Infrastructure Priority List 2018 launch speech

Chair keynote address

Good morning everyone and welcome again to the launch of the 2018 Infrastructure Priority List – the first re-issue of the Priority List since I took on the role of Chair, last September.

In the 10 years since Infrastructure Australia was formed, the Priority List has helped establish a longer-term view of our infrastructure needs – one that enables our leaders to look beyond elections and budgetary cycles to make evidence-based decisions on the best use of our limited infrastructure funding.

It’s about building our collective capacity to deliver world-class infrastructure that meets the challenges of the future – in particular, the challenge of how to maintain our enviable quality of life in the face of significant population growth.

Population growth

Australia’s population growth is now one of the fastest in the OECD and easily outstrips the UK, Canada and the United States. And there is no doubt that this is a significant challenge for our political leaders.

In the next 30 years, Australia will be home to 36 million people. This rate of growth is equivalent to adding a new city, roughly the size of Canberra, each year for the next 30 years.

We know the vast majority of this growth, about 75%, will be centred in our largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

This is a challenge that we can’t afford to manage passively. We must invest our infrastructure dollars wisely to maintain our existing infrastructure and we must build new infrastructure when and where it is most needed.

Assessment process

At Infrastructure Australia, we are doing our part by publishing an evidence-based, consensus list of potential investments. Our aim is to help governments at all levels direct funding towards the projects that have the most benefit.

We are very proud of the work we do in developing the Priority List. It is underpinned by a rigorous assessment process, which ensures we extract the most value out of potential investments by, for example, integrating a project with existing infrastructure.

The Infrastructure Priority List contains two broad groupings: Projects and Initiatives.

Projects are advanced proposals that have a fully developed business case that has been positively assessed by the independent Infrastructure Australia Board.

These advanced proposals address a nationally-significant problem and deliver demonstrated economic benefits. For example, improving connectivity between Australia’s cities and regional centres, strengthening our global role as an exporter of goods and services or making our infrastructure more resilient.

Initiatives, on the other hand, are proposals that have been identified to potentially address a nationally-significant problem, but require further development to determine if they are the best course of action.

Generally, an infrastructure solution or a particular problem should be identified as an initiative first. Then the detailed business case work, including problem definition and options analysis, should be completed and then assessed by the Infrastructure Australia Board.

We pressure test every assumption in each business case that is presented to us. What we are looking for is clear evidence of the economic merits of a given proposal – in other words, evidence that it truly addresses a pressing need.

Cities and public transport

As Phil mentioned, in the 2018 Priority List we have identified a $55 billion pipeline of potentially nation-shaping infrastructure investments in our cities and regions.

This year's list features 96 major infrastructure proposals. Of these, six are listed as High Priority Projects, six are Priority Projects, 24 High Priority Initiatives, and 60 Priority Initiatives. So we are again presenting a long list of options for governments to invest in.

Reflecting the demands of a growing population, Australia’s cities and public transport needs are a major focus of the 2018 Priority List.

In particular, we have identified the need to prioritise projects that build capacity along key transport corridors in our inner cities and make better use of what we’ve already got.

A new investment-ready project we have included in the 2018 Priority List is the $1 billion Brisbane Metro.

This is an important example of how we should be integrating transport and land use planning, and taking a strategic approach that makes better use of existing assets.

We have also identified new initiatives to improve rail network capacity in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to meet unprecedented demand in these growing capital cities.

Connectivity between cities

In addition to these public transport initiatives, we have identified a number of new opportunities to improve connectivity between capitals and neighbouring cities.

This includes improvements to rail capacity on the Melbourne–Geelong and Brisbane–Gold Coast rail lines, as well as rail upgrades on lines from Sydney to the regional centres of Newcastle and Wollongong.

Upgrading this infrastructure will be key to enable our satellite cities to develop stronger economic and employment foundations and links to our bigger cities.

Regional hubs

The 2018 Priority List also recognises that efficient, liveable and productive regional hubs are national economic assets and should be a key priority of every level of government.

There is a continued need to focus future infrastructure investment on supporting access to and growth in our regions and aim to get the most return nation-wide.

In addition to Inland Rail, which is currently listed as a Priority Project, we have identified the $800 million Beerburrum to Nambour Rail Upgrade in South East Queensland as a new Priority Project.

Intended to increase capacity on the North Coast Line, this project will facilitate freight and passenger transport access between Queensland’s coastal population centres from Brisbane to Cairns.

Other new regional initiatives on the 2018 Priority List include the Bunbury Outer Ring Road in Western Australia, which joins a wide variety of other regional initiatives already on the List including upgrades to the Newell and New England Highways.

Assessment framework

We have been pleased with the input we have received from across Australia by all levels of government, as well as from the business sector and the community.

More and more, we are seeing Australia’s political leaders consult the Priority List as the source of informed analysis on our most pressing infrastructure needs, and to determine which projects should be prioritised for state and federal funding.

This is primarily because we have been able to establish a consistent, transparent process around how projects are assessed and Australia’s key infrastructure priorities are determined – which gives the Priority List credibility as the source of advice on potential infrastructure investment.

Since 2016 we have made a number of updates to improve the clarity of our guidance and processes.

Our most recent update, which we published just last week, provides further guidance in the areas of land use impacts and benefits, post-completion reviews and the treatment of climate change risks.

We hope that these updates will make the process of submitting business cases easier for proponents, and lead to better infrastructure decisions for Australia.

Concluding remarks

Today I have outlined some challenges, and a significant pipeline of investment which must now be considered by Australian governments.

$25 billion worth of projects is now off the list and moved into the delivery phase. This includes:

  • Melbourne Metro Rail and Murray Basin Rail in Victoria
  • Adelaide-Tarcoola Rail Upgrade Acceleration in South Australia
  • Bringelly Road Upgrade Stage 2 in Western Sydney and the
  • Progressive upgrades of the Bruce Highway in Queensland.

There is a clear commitment across the political divide to deliver better infrastructure outcomes for all Australians, and we hope to see this continue.

We are changing the way infrastructure decisions are being made in Australia. And with this updated evidence base, governments at all levels can embrace the opportunities in the short, medium and long term to deliver better infrastructure services for all Australians.

Thank you.