The property sector and industry associations have welcomed the initial findings of the Australian Infrastructure Audit, particularly recommendations for a more integrated approach to planning and greater investment in rail and public transport.
The Green Building Council of Australia renewed the call for the government to appoint a Minister for Cities, describing investment in our cities as “mission critical”.
“The audit underscores the importance of making our cities work – with cities expected to contribute $1.6 trillion to the economy by 2031, a 90 per cent increase on their current contribution,” GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew said. “It also clearly outlines the future we face if we don’t get it right – with skyrocketing congestion costs, high emissions and rising inequality just the start.”
A minister for cities is something many industry groups have been advocating since the Abbott Government came to power and disbanded the Major Cities Unit. The ALP has already appointed Anthony Albanese as its Shadow Minister for Cities.
“A Minister for Cities would ensure a more integrated and collaborative approach to planning and delivery of critical infrastructure, and drive the reforms needed to connect policies and programs across all levels of government,” Ms Madew said.
“The price of inaction is more than the predicted $53 billion annual cost of congestion. The price of inaction will be cities that are less liveable, productive and sustainable for future generations of Australians. We must invest in the engine rooms of our nation’s productivity and future potential.”
The Urban Development Institute of Australia said the audit report provided a “stark warning” for governments to start improving investment in urban infrastructure.
UDIA national president Cameron Shephard said insufficient infrastructure was already a major problem for urban Australia.
“Most people living in any large Australian city would have experienced first-hand how transport and other infrastructure is failing to meet demand,” he said.
“The Australian Infrastructure Audit Report shows that without action, that’s only going to get much worse.”
Mr Shephard said the report’s finding that public transport demand was likely to double by 2031 showed that the government could not limit its investment to road projects.
“New infrastructure proposals should be selected based on their economic merits, and subject to rigorous cost benefit analysis to ensure that tax payers get good value for money,” he said.
The Property Council of Australia said the audit should “serve as a wake up call for how we plan our cities and manage growth in coming decades.”
“The Australian Infrastructure Audit is a landmark report that brings home both the economic and social imperative to better plan for and manage our nation’s growth,” PCA chief executive Ken Morrison said.
“As we head toward a projected population of 30.5 million people by 2031 with the size of our major cities almost doubling, this audit is a wake up call for smarter city building, increased investment and hugely improved planning.”
Mr Morrison said that while funding the nation’s infrastructure priorities was “a task beyond the ability of any government in isolation”, the government did have a responsibility to create an “attractive and stable environment” to facilitate private investment.
“The Audit forecasts that Australia will require 5.4 million new homes in the next 26 years. On average over the last decade we have been building 153,000 per annum,” he said.
“Matching this growth in demand with new construction means resolving issues around infill, density, and the alignment of land releases with new and existing infrastructure and transport developments.
“We must have a plan for infrastructure that supports housing and population growth, while lifting productivity and engaging the community.”
Chair of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors’ and Adelaide lord mayor Martin Haese said with almost nine in 10 Australians living in urban Australia, and 80 per cent of all goods and services produced in cities, our future as a strong, secure and sustainable country was at risk and would largely be determined by the ability for our cities to operative effectively.
“It is unsatisfactory to allow the unchecked and continued growth of this level of congestion in our cities,” Mr Haese said.
“Our growing population, and the nation’s economy deserves the support of an effective and efficient transport system, which provides choice to commuters.
“The CCCLM called on the federal government for investment in infrastructure in 2007; the problems identified then still exist, are still not being effectively addressed and are clearly still growing.”
The Urban Taskforce said the audit’s findings on road congestion raised questions around where jobs are being located.
“The Infrastructure Australia audit on road congestion is a wake-up call on the failure of urban planning to influence where jobs are located in cities like Sydney,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said.
Mr Johnson said that excessive journeys to work were the cause of a majority of the congestion on seven key Sydney routes that were identified as having the highest economic costs due to congestion and long travel times by 2031.
“With Sydney’s population predicted to almost double by 2061 road congestion will only get worse unless we get a closer relationship between where people live and where jobs are located. Currently over 200,000 workers who live in Western Sydney must travel to the East to get work. Clearly this clogs the roads for hours in the morning and again in the evening,” he said.
“Enrico Moretti’s recent book The New Geography of Jobs explains the dramatic changes that are happening around the world with shifts to the knowledge economy and to the creative industries. These new jobs can be located close to residential precincts and mixed use urban renewal areas can combine clean jobs with apartment living where many people can walk or cycle to nearby work.
