Infrastructure Australia has just issued its National Infrastructure Plan. On past experience, state governments and the infrastructure industry will immediately search for the list of big projects.
But they would be advised to take a different approach this time. The Plan is much more than just a shopping list.
Arguably for the first time, the nation now has an infrastructure plan that is soundly based and credible. In Infrastructure Australia’s words, “In developing the Plan, we have prioritised the user — the commuter waiting for a train, the family paying their electricity bill and the business looking to capitalise on overseas markets”.
This reflects the changes to Infrastructure Australia itself with a new independent board and clearer governance. On the surface this may not seem earth-shattering, but we should not underestimate the impact of these arrangements. The board’s immediate task was to undertake a comprehensive audit of Australia’s infrastructure needs. Again, seemingly obvious, but not something which had been done before.
Quite simply, the Plan puts a clear holistic strategy ahead of individual projects. Of the 93 priorities on the priority list, only 50 are designated projects, with the remaining 43 being initiatives or policy solutions. Not all constraints need to be solved through financial investment. Infrastructure Australia makes the case that unless significant policy reform is implemented, sufficient funding will not be available to meet future infrastructure demand.
National infrastructure planning and the Australian Government’s approach to infrastructure funding will fundamentally change on the back of this Plan. It is a genuine game-changer and for the first time infrastructure planning exceeds the duration of governing terms.