2019 Infrastructure Australia Audit launch

Publication Date
13 August 2019

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you Adrian for that introduction and to Infrastructure Partnerships Australia for kindly hosting today’s event.   

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, and pay my respect to the elders, past, present and emerging, of all Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

On behalf of Infrastructure Australia, it is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to this very special event to celebrate the official launch of the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit.

It is wonderful to have so many of our valued stakeholders here in the room, from across government, industry and the community.

The 2019 Audit is the culmination of more than 12 months’ work by Infrastructure Australia.

It’s an ambitious and expansive document, and presents a forward-looking view of Australia’s infrastructure challenges and opportunities over the next 15 years and beyond.

We are delighted to have an opportunity today to reflect on the key themes that have emerged from our research – and to hear from some of the leaders of Australia’s independent infrastructure agencies on how the issues we identify in the 2019 Audit manifest locally, and how their reform agenda is responding to meet our future infrastructure needs.

On that note, I would like acknowledge and welcome our speakers:

Jeremy Conway, Chief Executive of Infrastructure SA, Damian Gould, Chief Executive of Building Queensland and Michel Masson, Chief Executive of Infrastructure Victoria, who will be joined on today’s panel by Infrastructure Australia’s Chief Executive, Romilly Madew AO.   

I would also like to acknowledge and extend my thanks to the many people in the room here today who have contributed to the 2019 Audit and engaged meaningfully with us during the drafting process – as authors, peer-reviewers or as sounding-boards during the extensive engagement with stakeholders we have undertaken ahead of today’s launch.

A truly collaborative document with 150 contributors and a further 5,500 people surveyed as part of our community research, the Audit comes in at 640 pages, with 180 identified Challenges and Opportunities, 350 infographics and more than 2,500 references.

The Audit brings together the views and experiences of industry – it is not solely Infrastructure Australia’s view, but a common benchmark from which to drive reform and investment.

The breadth of issues we address in this document is notable, because the 2019 Audit will inform the approach and recommendations in the next Australian Infrastructure Plan, as well as our ongoing work in maintaining the Infrastructure Priority List, our pipeline of potential investment opportunities.

So it is fair to say that for those who have contributed to this process, your input has been extremely valuable, and impactful, in shaping what we hope will be the next wave of Australian infrastructure investment and reform.

A different approach

The 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit is the second national Audit we have undertaken, after the first was published in 2015.

It examines the infrastructure needs of the Australian community and industry – covering the major infrastructure sectors of energy, transport, telecommunications, water – and for the first time, social infrastructure and waste.

And that’s not all that’s different with this year’s Audit.

As many of you would be aware, rather than adopt conventional state and territory boundaries as we did in 2015, this year we have framed infrastructure needs by the type of community or area they serve.

This recognises that while all Australians share a common need for high-quality infrastructure that is high quality, affordable and accessible – infrastructure must also respond to local needs.

For this reason, we have identified how the Challenges and Opportunities identified in the Audit will impact the different geographies in Australia, which we have categorised as:

  • Fast-growing cities
  • Smaller cities & regional centres
  • Small towns, regional communities & remote areas and
  • Developing regions & northern Australia

Our aim here is to speak to the infrastructure experiences of Australia’s diverse geographies, and hopefully drive a more nuanced debate about our future infrastructure needs.

The needs may vary between places, but access to clean water in remote communities is no less important than congestion in our larger cities.

We have also applied a community focus to this year’s Audit, looking at how the major shifts occurring across the sector will impact Australians in terms of the access, quality and cost of their infrastructure.

We have taken this approach as it places the community at the centre of decision-making.

This focus on place, as well as on-the-ground community experiences, is absolutely critical if we are to deliver better infrastructure for all Australians.

A new wave of investment and reform

At the outset, it’s important to acknowledge that since the last Audit we 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.

And while it’s good see cranes dotting the skylines in our capitals, even more notable is the fact that we’ve seen marked progress in the quality of smaller city and regional planning processes.

Increasingly, governments are integrating transport and land use planning, and have preserved a number of strategically significant corridors for future infrastructure investment.

Greater collaboration between agencies has improved the quality of business cases developed for major projects, and the creation of dedicated infrastructure agencies has helped strengthen the national pipeline of infrastructure investments.

These are achievements that the entire infrastructure sector should feel ownership over.    

However, it’s also clear that changing and growing demand, and a mounting maintenance backlog is putting unprecedented pressure on the infrastructure services we rely on.

Here in NSW, the maintenance backlog for local roads is estimated to be more than $2 billion.

