2019 ALGA National General Assembly

18 June 2019

Good morning everyone. Thank you to the Australian Local Government Association, for the opportunity to speak here today at this year’s National General Assembly.

I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land in which we meet here today, and pay respect to the elders, past and present, of all Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I also want to acknowledge the Mayors, Councilors and all our distinguished guests from across government, industry and the community.

It is an honour to speak at ALGA’s National General Assembly, and a pleasure to address such a vital group of stakeholders so soon after beginning my tenure as Chief Executive of Infrastructure Australia.

For those who aren’t familiar with what we do, Infrastructure Australia is the nation’s independent infrastructure advisor.

It is our job to champion the ‘big picture’ view of Australia’s infrastructure investment and reform needs – something which is becoming increasingly important as Australia grows and changes.

I commenced as Chief Executive of Infrastructure Australia in April, after 13 years leading Green Building Council of Australia.

As you would expect, I am excited to build on the work Infrastructure Australia has already done around resilience and sustainability in the infrastructure sector, but what really drives me is the broader opportunity to improve quality of life for each and every Australian. 

Front of mind for me as I take on this new role is driving a community-centred approach to infrastructure planning and delivery.

And across all Australian levels of government, it is local governments that understand the needs of their communities’ best.

While federal and state governments have an important role to play in funding and delivering major infrastructure, councils work to create well-planned, liveable spaces that harness existing assets and meet individual community needs.  

That’s why, in our view, it is vital that local governments are included in our strategic planning process.

They are the ones who engage most closely with communities, and are the ones who make decisions which translate these strategic national and state-level visions i

Greater inclusion of local government at the strategic planning stage also means that communities have a greater opportunity to have a say about the kind of places they want to live in and their future infrastructure needs.

To support this, community engagement needs to be ongoing – not just on a one off basis for particular projects or developments once they have already been planned and designed.

We need frank, two-way conversations about the needs of the community, at the strategic planning stage, to support effective infrastructure planning and delivery now and into the future.  

This is increasingly important as it is becomes more and more clear that our infrastructure needs to work harder to support Australia into the future.

When it comes to the infrastructure people rely on, and how these services are delivered, Australians have told us what matters most.

It comes down to three things – access, quality and cost.

But unfortunately too often, our infrastructure doesn’t meet these expectations.

Congestion, overcrowding, rising bills, outages and declining service standards are undermining confidence in our infrastructure.

This decline in service standards also comes at a time of significant change for Australia.

Future trends

We are at a unique point in our history, and this has significant implications for how we plan for Australia’s infrastructure.

We are facing climatic and weather extremes, a re-ordering of the world economy, and a reshaping of global institutions and norms.

Closer to home, the structure of Australia’s economy is shifting, our population is growing and changing and rapid technological advancements are fundamentally reshaping our day-to-day lives.  Long-known as the ‘Lucky Country’, Australia has enjoyed a record-breaking 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth.

Much of this recent economic growth has been accommodated in our largest cities.

More than 70% of GDP growth between 2000-01 and 2015-16 has occurred in our fast growing cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

An even higher percentage is urbanised when you include satellite cities, like Geelong, Wollongong, Newcastle and the Central Coast.

The population of our major cities is also growing rapidly. By 2034, Australia’s population will grow by 24% to reach 31 million, with more than three quarters of this growth projected to occur in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

The scale of this growth is significant compared to major western economies.

Australia is growing at 1.6% roughly double the rate of the US (0.7%), France (0.4%). Germany (0.4%) and the UK (0.6%).

As well as growth, the structure of where we live and work is also changing.

The 70 year dominance of growth at the urban fringe has ended in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Infill represents three quarters of growth in Sydney and Melbourne and two-thirds in Brisbane, while in Perth by contrast 70% of growth is occurring on the fringe.

So too, the structure of the workforce is also changing, moving from the middle suburbs to the inner core – challenging the capacity of legacy transport networks.

Subsequently, our national productivity and global competitiveness is increasingly reliant on the quality of our urban infrastructure networks, and there are signs that we are falling behind.

The make-up of our population is also changing.

Australia’s baby boomers are ageing, with the number of people over 65 expected to grow from 4 to 5.9 million by 2034.

With these people leaving the workforce, the millennials are emerging as dominant.

They have a stronger focus on flexible work hours, and are participating in and driving innovation in new industries and segments of the economy.

Another factor that will play a decisive role in coming years is rapid technological change.

While technology has underpinned substantial progress over the past century, the speed of change today and its impact on the way we live and work, is unprecedented.

The benefits are immense - from improving quality of life and providing better access to services, to enhancing the efficiency of our infrastructure and developing brand new industries.

For example, ride-sharing services and on-demand public transport in our cities offer users greater flexibility, choice and convenience than ever before, while extending the reach of legacy networks to poorly serviced areas – particularly on the urban fringe. 

However, the pace of change also creates challenges for the way we plan, design and deliver infrastructure, and of course – impacts consumer preferences.

Australians increasingly want more choice and flexibility in the services they receive.

We are living increasingly connected and digital lives. We are engaging more with the world around us, and we are also expecting more from service providers as well.  

The expectations we place on infrastructure are changing, and this has significant impacts when it comes to selecting the investments and reforms we prioritise now and into the future.

2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit

Crucially, preparing for these changes requires more than just keeping pace with demand.

