Speech: Parliamentary Friends for better cities, Infrastructure for our cities: The challenges ahead by Philip Davies CEO, Infrastructure Australia

Publication Date
10 November 2015

Good evening and thank you Ken.

It's a great privilege to participate in this parliamentary group with a focus on Better Cities, and my thanks to the co-chairs the Honourable members Jane Prentice, Andrew Giles and Adam Bandt.

Cities are a topic I have always been passionate about, having lived and worked in some of the great cities around the world including Liverpool, Tokyo, London and now Sydney. All cities shaped through shipping, trade and commerce… and all gateways to the world.

It's therefore not surprising that since I emigrated to Australia from the UK eight years ago, I have worked hard through a number of bodies, and in a number of roles, to focus attention on shaping, planning and developing our cities.

That focus is something I will continue in my role as CEO of Infrastructure Australia.

This evening, I would like to give you a brief update on the role and activities of Infrastructure Australia, including the release of our Infrastructure Audits.

I will also provide some insights into the process to develop our 15 Year Australian Infrastructure Plan, and how it relates to what we need to do to shape, plan and develop better Cities.

So, first, an update on IA.

As many of you know in mid-2014, with multi-party support, the Infrastructure Australia Act was amended, positioning IA as an independent body with a Board with the right to appoint its own CEO.

The Board was established in September 2014, and I started as CEO at the end of April this year.

In May we met one of our first deliverables under the Act and released the Australian Infrastructure Audit.

The Australian Infrastructure Audit provided a top down national review of the key drivers of our infrastructure demand out to 2031, and our future needs across transport, water, energy and telecommunications.

The key findings were that Australia's population was projected to grow to 30.5m by 2031, and that this growth will occur mostly in our 4 largest capital cities.

The Audit also identified ten reform challenges that will need to be addressed to deal with this projected population growth and rise in congestion which is projected to grow to $53bn per annum if we don't continue to invest in our infrastructure.

These reform challenges include productivity, population, funding, governance, best practice and connectivity.

Consultation on the Audit + the Plan

Since the release of the Audit we've been engaging with representatives from all levels of government, as well as business, industry, peak bodies and the wider community, encouraging feedback and submissions on these and other issues.

We've been pleased to receive around 100 submissions from a wide range of stakeholders. These submissions have been invaluable to us in developing the Australian Infrastructure Plan.

The Plan will be a strategic policy and reform response to the ten challenges identified in the Audit.

We've grouped the challenges under four key themes. They are:

  • productive cities and regions;
  • efficient infrastructure markets;
  • sustainable and equitable infrastructure; and
  • better decision making and delivery.

In addition to the policy and reform piece, the Plan itself will be accompanied by two new Infrastructure Priority Lists covering:

  • priority infrastructure initiatives—that is, infrastructure solutions which address problems of national significance, but which are still under development; and
  • priority infrastructure projects—project proposals which are fully developed with a business case, and also address a problem of national significance.

I should note here for clarity that IA does not develop our own business cases, but rather reviews the work from the proponent to ensure that the business case development has been rigorous and aligns with our guidelines. Proponents can be a state or territory government, or from the private sector.

We have been working with the various jurisdictions to put together a list of initiatives and project proposals that draws on the data from the Audit, and other sources, to clearly identify the problem they are trying to solve. We are also encouraging a stronger consideration of the strategic fit of the solution into the relevant systems and network.

These two lists will allow governments across Australia to prioritise initiatives and projects that have been:

  • carefully considered,
  • address nationally significant problems,
  • have strategic merit and
  • provide productivity enhancing benefits.


This strategic approach will be absolutely critical if we are to deal with our challenges in the future—particularly in our cities.

As I said earlier, the Audit found that in the next 15 years, Australia's population is projected to grow by almost 40 per cent—to be around 30.5 million people.

This rate of growth is equivalent to adding more than one new Canberra a year, for the next 15 years.

We rank fourth out of 40 OECD countries for population growth over the decade to 2012, and we were the fastest of those with a population over 10 million.