Queensland has an estimated health infrastructure maintenance backlog of around $600 million

The water sector’s large and growing maintenance backlog is extremely difficult to even quantify.

There is much more to do to ease the pressures of growth in our largest cities, catalyse development in our satellite cities and regional centres and enable businesses of all sizes to compete on a global stage.

If there is one clear message that emerges from the 2019 Audit, it is that a new wave of investment and reform is needed to ensure Australia’s infrastructure continues to support our quality of life and economic productivity over the next 15 years.

The current infrastructure program must do more than plug the immediate funding gap.

It needs to 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 continue for the next 15 years and potentially beyond, if we are to support economic growth and maintain our quality of life.

This must be the new normal if we are to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Australia’s urban transport task has grown

Investment in transport infrastructure, for instance, is currently occurring at record levels.

In 2017-18, the value of new construction work on our transport networks was about $30 billion.

However this level of investment, as well as complementary reforms, will need to continue if we are to cater for future population growth.

With more people living and working in Australia’s cities, the nation’s urban transport task has grown substantially over the past decade.

More than 60% of Australia’s population live in our four largest cities.

40% of us now call Sydney or Melbourne home, with the two cities on track to have over six million residents by 2031.

As a result, the Audit finds that infrastructure in our four largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – is failing to keep pace with demand, particularly on the urban fringe.

If we don’t see further investment – beyond what is currently under construction, under procurement or has construction funding committed to it – congestion in Sydney and Melbourne will double over this period, while congestion in Brisbane and Perth could triple.

Modelling commissioned for this year’s Audit has found that road congestion and public transport crowding cost the Australian economy $19 billion in 2016.

Without continued investment in our cities, this will double by 2031 to reach close to $40 billion.

This impacts quality of life, as well as our economic productivity and competitiveness as a nation.

And it’s certainly not just transport infrastructure that is increasingly under pressure.

While the dominance of infill development in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will require investment in high capacity public transport, we also need enhancements to existing energy and water infrastructure, improved shared spaces and a renewal of inner city health and education services.

And in growing outer suburbs of the other major cities, including Perth, where greenfield development will dominate, the challenge will be responding to the additional pressure on road networks, as well as expanding utility networks and developing new recreation spaces as well as cultural facilities.

Infrastructure accessibility, quality and cost varies greatly

The diverse needs of different regions is worth underlining here, because our Audit also shows that infrastructure accessibility, quality and cost varies greatly for people depending on where they live.

Overall, we have found that infrastructure quality is high in our urban centres, including our smaller cities and regional centres.

Satellite cities, such as Wollongong, Newcastle, Geelong, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, are benefitting from better infrastructure access and quality due to their proximity to their larger neighbours.

But while these cities have this, and the capacity to house more people, additional investment will be needed to ensure services are of an appropriate scale to support population growth.

However outside of our larger cities, there still limited choice when it comes to infrastructure services.

In many parts of the country, service provision falls below what is acceptable for a highly developed nation.

More than 30% of households in remote areas are overcrowded, and many remote communities do not meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation for all.

Australian’s mobile footprint only covers one-third of its landmass, and remote communities often have inadequate transport options.

This translates to poorer health standards and quality of life for their residents.

Improvements in digital connectivity have helped, providing access to new services like on demand transport and electric vehicles, while improving access for people in regional areas through tele-health and improved communications.

However, it’s critical that small towns and regional communities also benefit from these advancements.

Addressing these imbalances in infrastructure service provision needs to be a priority for governments at all levels, particularly because we know poorer access to infrastructure services in our remote communities is reinforcing disadvantage.

Concluding remarks

The 2019 Audit is not about counting kilometres of road or railway track, it’s about taking a strategic look at Australia’s changing and growing infrastructure needs.

With the infrastructure sector already experiencing capacity constraints, it’s clear that government and industry will need to adjust to meet the challenges ahead.

Amid a period of constant and rapid change, growing social, economic and environmental interdependencies have added complexity to planning, delivering and operating our infrastructure.

The Audit is designed to help us all become more attuned to these challenges, and the opportunities to raise the bar on infrastructure accessibility, quality and cost – regardless of where you live.

We are inviting public submissions in response to the Audit, and warmly encourage you to share your feedback as we begin work on the next Australian Infrastructure Plan, due for release in 2021.

It’s critical that we receive a diversity of views, as it will help us to identify the right infrastructure solutions to support Australia’s growth and development over the next 15 years and beyond.

Once again, thank you for joining us here today and for your contributions and support over the past year as we have developed the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit.

We look forward to receiving your feedback in the coming months.

Thank you.