Since the release of the Australian Infrastructure Plan in February 2016, there has been continued pressure on the structure and operation of Australia’s key economic infrastructure sectors. Demographic shifts, population growth, technological advances, consumer preferences, climate change and changes to the nature of work, continue to have significant impacts on infrastructure planning.
Australia’s governments have shown a willingness to drive higher levels of infrastructure investment to meet the challenges of the future and harness potential opportunities, with investment across key economic sectors, especially transport, showing signs of an upward trend since early 2016.
Across our cities and regions, many of the strategically important infrastructure projects positively assessed by Infrastructure Australia for inclusion on the Infrastructure Priority List are now under delivery. This includes Moorebank Intermodal Terminal and NorthConnex in Sydney, Melbourne Metro Rail, and Brisbane Metro and the progressive upgrade of the Bruce Highway in Queensland. Also under delivery are the Forrestfield Airport Link and Armadale Road Upgrade in Western Australia and the progressive upgrade of Adelaide’s North–South Corridor.
In addition to this uptick in infrastructure investment, there has been significant progress over the last two years in the quality of city and regional planning across Australia. Increasingly, governments are integrating transport and land use planning, and a number of strategically significant corridors have been preserved for future infrastructure investment in New South Wales and Queensland.
Stronger collaboration between jurisdictions has improved the quality of business cases developed for major infrastructure projects. The creation of dedicated infrastructure agencies has helped strengthen Australia’s pipeline of future investments. In addition, there is welcome investment in programs that seek to make better use of existing assets, and a more sophisticated analysis of borrowing to build has developed, which will help deliver the infrastructure Australia needs.
However, on other key measures, there has been little or no progress against the recommendations in the Plan.
In transport, the planned inquiry into road user charging reform is yet to commence. The energy market has been dealing with an influx of new technologies, new methods of managing supply and demand, and regulatory uncertainty, and efforts to address these complex issues have been fraught. Progress on urban water reform has stalled, and there are compliance issues around water use in the Murray-Darling Basin. In telecommunications, the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout has faced challenges as demand for high-speed data connectivity soars.
There are improvements to be made in planning for the future. The absence of a national population policy has fostered uncertainty around how to manage Australia’s growing population. This has broader impacts for infrastructure decision making, as most major urban infrastructure projects assessed by Infrastructure Australia are sensitive to projections of population growth. Likewise, transport will become our second biggest carbon emitter in coming years, however with no clear guidance on emissions policy for industry the task of aligning our international commitments with new investment is made all the more difficult.