To deliver high-quality, world-class infrastructure for all Australians, we need to be smarter in our decision-making.

We must be forward thinking, and prioritise strategic investments that seize the opportunities in front of us.

In this context, Infrastructure Australia’s work in providing independent, evidence-based advice to governments, industry and the community, is crucial.

It’s timely that the theme of this year’s General Assembly is Future Focused, because Infrastructure Australia’s investment and reform agenda is squarely focused on ensuring Australia’s infrastructure can meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

We are currently developing the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit.

This is a core piece of work for us as an agency.

The Audit is best thought of as an evidence base, highlighting the infrastructure challenges and opportunities across the country.  

It will show us what Australia’s infrastructure needs are, and strategically assess the drivers of future demand – forming an evidence base that will shape the next 15 years of infrastructure planning.

Crucially, this evidence base will be available to governments, infrastructure owners and builders, and the wider community.

Our hope is that it will enable better decision making, empowering governments and communities with the data required to deliver the infrastructure our growing communities require.

It covers the major infrastructure sectors of energy, transport, telecommunications, and water – and for the first time, also social infrastructure.

This means the parks, waterways, active transport pathway, beaches, libraries, and arts and cultural facilities that are vital to the livability of our cities and regions.

These are also pieces of infrastructure that are commonly owned and operated by local governments.

We will examine the challenges in delivering these facilities, and opportunities they present to our communities.

We will examine the broad social and economic benefits green and blue infrastructure bring to a place, particularly in regional areas, and also the significant challenge of delivering new and improved facilities in cities that are increasingly densifying.

Acknowledging that the pressure to maintain this infrastructure often falls to local government, the Audit will also examine the issues around funding and financing these services.

Across the sector, new and emerging infrastructure challenges will also be surveyed, from achieving objectives around active transport, to managing local roads, integrating new technologies in service delivery, and delivering efficient and sustainable water, wastewater and waste services.

In order to identify these challenges and opportunities, we have applied a user focus, and looked at how these findings will impact Australians in terms of the access, quality and cost of their infrastructure.

A focus on place

We have also introduced a focus on place, and identified how these findings will impact the different geographies in Australia, which we have categorised as

  • Fast-growing cities, like Sydney and Melbourne.
  • Smaller cities & regional centres, which covers our smaller capitals like Adelaide and Hobart right through to our regional centres home to more than 10,000 people.
  • Small towns, regional communities & remote areas

Developing regions & northern Australia

This focus on place means the document will speak to the infrastructure experiences of Australia’s diverse geographies.

For example the Audit has found that:

  • In our fast growing cities infrastructure is failing to keep pace with rapid population growth, particularly on the urban fringe.
  • Our smaller cities and regional centres are growing as service hubs for their neighbouring region, including supporting growth as satellites of fast growing cities.
  • While in rural and remote communities the quality of infrastructure, particularly for in remote communities does not meet the standards Australians expect.
  • And in our developing regions there is a clear role for infrastructure to catalyse quality of life or productivity by improving connectivity and efficiency.

Accessible to the community

Importantly, the Audit seeks to provide a detailed overview of our infrastructure that is relevant and easily accessible to all Australians.

We have adopted this approach to enable everyone—from industry experts to members of the community—to access a common set of evidence and analysis. 

And whether you are reading it from the perspective of government, industry or the community—this Audit is intended to provoke robust discussion about the future of Australia’s infrastructure.

For example, one of the challenges we highlight is that reporting on infrastructure does not adequately reflect community experiences, and does not consistently measure performance against outcomes that matter to users—that is access, quality and cost.

Across many parts of the country, and most sectors, there is a lack of reliable and user-focused information.

This makes tracking progress against these user-focused outcomes difficult.

It also means that decisions may fail to focus on the long-term interests of users, or may not accurately project changes in demand.

This makes assessing the performance of assets, networks and services difficult, and limits our ability to make informed choices about the infrastructure we use.

Without this information, how can we track the impacts of infrastructure on the wellbeing of communities over time?

This is an issue across all sectors, and impacts our ability to deliver long-term benefits for our communities—which is all the more important given the significant period of change I have just outlined.

Again, our focus will be on the outcome for users.

And with this at the forefront, local governments will have an opportunity to use our Audit as an evidence base to guide better infrastructure decision-making.

Concluding remarks

The 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit paints a clear picture of the future trends that will affect how Australia grows over the next 15 years and beyond.

It’s also a fantastic opportunity for us to engage with you, our valued stakeholders across local government, on what you see as the key challenges and opportunities ahead for our country.

Public submissions will be invited in response to the Audit, and we warmly invite all stakeholders and the public to provide feedback and submissions.

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.

All Australians share a common need for high-quality infrastructure that is accessible and affordable. 

But beyond these high-level outcomes, these needs differ greatly between people, places and industries.

As everyone in the audience here today will appreciate, infrastructure must responds to local needs, and planning for the future will require different approaches for different regions.

This is something we have worked hard to reflect in the 2019 Audit, but we need your input – to inform a genuinely community-centred agenda for investment and reform. 

Our consultation following the release of the Audit will inform the development of the next Australian Infrastructure Plan, which will outline a blueprint for infrastructure reform.

It’s certainly a busy time ahead for Infrastructure Australia, but I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to you here today in my new capacity as Chief Executive.

I look forward to working closely with you as we seek to improve Australia’s infrastructure.

Thank you.