AUSTRALIA'S productivity and quality of life will be tested, with population and economic growth set to cause increasing congestion and bottlenecks, according to the nation's first-ever comprehensive infrastructure audit.
Releasing the Australian Infrastructure Audit Report last week, Infrastructure Australia Chairman Mark Birrell said Australia must act now before these demand pressures affect our living standards and economic competitiveness.
"Experiences of transport networks failing to keep pace with demand, water quality standards being uneven, energy costs being too high, telecommunication services being outdated, or freight corridors being neglected are now so common that they necessitate a strategic response," Mr Birrell said.
The Audit strategically identifies the drivers of infrastructure demand and the impact they are having. It also outlines the policy, funding and delivery challenges Australia must face.
"Australia has handled growth and demands like this before and I am optimistic that we can do so again. The challenge is managing our success so that infrastructure delivers the economic benefits and living standards Australians expect," Mr Birrell said.
The report makes 81 findings including that:
- Australia's population is expected to grow from 22.3 million in 2011 to 30.5 million in 2031—with the majority of the growth occurring in our capital cities.
- The expected population growth reinforces the economic importance of our capital cities. They contributed $854 billion to our economy in 2011 and are projected to contribute $1,621 billion in 2031.
- Congestion threatens economic growth and living standards and could cost Australia $53 billion by 2031.
- Without action, road travel times in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra are expected to increase by at least 20 per cent in the most congested corridors by 2031.
- On average, demand for public transport in our capital cities is set to almost double over the next 20 years.
- Hot spots such as the Pilbara and Gladstone also merit close attention. Today they contribute $44 billion to the national economy. By 2031 this is projected to more than double to $110 billion.
- The national land freight task is expected to grow by 80 per cent between by 2031, with a large component expected to be handled by road freight vehicles.
- Maintaining and maximising the efficiency of existing infrastructure will be critical, and in many cases will be of equal or greater importance as developing new infrastructure projects.
The report also finds that institutional arrangements in the transport sector don't provide sufficient funding to address the current gaps.
"Without a total increase in both public and private funding of infrastructure, and market reforms to strengthen the transport and water sectors, we won't have the infrastructure that a growing population and our globally-focussed economy deserve," Mr Birrell said.
"The telecommunications and energy sectors highlight how well-structured reforms can lead to positive outcomes for consumers. However, these reforms need to be deepened and applied across other sectors, as markets can drive higher standards of service delivery."
The Audit proposes a number of major changes to the way we plan and deliver new infrastructure, especially:
- Improving governance and modernising regulatory settings so we get the best out of our infrastructure.
- Boosting transparency and project assessment processes to enable informed choices.
- Greater sharing of information on infrastructure performance and outcomes to improve long-term decision making.
Infrastructure Australia will be consulting with the public, governments, business and peak bodies on the Audit as it prepares the Australian Infrastructure Plan.
The 15 year Plan, which is due to be submitted to government in late 2015, will make recommendations on project investment priorities, with a reinvigorated Infrastructure Priority List, and specific areas for policy reform.