The 2020 Infrastructure Priority list shines a light on the need to shore up Australia’s water security, regional infrastructure and energy access to combat the effects of a changing climate.
Infrastructure Australia released the latest edition of its yearly Infrastructure Priority List, which distils the projects and initiatives it deems as most crucial to meet the country’s future infrastructure needs.
This list made history as the longest on record, presenting a pipeline of 147 infrastructure proposals worth almost $60 billion.
In response to the recent bushfires and other extreme weather events, this year’s list is the first to have a special focus on environmental issues, including disaster and climate resilience, water, waste management and coastal inundation.
Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew said this focus on resilience was a thread first picked up during the organisation’s 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, which looked at challenges and opportunities facing transport, energy, water, telecommunications and social infrastructure.
“Compounding issues of unprecedented infrastructure demand, severe drought and other environmental changes require a focus on our resilience strategies and a consensus on where to invest now for our nation’s future prosperity,” Madew said.
“As an independent body, it’s our role to bring these problems and opportunities into the national spotlight to spark investment and coordinated action from industry and government.”
Engineers Australia CEO Brownyn Evans said the organisation broadly supports this year’s priority list, and the assertion that Australia’s planning and investment decisions must address sustainability in infrastructure development.
“Resilience is a useful lens through which to frame this year’s list, because when you consider some of the changing risk profiles we have, we need to embed resilience in our infrastructure network,” she told create.
“We need to think about how we build with resilience in mind and how we maintain systems to stay resilient. It also ties in with some of the extreme weather events we’ve seen and the overall change in the climate.”
After the ongoing drought and the strain placed on water resources by a severe bushfire season, it’s no surprise that special emphasis was placed on two high-priority initiatives addressing water security: a national water strategy and a new town and city water security plan.
Evans said addressing these concerns will be vital, as access to water is essential for the future health and wellbeing of communities big and small.
“With the recent droughts, there are some communities that are at risk of — or indeed already — running out of water,” she said.
“We need a water system that has multiple levers to pull in order to give us the best opportunity to create water security in a sustainable way.”
Madew echoed these thoughts, saying these priorities set around boosting water security should serve as a call to action.
“In response to this call to action, we’re expecting a range of solutions to be considered for capturing, managing and distributing water, along with improvements in reporting and use of data in the water sector,” Madew said.
Regional Australia is set to benefit as well from this year’s list, with calls to connect remote parts of the country with better physical and digital infrastructure as a matter of urgency.
“Truly staying connected requires not only safe and efficient transport options, but also ensuring our town and regional communities have the same access to telecommunications as the rest of Australia,” Madew said.
“This is to also provide people with reliable access to electronic payment systems, emergency alerts and other critical services.”
Improving transport and telecommunications infrastructure in remote and regional areas is also a matter of equity, said Evans.
“It’s an important step in diversifying population centres away from the east coast. If you look at some of the road safety challenges for people travelling in regional areas, or the city-regional divide around access to telecommunications infrastructure — it’s not equitable,” she said.
Projects and initiatives
The 2020 Infrastructure Priority List was developed using data from the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, as well as through submissions from state and territory governments, industry and the community.
Infrastructure Australia said the expanded scope of the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, which included social infrastructure for the first time, led to a more diverse Infrastructure Priority List this year, with a wider focus on user outcomes in terms of access, quality and cost.
The list makes a distinction between ‘projects’ and ‘initiatives’. It defines a project as an advanced proposal with a fully developed business case that has been assessed by the Infrastructure Australia board. An initiative is a proposal that Infrastructure Australia believes has potential to address a nationally significant problem or opportunity, and therefore should be further developed and assessed.
The list highlights 21 national proposals, including 13 high priority initiatives. Transport and water proposals have the highest representation on the list, including a coastal inundation protection strategy, corridor preservation for east coast high speed rail, a national electric vehicle fast-charging network, a national road and maintenance strategy and a national water strategy.
Other high priority initiatives include optimisation of the National Energy Market to support the transition from thermal generation to intermittent renewables complemented by firming generation, as well as a national waste and recycling management strategy.
Social projects also make an appearance, including an initiative to address overcrowding and improve housing quality on remote areas, and an Indigenous art and cultural facilities program.
State by state
Each state has its share of projects and initiatives this year as well, with the majority clustered along the eastern seaboard.
Queensland tops the list with the most projects at 11, with 15 initiatives identified. While New South Wales trailed in projects, claiming only four, it led the states in priority initiatives at 38. Western Australia comes in third for total number of proposals, with two projects and 21 initiatives. Victoria lists two projects and 15 initiatives, South Australia with one project and seven initiatives, Tasmania with two projects and four initiatives and the Northern Territory with three initiatives. The Australian Capital Territory rounds out the bunch with one initiative.
This year’s headliners include six new high-priority projects and 17 new priority projects.
All together, 37 new proposals were added to the list this year, and seven projects graduated off the list from last year as they entered construction. Madew said this highlights the success of the list at guiding investment.
“The priority list has a strong record of driving national investment and has become a key reference point for all levels of government,” Madew said.
Evans commended Infrastructure Australia for focusing this year’s list on the theme of resilience, and emphasising projects and initiatives that will help drive the countries water, energy and transport infrastructure towards sustainable outcomes.
She added that engineers are vital to achieving each of these priorities, and “the list’s recommendations can’t be achieved without them”.
“I look forward to seeing how the nation’s engineering community put these recommendations into practice,” she said.
View the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List here.