“While major infrastructure road projects will be required as a matter of priority, the more important planning initiative for Australia’s cities will be to minimise car usage through the location of jobs closer to where people live and in encouraging walkable communities and the use of public transport.
“Sydney’s urban footprint cannot grow significantly so doubling the population by 2061 will require some creative thinking to minimise congestion. The answer is unlikely to be to double the width of our roads.
“As the city becomes more dense, it becomes more important to focus on minimising the need to travel through clever planning decisions. The swing to apartment living where urban densities encourage mixed uses within walking distances is likely to be part of the solution. The proposed Greater Sydney Commission will need to grasp the congestion problem as it sets out the future shape and structure of the city.”
The Australasian Railway Association welcomed the audit’s focus on rail and public transport infrastructure as a key element in reducing congestion in our major cities. It also highlighted the importance of rail in terms of freight movements and national productivity.
ARA’s interim chairman Bob Herbert said the report was “line ball” with ARA’s concerns about growing congestion in our cities that must be addressed by governments, federal and state, working together to underpin our transport infrastructure requirements.
“Government, with the support of the private sector, must take decisive action to meet the nation’s burgeoning infrastructure needs,” Mr Herbert said.
“Rail infrastructure underpinning passenger transport must be in place to meet population growth which, according to the Audit, will swell demand for public transport by 55 per cent in Sydney, 121 per cent in Melbourne and around 89 per cent in other capital cities.
“This is a massive challenge and it will require an imaginative approach as to how best to invest, fund and finance these infrastructure necessities.
“Most of all, planning to meet these infrastructure needs requires a collaborative approach between governments and commitments that endure their election cycles. There will be great benefit flowing to the economy from greater certainty from a well-planned, committed, Australia-wide pipeline of projects.”
In addition to greater provision of passenger rail services, ARA also supported the report’s key findings for freight rail infrastructure, in particular the benefits of growth in modal share of rail in handling the overall freight task, expected to grow by 80 per cent by 2031.
“Rail will need to play a growing role in the movement of goods between ports and inland freight terminals, as well as the movement of containerised and general freight over longer distances; the Inland Rail must play a big part in this freight future,” Mr Herbert said.
“Furthermore, short haul rail utilisation between ports and intermodal terminals is another key issue for rail freight infrastructure and we need the support of the Federal Government to help primary industries, such as mining and agriculture, have a greater ability to move their goods on rail reliably and competitively.”
Engineers Australia said tackling the congestion issue was crucial.
“Engineers Australia has long spoken about how pockets of congestion around Australia as having a negative effect on the country,” Stephen Durkin, chief executive of Engineers Australia, said.
“Infrastructure Australia’s audit has now quantified this congestion, reinforcing it as a significant national issue.
“While the economic effects are clearly important, taking longer to get where we are going also affects the liveability of our cities. More time in our cars, or on public transport, means more exhaust fumes, increased noise pollution from traffic and more time spent away from families commuting.
“The critical next step to avoiding this gridlocked future is developing a strong, consultative 15 year national infrastructure plan based on the research in this audit. Infrastructure Australia has identified a problem, now it’s up to government to put in place solutions.”
Chief executive of Consult Australia Megan Motto said coming off the back of a federal budget that contained little new spending for infrastructure, the report highlighted the “urgency of more substantive investment”.
“The government’s much promoted infrastructure spend of $50 billion will be outstripped by congestion costs of $53 billion as soon as 2031,” Ms Motto said.
“The federal budget was one of the first in memory with no new funds for major projects. This report highlights that now is not the time to take a year off from new infrastructure investment.”
She said there needed to be an end to the “flip flopping” on projects between elections, and that the right settings have to be achieved to attract private sector investment.
“‘If commuters think their trip to work is bad now, then this report demonstrates they need to start voting with an eye to their commute over the next decade,” Ms Motto said.
“Critically this report illustrates that political point scoring and debates about road vs rail, or cities vs regions are just wasting time.
“We must consider investments with a view to the infrastructure network as a whole. Investments in public transport will ease pressure on our roads, and investment in our roads, rail, ports, pipelines and airports are critical to support freight movements, the export of our goods and services, and jobs growth.
“All governments have a responsibility to maximise their infrastructure investment based on the benefits for jobs and productivity, not just tolls and patronage forecasts. Whether it is road, rail, public transport or freight, in cities or regions, we will all benefit.
“Whether we are talking about tradies getting to their customers, or parents dropping their kids off at child care, ultimately we are all dependent on the infrastructure investments of decades past for the quality of life we enjoy today.”