Big four cities

The vast majority of this projected population growth will happen in Australia's four largest cities—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

By 2031—these four cities are expected to grow by 46 per cent.

By 2061—Brisbane and Perth will increase to approximately 5 million people. Melbourne and Sydney will have up to 9 million people.

They will be as big as major global cities like London, New York and Hong Kong are today.

One of the challenges we are already facing in our cities is one of housing affordability.

We forecast in the Audit that these big four cities will need to provide for the development of between 500,000 and 700,000 dwellings just in the next 15 years.

This new housing will need to be supported by the delivery of new and upgraded transport infrastructure to connect people to jobs and goods with markets.

Similarly we will need to ensure that we are able to handle the freight task this will bring, so goods are able to be moved within and between our cities in a timely and efficient way.

We found in the Audit that the national freight task is set to increase by 80% by 2031.

So, the question is how do we ensure we are able to handle this significant population growth and still maintain our enviable quality of life?

If we are to do so, which I hope we will, we will need to lift our game. We will need to plan for it and measure our outcomes ensuring our success.

I've recently been referencing the New York City plan—‘One New York’, as well as the plan put together by the London Mayor's business advisory panel: ‘London 2036: An agenda for jobs and growth.’

It is critical that these cities plan and provide vision for their respective cities. In the case of New York they are focused on a ‘dynamic, urban economy’, an ‘inclusive economy’, ‘sustainability’, and ‘resilience.’

In the case of London it's about creating a ‘global hub’, a ‘creative engine’ and a ‘city that works.’

Both are responding to their respective evolutions as cities at this point in time

But in the London plan they are starting to map these goals against possible actions and metrics.

For example, in the case of ‘the global hub’ theme—one of the actions is to ‘improve global access’—this is to be measured by London becoming the leading destination for international visitors as ranked by the Global Cities Destination Index.

Under the “Creative Engine” theme they are looking to “improve funding for growing small to medium enterprises” which is to be measured by “creating twice as many £100 million businesses.”

What's good about this approach is that their plan paints a vision of where the city aims to go—and then creates the incentives through measurement to get there.

Australia's cities

We will need to be having the same conversations about what the vision is for Australia's cities, and creating the plans and incentives for us to get there.

In our consultation on the Audit, stakeholders have told us that Australia's largest cities need to be ‘growing up, not out’—that is, we need to increase delivery of high quality—higher density development. ‘Development done well’.

Others have said that we need to ease the pressure on our larger cities by growing the populations of the smaller ones.

And there is a strong view that we will need to consider a greater mix of high capacity public transport and active transport.

All of these are important points but they cannot be done in isolation.

First and foremost we need to get back to long term infrastructure planning that is integrated with our land-use planning. We need a vision for our cities, the outcomes we want to achieve and the appropriate measures to ensure we get there.

One of the primary measures has to be liveability. Our quality of life in this country is second to none.

Australian cities regularly rank highly in liveability rankings. In the most recent Economist Intelligence Unit Global Liveability Rankings, there were four Australian cities in the top 10. This is more than any other country measured.

But what the Unit noted was that the most liveable places, tend to be “mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density.”

That is our key challenge. To learn from the cities that have gone before us to ensure that we can embrace this opportunity of population growth, while protecting and enhancing our quality of life.


It is therefore critical that we have a mature debate about Australia's vision for our cities and our infrastructure goals—what we are trying to achieve, what problems we seek to solve, and what we can learn from others experiences.

Our 15 year Plan will be outlining an ambitious infrastructure reform agenda across every economic infrastructure sector—helping Australia reap the many social and economic benefits of our population growth, and protect and enhance our quality of life.

But, a reform plan is only as good as the action that comes from it. And that responsibility for leading reform falls to us all—to governments, business, peak bodies and the wider community.

Despite the demands of population and economic growth, we have every opportunity to create the cities of the future and maintain our world-beating liveability.

We have done it before. We just need to plan for it.

Thank you.