A record forty-four new projects and initiatives have been added to Australia’s list of priority infrastructure as the pipeline of important work grows to $59 billion in value.

Infrastructure Australia has released its Infrastructure Priority List 2021.

All up, the list includes 25 projects and 160 initiatives.

(‘Projects’ are advanced proposals for which full business cases have been prepared and which have been assessed as capable of addressing a nationally significant problem or opportunity. ‘Initiatives’ are proposals which have been assessed as addressing a nationally significant problem but which need further development into a full business case.)

Forty-four new projects and initiatives were added whilst ten projects were removed as these moved out of planning and into construction.

During an online launch of the list last Friday, Infrastructure Australia Chairwoman Julianne Alroe said the 2021 list reflects the current consensus view of investments which are needed as Australia recovers from COVID-19.

This is the case notwithstanding the long-term nature of public asset investment along with ongoing uncertainty surrounding COVID’s effect on health, the economy and pattens of infrastructure use.

According to Alroe, four themes are evident in this year’s list.

To support Australia’s COVID economic recovery, there is a focus on projects which can help to improve our international competitiveness.

Along with existing proposals to help cater for Australia’s growing freight task, the 2021 list includes new investments to improve the capacity and efficiency of ports across the country.

This includes proposals for:

  • A new freight rail line and potential intermodal facilities to connect the new Western Sydney. Employment area with the existing metropolitan rail freight line (high priority).
  • New freight rail access to Webb Dock at the Port of Melbourne.
  • Capacity expansion at the integrated marine and industrial fabrication complex at the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson (WA – south of Freemantle).
  • Capacity upgrades at the Port of Hobart.
  • More common user facilities including expanded marine facilities and upgraded access roads, storm water and logistics at a proposed Middle Arm Precinct just south of the Port of Darwin.

Next, there are investments in new energy sources.

Here, emphasis has been placed on proposals which facilitate Australia’s energy transition and which improve energy provision in remote areas.

New initiatives include:

  • Creation of new renewable energy zones and expansion of existing zones to include infrastructure to support new large-scale wind, solar and hydro projects (high priority initiative). Already, 35 candidate sites for zones have been identified by the Australian Energy Market Operator whilst Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have announced plans to establish fourteen such zones between them.
  • Investment in dispatchable energy storage such as distributed batteries, large-scale battery energy storage systems and utility-scale pumped hydro to support the transition to renewables by absorbing energy during off-peak periods and releasing this when energy demand is greatest (high priority).
  • New or upgraded Infrastructure to facilitate the creation of a hydrogen export industry along the lines of a National Hydrogen Infrastructure Assessment currently being coordinated by the Australian Government.
  • Infrastructure to support large scale solar generation in the Northern Territory.
  • A program of works to provide renewable energy or hybrid generation in remote areas of the Northern Territory to replace or support energy generated by high-cost and environmentally harmful diesel generation currently supplied to these communities by the NT government.

Third, there is water security.

Whilst noting progress on this front, Infrastructure Australia argues that more needs to be done.

A particular priority is Greater Sydney, where population growth is expected to result in an increase in water demand between now and 2040 to the tune of between 50 percent and 65 percent.

Here, Infrastructure Australia has called for options to build new infrastructure and make better use of existing infrastructure as well as other options such as demand-management initiatives.

The organisation has also called for:

  • Infrastructure, planning, policy and management initiatives in South-east Melbourne to make greater use of treated, recycled water to irrigate high-value horticulture crops, parks, sporting fields and green open space rather than using potable water for such purposes.
  • Initiatives to increase or free up water supply to better support agricultural, industrial and mining productivity in the Bowen Basin.
  • Investments in new sustainable water sources such as improved bore access or desalination to better support mining activity and anticipated growth in copper production in the Great Artesian Basin in South Australia.
  • Initiatives to improve water security in the Barossa Valley in order to better support the region’s water dependent wine industry.

Finally, Infrastructure Australia is aiming to boost the adequacy of infrastructure in regional areas.

Whilst this has long been identified as an area of need, Alroe says its importance has been magnified as COVID has seen more Australians move into regional areas.

In addition to better road and rail connections, two areas of focus revolve around digital connectivity and provision of healthcare facilities.

On the former issue, a new high priority initiative has called for exploration of potential options to increase digital connectivity in regional and remote areas through new transmission networks, upgrades of existing regional networks to enable faster connections and increasing shared use of existing transmission networks.

On the latter, it wants potential options to enable provision of digital healthcare in regional hubs to be explored (high priority).

Another priority in regional Australia is provision of social housing including for aboriginal Australians. Over the past decade, Alroe says the unmet need for social housing has grown by 37 percent. In aboriginal housing alone, she talks of a national undersupply which is expected to reach 12,500 homes by 2031.

On this score, a new High Priority initiative has been added to the list which involves increasing the supply of social housing in New South Wales through a range of actions to develop new housing stock, better repair and maintain existing housing stock and renew any existing social housing which is approaching the end of its useful life.

The initiative also calls for solutions to improve supply of social and affordable homes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples together with other populations.

This initiative intends to build on an earlier High Priority initiative included on the 2019 list to address overcrowding in remote housing at a national level.

Published annually, the list provides a tool from which public infrastructure investment can be guided.

Work on the 2021 list commenced last July with Infrastructure Australia calling for submissions for projects to be added to the list.

These proposals were then evaluated according to the organisation’s assessment framework.

Under this framework, proposals are assessed according to their impact in addressing social, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities.

All up, 124 submissions were received from which 44 projects and initiatives were added to the list.

Alroe says the importance of infrastructure should not be understated.

“Now is a critical time to champion investment in quality infrastructure solutions,” she said.

“Alongside the pandemic, our nation continues to grapple with a diverse range of shocks and stresses including floods, bushfires, the long-lasting drought and a changing climate.”

“We are at a crossroads, but we have abundant opportunities to deliver infrastructure that responds to community needs.

“The priority list with its evidence-based proposals on community outcomes is a critical place to start.”