At the end of February, the federal government’s independent infrastructure advisor, Infrastructure Australia, launched its annual priority list for the year; a list designed to inform the government’s infrastructure investment decisions. These decisions have been based on what they believe is needed to support Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19 while continuing to address environmental hurdles such as drought and bushfires.
More specifically, the infrastructure investment proposals had to have an estimated $30 million impact on the economy per year to be considered imperative to the country’s national recovery and be included on the list. As of the 1st of March, this list included a total of 180 projects and represented $59 billion worth of nationally significant investment opportunities believed to have societal, economic and environmental significance. Since August, when Infrastructure Australia released a mid-year update to the list for the first time ever - a record 44 new proposals were added to the Priority List.
Furthermore, 10 projects have already been moved off the Priority List and into the construction phase, notedly the M4 Motorway Upgrade in New South Wales, the METRONET More-Ellenbrook Line in Western Australia and sections of the Bruce Highway and M1 Pacific Motorway in Queensland.
The Infrastructure priority list covers a broad spectrum of transport, energy, water, waste, telecommunications, and social infrastructure, all in the effort of “guiding Australia’s economic recovery and improving quality of life for local communities as we continue to absorb and respond to the shocks of COVID-19,” according to Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew.
Regional Health Focus
Interestingly, more than half of the new proposals impact regional communities. One of the most notable (which has been listed as a ‘high priority’), is improving the accessibility to health services for Australians living in rural and remote areas.
Currently, Australians living in rural and remote areas experience worse health outcomes than Australians in major cities- often due to the inaccessibility to adequate health services. Factors like limited infrastructure, geographic spread and the higher costs involved in delivering health care to regional and remote areas, means that many of the current facilities are outdated and understaffed. Adding to the issue was the accelerated need for telehealth services that emerged last year due to COVID-19. While adapting to telehealth practices was reasonably achievable in Australia’s major cities, rural areas have struggled due to the limited resources their health services currently have.
Consequently, Infrastructure Australia is proposing the creation of digital health ‘hubs’ in remote communities, as well as upgrading the existing regional facilities across Australia and the training of the existing health workforce in these areas, to facilitate the roll-out of digital health services across regional Australia. These hubs will aim to use technology to collect and share health information and enable virtual care for both wider communities and individuals and families, which will improve the equity of health care access and outcomes across Australia, reduce the costs associated with delivering health care and reduce avoidable hospitalisations.
However, for these digital hubs to be created, they need the necessary digital and telecommunications infrastructure and resources. Infrastructure Australia proposes the construction of suitable infrastructure to build and allow for the transmission of data and video to health facilities across regional Australia. Not to mention the technical knowledge that will be needed to build a database that can safely house all of the necessary medical data in a secure location. This initiative will consequently provide a great opportunity for those not only in the construction space, but those with experience in the public sector in both data engineering, data science and cybersecurity to make these potential proposals possible and ensure regional communities can safely and easily access health-care.
In the same vein, Infrastructure Australia has proposed improving the telecommunications speed and reliability in regional areas by upgrading the current infrastructure.
Renewable Energy Focus
A considerable number of proposals within the priority list revolve around renewable energy and expansions both nationally and within individual states. In 2020, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released their Integrated System Plan (ISP) for the year which forecasted that over 26 Gigawatt (GW) of new grid-scale renewables will be required in Australia by 2040. Producing this level of renewable energy requires Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) which are high-quality renewable energy resources, suitable for large-scale energy generation. Consequently, in response to this report, Infrastructure Australia has proposed to expand Australia’s existing REZs and build additional REZs which will include infrastructure that could facilitate large-scale wind, solar and hydro energy.
In 2020, various state governments had already announced plans to establish 14 new REZs – five in NSW, six in Victoria and three in Queensland. This indicates the significance of investing in REZs and other renewable sources like large scale solar development and hydrogen export infrastructure, which will play in Australia’s future economy.
Water Supply Focus
Infrastructure Australia also put forward quite a few proposals surrounding the Australian government’s water management, particularly in regards to water security and supply. Greater Sydney has already looked to their water supply for solutions to the heatwaves the area experience in summer with local councils in Greater Sydney working on proposals that rely on Sydney’s water systems to positively contribute to city greening and cooling. In addition to this, the rapid population growth to greater Sydney suburbs (which will lead to an increased water demand) and the ageing assets within current water systems have led Infrastructure Australia to propose a better-use and new infrastructure investment to meet this projected demand.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, Infrastructure Australia wants to address the longer-term water security problems for Melbourne caused by climate change, population growth and ageing assets. The solution? To better utilise Melbourne’s Eastern Treatment Plant which produces over 130 billion litres of recycled water each year. Currently, about 95% of this water is treated and safely discharged to the Bass Strait but Infrastructure Australia believe there is an opportunity to re-use more of this water to safely irrigate high-value horticulture crops, parks, sporting fields and open green space, rather than using potable water for these purposes. To successfully roll out this proposal, Infrastructure Australia has suggested reviewing the current water infrastructure and assess the value of rainfall-independent supply sources in South East Melbourne to develop effective interventions and upgrades. 
Both of these proposals again, create great potential opportunities for those not only working in engineering and construction within local council, but those working in asset management and project management roles.
Considering that significant portions of stimulus packages last year were dedicated to infrastructure spending in order to support the country’s COVID-19 recovery (with spending higher than it’s ever been) it will be interesting to see over the coming year, how many of Infrastructure Australia’s proposed initiatives get the all-clear from state and federal government. Regardless, the priority list presents some exciting potential opportunities for those working within the public sector. To ensure you can keep abreast of the latest opportunities in the wake of these infrastructure developments, or to reach out to our team of consultants for a confidential chat about the job market generally, you can contact us here: firstname.lastname@example.org
To see the full Infrastructure Priority List for 2021, click here:
 Infrastructure Australia. (2021, February 26). Infrastructure Australia Adds A Record Number Of New Investment Opportunities To Support COVID-19 Recovery. Infrastructure Australia. https://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/publications/Infrastructure_Priority_List_2021
 Government News (2021, March 1). New Projects Added To Infrastructure Priority List. Government News. https://www.governmentnews.com.au/new-projects-added-to-infrastructure-priority-list/
 Infrastructure Australia. (2021, February 26). Enabling Digital Health Services For Regional And Remote Australia. Infrastructure Australia. https://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/map/enabling-digital-health-services-regional-and-remote-australia
 Paul Karp. (2021, February 26). Renewable Energy Listed For The First Time As One Of Australia’s Top Infrastructure Priorities. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/feb/26/renewable-energy-listed-for-first-time-as-one-of-australias-top-infrastructure-priorities
 Infrastructure Australia. (2021, February 26). Greater Sydney Water Security. Infrastructure Australia. https://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/map/greater-sydney-water-security