coastal road

Industry associations have released their submissions to the Federal Government’s independent review of Infrastructure Australia (IA) ahead of the closing window on August 19.

Led by Nicole Lockwood and Mike Mrdak, the review will examine Infrastructure Australia’s role as an independent adviser to the Federal Government on nationally significant infrastructure priorities, and determine what changes may be needed to IA’s focus, priorities and – if necessary – legislation.

Ms Lockwood is the Chair of Infrastructure Western Australia, a member of the Boards of the Green Building Council of Australia, the WA Association for Mental Health, and is also a non-executive Director of NBN Co. 

Mr Mrdak is President and CEO for Australia and New Zealand of NEC. He is a previous Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, and of the Department of Communications and the Arts.

The review aims to play a key role in revitalising IA and helping the Federal Government deliver infrastructure policy and investment decisions. 

Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, said, “Infrastructure Australia was created to provide expert advice to Government regarding infrastructure priorities across the nation. 

“In recent years, the organisation has been allowed to drift with partisan board appointments and a lack of clear direction. It’s clear a review has been necessary and that’s why Labor committed to one before the election.

“In Nicole Lockwood and Mike Mrdak, we have two of Australia’s pre-eminent infrastructure experts who will conduct a thorough and independent review of Infrastructure Australia and make recommendations to get it back on track.”

Ms King said Australia has big challenges ahead, whether that be in dealing with population growth, managing skills shortages, decarbonising the transport and infrastructure sector, or dealing with the uptake of electric vehicles.

“This review and the changes it proposes will be essential in ensuring that the Federal Government receives the expert and non-partisan advice it needs to build a better future,” Ms King said.

“I thank the board members, some of whom have agreed to step down, for their understanding and contribution as the Government reviews and refreshes Infrastructure Australia.”

Key industry associations including Roads Australia (RA) and The Business Council of Australia (BCA) have made submissions to the review, identifying areas for potential reforms. 

RA has made several recommendations to enhance cross-jurisdictional planning, allowing the transport infrastructure sector to be more productive and deliver a wider range of benefits to the community.

RA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Michael Kilgariff, said, “The delivery of the nation’s massive pipeline of transport projects currently faces multiple challenges, including significant supply chain constraints, rapidly increasing costs for materials and an extremely tight labour market with skills shortages.

“Improved productivity of the infrastructure sector is crucial and requires a collaborative effort across governments, industry and the community. IA has a pivotal role in championing and delivering these outcomes – and RA’s submission to this independent review sets out how that can be done.”

Mr Kilgariff said improved productivity of the infrastructure sector will be crucial and requires a collaborative effort across Governments, industry and the community.

“As one example, IA’s Infrastructure Priority List identifies currently unfunded nationally significant proposals. While this information is valuable, it does not in itself constitute a forward pipeline of work upon which industry can make informed decisions regarding contracting opportunities, skills and resourcing,” Mr Kilgariff said. 

“There are currently multiple project pipelines across jurisdictions, including at a national level. With the present level of investment, the supply chain challenges and skills scarcity issues, it would be beneficial for there to be a nationally coordinated forward project pipeline. Our submission recommends this could be undertaken by IA in partnership with the states and territories.

“As part of this, we have also recommended that IA expands its excellent work around market capacity to focus on specific sectors in more detail, which will enable governments and industry to monitor labour workforce supply and demand for skills in high demand transport areas and plan accordingly. This will be increasingly important as digital technology plays an increased role in design and asset maintenance.”

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) said Australia is currently in the midst of a historic period of government infrastructure investment and delivery.

The BCA submission outlined the importance of a renewed IA that could provide advice on the framework for the selection and assessment of projects that form a Federal Investment Pipeline. 

The submission also highlighted IA’s role of providing objective expert advice directly to decision-makers, independent from sponsoring agencies or ministers. It stressed that IA’s policy and research work should have deference to the priorities of the Federal Government, while ensuring its recommendations remain independent.

The BCA said IA must also build further trust with the states, so it can lead coordination across the country on project sequencing considering the capacity of the market. 

A draft report of the review is expected within three months, and a final report shortly thereafter.

Road Australia’s submission can be found here

The Business Council of Australia’s submission can be found here

The review’s Terms of Reference are:

  1. The Review will examine Infrastructure Australia’s (IA’s) role as an independent adviser to the Commonwealth on nationally significant infrastructure priorities, and its capacity to deliver on this role.
  2. The Review will make recommendations on reforms that may be required to ensure IA is able to fully deliver on its responsibilities, including but not limited to:
  3. Functions
  4. The advice and products for which IA is responsible, and whether these remain fit-for-purpose
  5. How IA’s work relates to the work of state-level infrastructure bodies,

iii. How IA’s work addresses the priorities and requirements of the Australian Government.

  1. Governance and administration
  2. The optimal size, mandate, responsibilities, and composition of the IA Board, including the experience, skills, and expertise of members
  3. Whether IA’s administrative arrangements are appropriate to support delivery of its role and functions

iii. IA’s relationship with the responsible Minister

  1. Legislation
  2. Any legislative changes that may be required
  3. The Review will be conducted by Independent Reviewers and supported by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts
  4. The Review will provide a report to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC)’s submission to the independent review has called for action and implementation.

ALC has worked closely with IA and successive governments to deliver the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy (NFSCS) and advance the development of the National Urban Freight Planning Principles (the principles), which together form a strong foundation for the future work of IA.

ALC CEO, Dr Hermione Parsons, said the review of IA should focus on ensuring the agency has the capacity to re-focus infrastructure investment on productivity uplift for the national economy and improved safety outcomes.

“It is appropriate for IA to take a whole economic view and lead the other jurisdictionally based infrastructure advisory bodies to develop a coherent infrastructure pipeline for the entire nation.

“ALC strongly argues that it is critical that the review delivers action and implementation, rather than review and duplication. There is already cross-jurisdictional agreement in place, in the form of the NFSCS and the freight planning principles.”

Dr Parsons said it is important that investment decisions are made through the prism of implementing these two important pieces of work.

Given the constrained labour market conditions, global material shortages and tight fiscal environment governments are operating within, it is more important than ever to ensure strategic project investment.

“IA should embed the principles into project assessments to ensure any major infrastructure investment takes into consideration the needs of freight.

“From the work government and industry has already done, we know that we need to continue to deliver transport infrastructure, optimise the way we move freight and better plan for the future,” Dr Parsons said.  

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