Australians head to the polls this weekend to decide the next phase of Federal leadership. Here’s a look at the election issues that could guide the engineering profession post-election season.
This Saturday, democracy sausage in hand, people around the country will make their choices for Australia’s future political leadership.
While there are myriad reasons for choosing one candidate over another, energy, infrastructure and innovation will be the agenda-setting priorities for the engineering profession post election. This is why institutions like Engineers Australia are encouraging members of the profession to make informed choices at the ballot box and wield their votes wisely.
The Federal election is an opportunity for engineers to advocate for issues important to their profession. This means making sure policy is informed by evidence and facts — not just popular opinion.
With several engineers contesting seats across the country, it’s likely the profession will have some presence in Parliament.
Engineers Australia has released a list of election priorities, along with action items for the incoming government, to keep engineering on the national agenda.
According to Engineers Australia National Manager of Public Affairs Jonathan Russell, transforming the country’s electricity supply system and addressing climate change are “pressing” issues.
“Engineers are critical to developing and implementing the solutions that will respond to both imperatives,” he said.
Future energy policy needs to address the threefold concerns of reliability and emissions reductions while keeping costs low. Russell said engineers are crucial to delivering solutions and building an integrated and efficient national electricity grid.
“We need a well-engineered system, fit for the future, to ensure system reliability supported by policy levers that allow market forces to operate efficiently,” Russell said.
He added that the energy sector has an imperative to set emissions reduction targets, as it has the “greatest immediate potential to reduce emissions”.
Off the back of the election, Russell said Engineers Australia would like to see a more balanced debate about the technical, environmental and financial aspects of national energy security.
Improving infrastructure planning has roll-on effects for the nation’s prosperity, Russell said, by ensuring the right infrastructure is delivered at the right time.
“Good infrastructure planning improves efficiency, lowers project delivery costs and risk, and helps avoid boom/bust cycles of infrastructure delivery,” he said.
“Continuity of work allows valuable engineering expertise and insights to be captured, not lost, which invariably happens when project teams disperse.
“Engineers are adept at scoping needs-based infrastructure to deliver these benefits in both the short and long term.”
April’s Federal Budget 2019-20 announcement included a 10-year, $100 billion infrastructure package, although as Russell previously pointed out, it was “more of a sales pitch than an actual plan”.
He referenced Infrastructure Australia’s 2019 Infrastructure Priority List as a guide for budget allocations.
“Infrastructure planning and investment are long-term activities, spanning across multiple electoral cycles … It involves project governance and options selection, through design, build and whole-of-life asset management. All these are activities where engineers can provide critical leadership,” he said.
The environmental impact of infrastructure is another important action item for the future government. Changes to the National Construction Code will influence the built environment’s carbon footprint, and more extreme weather events require assets to be resilient.
Russell said Engineers Australia recommends future policymakers ensure climate change impacts are explicitly taken into account in the development, construction and whole-of-life management of infrastructure assets.
Engineering’s talent pipeline
The future of the engineering profession is itself an election priority, especially if Australia hopes to become a next-generation economy. One factor holding this back is the supply of engineering talent.
Like many other countries, Australia’s transition to Industry 4.0 will see new jobs and industries emerge, while technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and advanced manufacturing will change traditional ways of working.
“The skills to transition to this new economy will in large part be provided by the next generation of engineers — we need to invest in our future engineering capability,” Russell said.
Industries like mining, agriculture and manufacturing have seen — and are likely to continue to see — the most change. The volatility of the mining and resources sectors and changes to the manufacturing industry mix led to a dip in workforce size and engineering job prospects.
However, Russell said industry could better weather the ups and downs through the development of a skills roadmap and supporting skills development. Input from the industries most affected would be key to making sure any strategy is fit for purpose.
He added that Engineers Australia would like to see commitment from future governments to a nationwide STEM policy that takes into account education, skilled migration, and demand-side peaks and troughs.
“Engineers Australia is uniquely positioned to understand the emerging opportunities, and assist the next government in addressing them, by drawing on the expertise of its members,” Russell said.