Chair's newsletter

Publication Date
29 August 2017

Good morning,

As you may know, at the end of this month I will be retiring from my role as the Chairman of Infrastructure Australia. In this newsletter I would like to reflect a little on my nine years at IA.

Since its creation in 2008, under the outstanding leadership of Sir Rod Eddington, Infrastructure Australia has filled a critical role as a national leader on infrastructure priorities. Legislation passed (with all-Party support) in 2014 further strengthened IA's functions and independence.

Infrastructure Australia has developed into a trusted advisor to governments, industry and the community, with a strong project voice and widely recognised mandate to lead reform.

We now have an Australian Infrastructure Plan in place to guide infrastructure reform and investment. The 78 recommendations made in the Plan were comprehensive, providing guidance on improving the way we plan, invest in, deliver and use our infrastructure.

Our Infrastructure Priority List, published alongside the Plan in 2016 and fully updated in 2017, has become the reference point for the most important investments Australia needs over the next 15 years. Political leaders and opinion-makers regularly consult the List as a source of informed analysis on infrastructure requirements, and to determine which projects should get state and federal funding.

I'm proud to say that the Infrastructure Australia Board has assessed over $80 billion worth of transformative projects for inclusion on the Priority List since 2014. There is now a record number of nationally-significant projects on the List, matched by the largest ever number of projects with approved business cases.

Perhaps most importantly of all, there's a momentum to fund and construct projects which have been promoted onto the List. As a direct result, we are seeing governments—at all levels—prioritise the delivery of historically important new rail, road and network infrastructure.

The underpinnings of the Infrastructure Plan and the List is the evidence-base that IA has compiled, starting with the first ever Australian Infrastructure Audit, completed in 2015. Through the Audit process we examined the drivers of future demand, particularly population and economic growth. Notably, the Audit's modelling enabled us to better understand where investment in projects, networks and regulatory environments might lead to improved outcomes for consumers and users.

Following the Audit, we went on a road show across the country to raise awareness about the key challenges we had identified. We consulted with over 500 stakeholders in every state and territory, and received more than 100 formal submissions. The submissions and the evidence from the Audit were critical to developing a 15-year Plan which enjoys consensus support, embraced by bodies like Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Engineers Australia, Property Council, Australian Automobile Association and the Australasian Railway Association.

To further this work, we have recently launched our Reform Series—where we develop research papers on key public policy changes that will be critical to our future infrastructure. So far, we have published papers on value capture, corridor protection and transport franchising, with more papers to come.

Policy reforms such as road user pricing are on the national agenda today as a result of Infrastructure Australia's concerted advocacy. The National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy was initiated by the Australian Government in response to our recommendation. And the infrastructure planning in most jurisdictions has evolved to incorporate the detailed options analysis and scenario testing we recommended.

These developments reflect a collective effort to improve the way Australia's governments think about nationally significant infrastructure investment and cross-border co-operation. As a nation we have made terrific progress.

As I hand the reins over to the very capable Julieanne Alroe, as incoming Chair, I would like to leave some parting thoughts about some of the challenges that lie ahead.

The vision for Australia's future infrastructure should always be ambitious and optimistic.

If we are to secure the improvements in living standards and economic outcomes that infrastructure can provide, we need to attract more public and private investment into good infrastructure initiatives.

Be it new projects, like metro rail systems in our cities and improved highways to our major gateways and trade hubs, or investing in existing infrastructure through better maintenance, Australia must invest with confidence. And support the whole-of-life asset management that will make it sustainable.

Governments, business and the community have to work together on this vision. So I urge all political parties to look beyond immediate election cycles and to focus on our country's long-term interests. Let us all encourage and reward political parties that develop long-term infrastructure policies, and who back strategic infrastructure development.

Despite the cynicism that surrounds much public dialogue these days, I also encourage the public to take a wider and positive interest in what we can all do to improve our cities and regions through better infrastructure.

Australia will be best served by infrastructure that is well planned, well delivered and well operated, so let's increase the effort to achieve shared goals.

Finally, allow me to take this opportunity to thank my fellow IA Board members and the secretariat, led by CEO Philip Davies. Together with our partners in the states and territories, we have achieved a lot. There's been heightened action across the nation.

I will watch with interest as Infrastructure Australia continues to advance initiatives that deliver better social, economic and environmental outcomes.

Thank you.
Mark Birrell, Chairman