Fast growth poses infrastructure challenge

Katina Curtis and Marnie Banger
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australia needs to commit to spending $200 billion every five years on a range of infrastructure projects if it wants to keep up with the pace of population growth, the nation’s infrastructure advisor has warned.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the federal government has already ramped up infrastructure spending, with its focus on getting projects already in the pipeline up and running.

Infrastructure Australia has warned a new wave of investment is needed to ensure roads and public transport, schools, water, electricity and health services support people’s quality of life and economic productivity.

The most visible example of the impact of poor infrastructure is the increasingly congested roads and crowded public transport in our biggest cities, the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit has found.

At the moment, this congestion costs the economy $19 billion a year, but if no more is spent on upgrades, that will double to nearly $40 billion by 2031.

Less visible, but just as frustrating, are hospitals and schools that are ageing or reaching capacity, overcrowded parks and city green spaces, ageing water pipes, and the quality of services like the NBN.

As well as the new investment needed, Infrastructure Australia has warned of a mounting maintenance backlog, much of which is unquantified.

“The infrastructure program must do more than plug the immediate funding gap,” Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romily Madew told reporters.

“It needs to deliver long-term changes to the way we plan, fund and deliver infrastructure.”

Mr Morrison stressed the report’s findings pre-date the 2019/20 budget, in which the government announced $23 billion worth of infrastructure projects, 160 of which were focused on busting congestion.

The government has committed $100 billion to infrastructure over the next 10 years.

“What the report calls for is obviously continued and upgraded investment in infrastructure. The government is doing that,” the prime minister told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

“The money is there to get on with it, and that’s exactly what we’re seeking to do in cooperation and in partnership with the states.”

Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge said the report also shows the need for the Victorian government to build the East West Link, for which the federal government has offered up to $4 billion.

But Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused the coalition of ripping the “guts” out of infrastructure funding in 2014.

“The government comes out with some big figures on infrastructure. But when you look at the detail, the investment simply isn’t there.”

He said the government must bring infrastructure funding forward, backing calls from the central bank and economists.

Infrastructure Australia said planning problems have occurred because population projections have traditionally been based on past growth areas.

Actual growth has been faster and in different areas than anticipated.

Ms Madew said the dominance of the urban fringe has ended, but infrastructure in the outer suburbs of Australia’s cities still needs major investment.

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