The Liberal-National Coalition, led by Scott Morrison, has won the 2019 Federal Election. Having campaigned on strategic infrastructure investments, the question arises: what role did infrastructure play in the outcome of the election, and what does a Coalition victory mean for the sector going forward?
In a fiercely fought election campaign, the Federal Government and Opposition both ran on platforms of job creation and economic security. Infrastructure was often at the forefront of debate, with discussions around planning for growing urban populations and the underutilised potential of Australia’s regions.
The Federal Government’s victory can perhaps be attributed to its 2019-20 Budget, founded on the exciting promise of $100 billion in infrastructure investment. Whether it can deliver on that promise over its next term will be the next test for the Morrison Government.
A budget full of policy… but not just yet
So what role did infrastructure play in determining this outcome? For a start, the Budget gave the Coalition a chance to launch its re-election campaign with a detailed vision of Australia’s future.
Crucially, however, the Federal Government did not commit to implementing this suite of investments immediately. Only a small percentage of funds will be made available for projects like the Melbourne-Geelong Rail Link in early forward estimates.
The Coalition leveraged the Budget to articulate a clear narrative around how their transport infrastructure investments would kill two birds with one stone, easing urban congestion and overpopulation and helping struggling regional economies.
This dual-commitment was reflected in its cabinet, having portfolios for both Infrastructure and Regional Development, held by Nationals Leader Michael McCormack, and for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, held by Alan Tudge.
By placing their investments as part of a broader picture, the Federal Government was able to make a case for why their investments might be necessary.
Queensland: the deciding state
It is clear that Queensland’s rejection of Labor was instrumental in returning the Morrison Government to power. And with Queensland receiving $4 billion in infrastructure funding in the Coalition’s Budget, the second-best funded state, it is tempting to put this down to strategically-placed election promises.
And with funding announcements in Queensland well before the Budget was released or the election was announced, it appears the Federal Government began its election campaign early.
In the months leading up to the April Budget announcement, the Federal Government announced a swathe of transport infrastructure projects across the state. These included:
- Millions of upgrades for the Warrego Highway, Lindsey Highway, Carnavon Highway and Bruce Highway
- Over a billion dollars for transport projects through the Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund, which Labor promised to replace
- Upgrades to ease congestion in Brisbane, attended by the Prime Minister himself
- Major milestones and positive data on Inland Rail, for which Labor announced it would launch an Inquiry
- Millions on road safety as part of the Black Spot Program
- A City Deal for the South East Queensland region
- $200 million for Townsville’s water infrastructure before its devastating floods
Cumulatively, these projects may have laid the groundwork for Queensland’s swing towards the LNP.
In addition, the Coalition also went hard on water infrastructure, announcing plans to expand the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund, establish a new Future Drought Fund, the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority and a National Water Grid.
With Adani’s controversial Carmichael mine’s groundwater management plan getting a green light just in time for the election, Queenslanders may have seen both job security and water security despite major criticism over the project’s environmental impact.
In an election where sustainable planning, renewable energy and zero-emissions vehicles were major topics of debate, swinging a state towards roads and the Adani mine was a remarkable feat.
What does a Coalition victory mean for the sector?
While the re-elected Federal Government has flexibility to dictate policy in a range of areas, the Budget’s $100 billion infrastructure pledge means that it will be judged on its ability to meet key funding commitments.
Some of the high-profile projects the Government have pledged include:
- $2 billion Fast Rail Link between Melbourne and Geelong, designed to cut travel times in half to thirty minutes and open up the regional city
- $1.6 billion for road and rail infrastructure across Perth and regional Western Australia
- $1 billion for upgrades to the Princes Highway over Victoria, NSW and SA
- $1.14 billion to the Suburban Roads Upgrades in Melbourne, designed to reduce congestion on suburban arterial roads in south-eastern and northern areas of the city
- An additional $1 billion for the Roads to Recovery program
- $3.5 billion for Stage 1 of the Western Sydney North South Rail Link
- $3 billion for the second round of Urban Congestion Fund (including a Commuter Car Parking Fund)
- $1.5 billion for the North-South Corridor in South Australia
- $550 million for the Black Spot Program, which delivers vehicle safety infrastructure at high-risk areas and crash spots
- An additional $275 million each for the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program and the Bridges Renewal Program
- Funding for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator
The Federal Government has also pledged to establish the following authorities and bodies:
- A national Office of Road Safety
- A Road Safety Innovation Fund
- A freight data hub
- A National Faster Rail Agency to identify and support the development of fast rail connections between capital cities and key regional centres
- A National Water Grid to deliver strategic planning and water management for water policy and water infrastructure across Australia.
View a more comprehensive list of infrastructure commitments in the 2019-20 Federal Budget here.
Infrastructure to remain a key policy issue
Questions still swirl around the future of Australian infrastructure. Without federal support, the Victorian Government is facing a $10 billion hole in their budget for the Suburban Rail Loop in Melbourne. At the same time, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has already suggested that his government will be prepared to wholly fund the controversial East-West Link road to encourage concurrent construction with the North-East Link road.
Labor’s major policy proposal to provide $1 billion to begin securing the corridor for a High Speed Rail Link between Brisbane and Sydney also appears to be shelved indefinitely. It is also unclear whether there will be a Federal Inquiry into Inland Rail.
At the time of writing, we do not know whether Mr Morrison will organise a cabinet reshuffle and meld infrastructure portfolios.
Nevertheless, with Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Anthony Albanese, being a strong contender for Labor leadership, it is highly likely that infrastructure will continue to be a battleground of federal policy in the years ahead.