn hope.

Luckily for Mr Hockey - and for the Coalition's hopes of retaining the marginal seats it won in Sydney's western suburbs in September - NSW has plenty of assets to sell, as does Queensland.

But politics has a habit of intervening in the best-laid plans, and already NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has reiterated he will not be selling the state's poles and wire infrastructure, at least in this term of his government.

The South Australian and Victorian governments, meanwhile, claim their key assets were privatised long ago, and that Mr Hockey's scheme discriminates against them.

The Commonwealth will seek to strike separate deals with those states to ensure some sort of infrastructure building incentive, but since Mr Hockey has made it clear ''there will be no conversation at all about using Commonwealth debt in relation to infrastructure'', hopes of a handout look slim.

The ACT government, having practically no sizeable infrastructure assets that could be readily privatised, is in an invidious position, though its infrastructure needs pale by comparison with those of the other jurisdictions. The government does, however, have a $600 million light rail proposal it would like financed with minimal pain to taxpayers, and to that end Treasurer Andrew Barr has reacted with enthusiasm to Mr Hockey's proposal.

A list of potential sale items, including Macarthur House, the Dickson Motor Vehicle Registry and public housing along the proposed light rail route, has been compiled, and indications are that other options are being canvassed.

Whatever the attractions of a Commonwealth ''handout''', the ACT government needs to proceed with caution. Before any decisions are made, a debate needs to occur and voters convinced of the wisdom of disposing of public assets.