It might be a sign of changing times or Romilly Madew’s green pedigree coming through, but climate adaption and response projects topped Infrastructure Australia’s priority list for 2020.
Ms Madew, Infrastructure Australia’s chief executive, was the former head of the Green Building Council of Australia. The recently released Infrastructure Priority List suggests her focus on sustainability hasn’t gone away.
She said resilience emerged as a key theme of the independent advisory body’s 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit.
“This focus continues to be reflected in our latest edition of the Infrastructure Priority List.”
Three of the nine new projects will improve water security, including a national water strategy and a town and city water security strategy – both stamped with the “high priority” label.
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With half of Australia’s coastline vulnerable to rising sea levels (80 per cent of the Victorian coast and 62 per cent of the Queensland coast), a coastal inundation protection strategy is also a high priority.
A flood up to 1 metre costs the average home between $60,000 and $80,000, according to the report, with these figures set to climb as relocation becomes the only option for frequently flooded spots.
Early flood warnings and evacuations
The infrastructure options on the table include seawalls, buffer zones and other physical infrastructure to protect people and property, or infrastructure that allows early flood warnings and evacuations such as those in places at high risk of tsunamis.
The report also hasn’t ruled out policy actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and planning controls that stop people building in vulnerable areas.
The independent body also wants to see infrastructure to improve Australia’s ability to manage its waste and recycling, which has suffered since places like China and Malaysia stopped taking recycling products from other countries.
As another high priority initiative, the body is calling for a national strategy that sets out a program of investment in new waste recovery and reprocessing infrastructure.
Action to fix the waste problem is ramping up at the state level, with the Victorian government announcing its circular economy strategy today, which includes a four-bin recycling system, a container deposit scheme and nearly $100 million to support businesses, drive innovation and create local jobs.
Slashing the time it takes to get from Sydney to Canberra by train is another new high priority initiative. Because it’s three hours slower than flying and one hour slower than driving, only 1 per cent of people travelling this common route choose the train – the most sustainable option.
The agency also flagged energy security as a priority, with plans to transform Western Australia’s grid (the South West Interconnected System) so that it can handle large amounts of renewable energy.
Regional Australia also got some much needed attention, with calls to improve mobile telecommunications coverage in remote areas and improve regional road safety.
A national program for Indigenous art and cultural facilities was also recommended.
Current GBCA chief executive officer Davina Rooney applauded the focus on resilience.
“The priorities identified today seeking national coordination to manage waste, water security and coastal inundation reflect the importance of planning for the growing risks facing communities across Australia,” Ms Rooney said.
She says that the built environment has a critical role to play in helping Australia become more resilient in the face of a changing climate, but that is only part of the challenge.
“We also need to ensure that buildings make a smaller contribution to climate change with a pathway to net zero.”
Ms Madew said the Priority List has a “strong record of driving national investment and has become a key reference point for all levels of government.
“This year alone we have seven infrastructure projects graduating off the list as they enter the delivery stage.”
The new Priority List identifies a project pipeline worth more than $58 billion.