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Infrastructure audit calls for new wave of investment

Infrastructure Australia has released its 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, which found infrastructure in capital cities was failing to keep up with rapid population growth, especially on the urban fringe.

The organisation said investment is needed to ensure Australia’s infrastructure continues to support economic productivity and the quality of life.

The audit presents a forward-looking view of infrastructure challenges and opportunities over the next 15 years and beyond.

It states Australia’s population is projected to grow to 24 per cent, to reach 31.4 million by 2034, which is expected to put huge demand on access to infrastructure. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth were highlighted as cities failing to keep up with this growth.

Infrastructure Australia Chair, Julieanne Alroe, said changing and growing demand with a mounting maintenance backlog is putting unprecedented pressure on infrastructure services.

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“The current infrastructure program must do more than plug the immediate funding gap, but instead deliver long-term changes to the way we plan, fund and deliver infrastructure.”

“Rather than a short-term boom, the historic level of activity we are seeing in the sector must, and is likely, to continue for the next 15 years and potentially beyond. This must be the new normal if we are to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead,” Alroe said.

The audit suggests that without action road and public transport congestion costs could double to nearly $40 billion by 2031.

“The dominance of infill development in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will require investment in high capacity public transport, enhancements to existing energy and water infrastructure, improved shared spaces and a renewal of inner city health and education services,” Alroe said.

Growing outer suburbs of major cities including Perth, where the audit suggests greenfield development will dominate, are expected to see pressure on the road networks.

“The costs of inaction are significant. If investment were to stop, the cost of road congestion is projected to grow by $18.9 billion, to $38.7 billion in 2031. This impacts quality of life, as well as our economic productivity and competitiveness as a nation,” Alroe said.

Infrastructure Australia estimates $39 billion was spent by governments on infrastructure in the 12 months to December 2018.

Alroe said since the last Australian Infrastructure Audit was released in 2015, Australia’s governments have made important progress to promote reform, improve planning and address infrastructure gaps.

“More than $123 billion of construction work has commenced since 2015, with a committed forward pipeline of over $200 billion. However, there is much more to do to ease the pressures of growth, catalyse development and enable our businesses to compete on a global stage,” she said.

The audit highlights how service quality for infrastructure varies greatly for Australian’s depending on where they live.

“Infrastructure quality is high in our urban centres, including our smaller cities and regional centres. However unlike our larger cities, there is often little choice of the types of services that people can access,” Alroe said.

The audit found transport can be particularly difficult to access for the financially stressed, people with a disability, older australians and people in regional and remote communities or the outer suburbs of major cities.

“A clear challenge that emerges from the 2019 audit is that our current tools are not well placed to deal with many of the new infrastructure problems we are facing in today’s rapidly changing environment,” Alroe said.

She said the population growing and changing, the economy shifting, communities experiencing weather extremes and rapid technological change are all working to re-shape Australian’s day-to-day lives.

“The audit finds engagement with customers and the broader community on project planning, needs to increase across most sectors and jurisdictions. A failure to engage can carry substantial costs to projects, and it is estimated around $20 billion worth of infrastructure projects were delayed, cancelled or mothballed due to community opposition over the past decade,” Alroe said.

“Establishing genuine community buy-in for need to reform must be a priority for government and industry alike as we embark on a new era of investment and reform to meet Australia’s changing and growing infrastructure needs.”

Infrastructure Australia is calling for feedback and submissions in response to the 136 challenges and 44 opportunities identified in the audit.

Submissions are accepted via the Infrastructure Australia website until 31 October 2019.

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