As Australia’s capital cities get set to grow by 50 per cent over the next 15 years, getting infrastructure investment right is a priority. Philip Davies FAICD, CEO of Infrastructure Australia, explores the five pillars of Australia’s infrastructure reform agenda.
Infrastructure has been fundamental to our national economic success. It has helped underpin our high standard of living and enabled our cities to thrive.
But with our population expected to grow to more than 30 million by 2031, we need to embark on the next era of infrastructure delivery.
Australia has led the world in many aspects of infrastructure planning, procurement and delivery, but we must continue to extend and evolve our approaches.
It is vital that we continue to build our capacity to deliver world-class infrastructure that meets the needs of our growing population and helps maintain our enviable quality of life.
Guiding investment in productivity-enhancing infrastructure
We welcome the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ efforts to put governance standards, funding and delivery of infrastructure under the spotlight.
The business community has an important role to play in driving reform and ensuring Australian governments continue to deliver on much needed productivity-enhancing infrastructure.
For our part, Infrastructure Australia maintains the Infrastructure Priority List to support evidence-based decision making and investment in projects that will deliver the best outcomes for the community.
We recently released a revised version of the Priority List, identifying 100 nationally-significant infrastructure priorities in each state and territory.
The Priority List contains two broad groupings: Projects and Initiatives.
Projects are advanced proposals that have undergone a full business case assessment by the independent Infrastructure Australia board, while initiatives are proposals that have been identified to potentially address a nationally-significant problem, but require further development.
The Priority List now includes seven High Priority and 11 Priority Projects. This is the largest-ever number of projects with full business cases to be published on the List, and reflects the record number of business cases our organisation has assessed over the past 12 months.
There are five core themes that form the basis of the Priority List and Infrastructure Australia’s ongoing reform agenda.
1) World-class public transport systems
World-class public transport systems will support growth in our cities and regions and enable our economy to thrive.
To achieve this, we need to significantly increase network capacity and deliver reliable and efficient services appropriate for a 21st century population and built environment.
That means working towards delivering high-frequency, integrated passenger transit systems that enable people to get to and from work easily, ensures businesses can operate efficiently and supports the creation of dynamic communities.
2) Tackling urban congestion
The Australian Infrastructure Audit found that without action to increase capacity on our transport networks and better manage supply, congestion could cost the economy $53 billion per year by 2031.
To meet these challenges, the Priority List includes a number of projects that are intended to alleviate bottlenecks and capacity constraints along critical road arteries.
Continued investment in congestion-busting transport projects must be an ongoing focus for Australian governments if we are to reduce delays and improve the productivity of our major cities.
3) Connecting major cities to our regions
Australia’s regions already contribute substantially to the nation’s growth and prosperity, produces many of our key exports such as minerals, energy, agriculture and tourism.
We need to focus our future infrastructure investment on supporting access to and growth in our regions and continue to develop business cases for projects that offer the most return nation-wide.
Developing efficient, livable and productive regional hubs should be a key priority. Better connected regions will not only facilitate economic growth, provide people with more opportunities to live and work outside our capital cities.
4) Streamlining our freight supply network
Australia’s proximity to the booming economies of China and Southeast Asia, combined with our reputation for high quality exports, means there are enormous opportunities for export-oriented Australian businesses which our freight and supply chains need to support.
The Priority List includes a number of important freight projects, while also identifying development of National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy as a High Priority Initiative.
This was also a key reform recommendation in the Australian Infrastructure Plan, which is now being progressed by the Federal Government. A national panel of industry experts has been established to assist with the development of this strategy and is expected to present a draft report to the Government later this year.
5) Optimising our rail and road network infrastructure
Investing in new infrastructure is important, but getting the best out of existing assets can help us go a long way too.
We need to ensure that existing infrastructure is used more efficiently, with a focus on maintenance and the use of new technology, including sensors and data analytics, to secure service improvements.
In the Priority List, we recommend that embedding technology in existing infrastructure can provide operators with rich data on network performance and use. Small targeted investments can drive significant improvements in efficiency and reliability, and deliver better outcomes for Australian infrastructure users.
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