Infrastructure Australia’s 2020 Infrastructure Priority List presents a record 147 nationally significant proposals with a project pipeline of almost $60 billion, designed to guide the next 15 years of Australian infrastructure investment. With 37 new infrastructure proposals included in this year’s publication, Infrastructure Australia’s Chief Executive, Romilly Madew, outlines the key areas of investments needed to meet the challenges of the future.

As a Federal government independent advisory body, Infrastructure Australia has a critical role to play in providing a credible pipeline of investments for governments at all levels.

That role is underpinned by the maintenance of the Infrastructure Priority List to guide investment towards projects that will deliver the best outcomes for Australia’s growing communities.

Developed using data from the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, and submissions from state and territory governments, industry and the community – including more than 250 submissions over the past 12 months, the Priority List provides all levels of government with a list of infrastructure investment opportunities for the near, medium and longer term.

The 2020 Priority List is a consensus list of opportunities to improve both Australian living standards and productivity, and reflects both the diversity and urgency of Australia’s infrastructure needs over the next 15 years across economy infrastructure such as transport, energy, water, communications and social infrastructure, including housing and education.

The Infrastructure Priority List is separated into both 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.

Projects remain on the Priority List until delivery or construction begins.

In addition to driving national investment through our identification of priority projects, we also use the Priority List to draw attention to problems or opportunities that need solutions developed.

Initiatives are proposals that Infrastructure Australia has determined have the potential to address a nationally significant problem or opportunity and we include them on the Priority List to indicate that further development and rigorous assessment of these proposals is a national priority.

A focus on resilience in our infrastructure networks

The latest Priority List is the largest and most comprehensive list of investments ever put forward by Infrastructure Australia, and includes forward-thinking proposals that speak to the need for strategic planning and infrastructure investment to enhance our quality of life.

However, this year’s Priority List is significant not only because of its size and diversity but because it also comes at a particularly pivotal time for infrastructure decision-making.

In the wake of catastrophic bushfires, floods and the ongoing drought, and now in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s clear our infrastructure faces unprecedented risks.

In addition to environmental change, our infrastructure needs are also changing from new technological demands to unprecedented population growth.

Our work aims to address these pressures and ensure public funds are directed towards projects that will deliver the best outcomes for all Australians.

That is why throughout this list and within our 2019 Infrastructure Audit, resilience has formed a key part of our work. We have identified a real opportunity for government and industry to work together on risk and resilience planning.

Headlining this year’s resilience focused Infrastructure Priority List , are five new High Priority National Initiatives covering water, the nation’s rapidly growing waste problem, coastal inundation and road maintenance.

These inclusions are about encouraging action now to better understand the risks our nation will encounter in the years to come.

water pipelineWater as a precious resource not only in times of drought

Compounding issues of unprecedented population growth, severe drought and other environmental change have called for a forward-thinking focus on our resilience strategies within the water sector.

As we outlined in the 2019 Audit, average rainfall in some parts of Australia has declined by 11 per cent since the 1990s, and the average temperature across Australia is expected to rise by 0.6-1.5oC by 2030.

While we know there has been a spotlight on water in recent years, we know that the water crisis in this country is not going away, and we need to keep water infrastructure on the agenda.

To ensure that water stays on the investment agenda, this year Infrastructure Australia has specifically identified a new High Priority Initiative for a National Water Strategy as well as a new Town and City Water Security High Priority Initiative among other state-based water infrastructure proposals.

To date, we know that each jurisdiction has typically focused on their own urban water networks, but it has created separate regulatory frameworks.

A National Water Strategy would help guide governments, the private sector and Australia’s population on how to efficiently and sustainably capture, use and manage water.

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.

We are pleased to see progress on this important issue. We know the Australian Government has recognised the significance of securing future water security by establishing the National Water Grid Authority, and we look forward to collaborating with this new body on the investments and policy reforms best placed to respond to this challenge.

Keeping our regions connected

Regional Australia also emerged as a focus of the latest edition of the Infrastructure Priority List. At Infrastructure Australia, we recognise there is a continued need to focus future infrastructure investment on supporting access to and growth in our regions.

Despite the challenges facing remote communities, some of our least populous and most remote regions also hold the greatest potential, with infrastructure a catalyst for growth.

In the 2020 Priority List, we have identified key initiatives that specifically address concerns our regions face in the short, medium and long term, such as water security, digital connectivity, mobile telecommunications, and freight and road safety measures.

Truly staying connected requires not only safe and efficient transport options, but also ensuring our towns and regional communities have the same access to telecommunications as the rest of Australia, which is why we identified a New High Priority Initiative for mobile telecommunications coverage in regional and remote areas.

As well as providing health and education advantages, access to reliable telecommunications can also be critical in emergency situations such as extreme weather, bushfires, flooding or serious trauma events.

A lack of mobile coverage can delay response times and, as we saw in the 2020 bushfire crisis, the resilience of our telecommunication infrastructure can also impact on basic access to essential services such as online banking and eftpos services.

While the mobile black spot program has improved coverage in rural and remote areas, the program’s approach uses residential density, rather than productivity or safety as its key metric for deciding where investments should go.

We have also identified a need for a more comprehensive evidence base on mobile coverage to improve decision-making around placement of mobile telecommunications infrastructure.

The Priority List post-COVID-19

It goes without saying that Australia is facing unprecedented times, including a changing climate, a re-ordering of the world economy, and a reshaping of global institutions and norms.

Closer to home, while battling through the confines of a global pandemic, we are still in the midst of picking up the pieces from one of the most catastrophic bushfire seasons this nation has ever seen.

On top of this devastation, our population is growing and changing, the structure of the economy is shifting, and rapid technology change is fundamentally reshaping our day-to-day lives.

This will all have significant implications for how we plan, build and deliver infrastructure into the future.

There is no doubt that infrastructure will be critical in our recovery from the economic hibernation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, we are already seeing that continued activity in the infrastructure sector is offering important economic continuity.

However, we must ensure the current pipeline of projects is not delayed. With this in mind, investment in infrastructure as part of a recovery will need to consider timelines moving investment from plans to projects.

Governments are considering a staged approach to investment and the Infrastructure Priority List will continue to play its role in supporting an informed national conversation about Australia’s spending priorities.

A living document

The Infrastructure Priority List is a living document, with new projects added as the Infrastructure Australia Board receives and assesses project business cases.

To ensure the Priority List remains current, we have continued to assess the record number of initiative submissions we received at the end of 2019.

Some of these updates were approved by the Infrastructure Australia Board in April and will be added to the IPL soon.

The 2020 Infrastructure Priority List, complete with summaries for each project and initiative included in the current edition, is available now on the Infrastructure Australia website.

The 2020 Priority List is also available as an interactive map on the Infrastructure Australia website www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au, which sets out a detailed view of infrastructure issues and opportunities identified around the country.

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