A new reform plan for Australia’s infrastructure has come at just the right time according to several industry groups.

Infrastructure Australia unveiled the plan, which looks forward 50 years, and includes:

  • Streamlining infrastructure funding across the Commonwealth Government and applying a single cost-benefit approach to all funding;
  • Looking beyond grants to more innovative funding, finance and facilitation models;
  • Selling or leasing mature public assets in order to invest in badly needed new public assets;
  • Coupling greater emphasis on user-pays with a greater role for users in determining what infrastructure is built;
  • Strengthening project governance to get costs down and match scrutiny to risk; and
  • Improving procurement processes to remove roadblocks early and cut delays.

The reforms were lauded by many in the industry.

“The package of reform measures proposed by Infrastructure Australia today are a very valuable contribution to Australian policy discussion and should shape the proposals all sides take to the coming Federal election,” Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said.

Beyond the update to the national infrastructure priority list, Willox highlighted the importance of the seven broad reforms and 27 supporting actions, which he said will improve the funding, delivery and use of infrastructure.

“With infrastructure needs more pressing than ever, governments feel capital constrained even as important opportunities open up,” he said.

“The time is right to make reforms that will facilitate greater and more astute investment, including from the private sector, and encourage efficient use of infrastructure. This will be necessary if we are to close the infrastructure gap – and take advantage of the capacity that is becoming available as the construction phase of the mining boom unwinds.”

He warned, however, that these reforms risk running into a wall of contradictory preferences on the part of political decision-makers and the wider public and they will not be easy to put into practice.

“The fact is, we cannot deliver the infrastructure Australia needs without some combination of public borrowing, private ownership and user charging,” he said.

“Debt to finance productivity-enhancing assets can be well worth taking on. Private investors and operators already run many important assets with great success and paying for the use of a valuable service should seem no more outlandish in transport than it does in water or energy.”

Engineers Australia, meanwhile, also backed the 50-year National Infrastructure Plan, appreciating the need for a long-term vision to deliver quality outcomes that which support Australia’s social and economic development.

“Establishing a single national infrastructure funding model will help the transition from an infrastructure system that relies heavily on grant-funding to one that encourages private investment,” said Engineers Australia CEO Stephen Durkin.

“Australia must avoid the boom/bust infrastructure cycles as seen in recent years. Guidance from independent bodies such as Infrastructure Australia should be a central consideration to deliver outcomes for our communities, independent from the political cycle.”

Durkin pointed to Engineers Australia’s Infrastructure Report Card 2010, noting that the reforms will address many of the concerns raised in that work.

“Long-term infrastructure planning will bring job security to the engineering profession,” he said. “With a large engineering workforce employed in infrastructure delivery, even a small upturn can put pressure on the supply of skills.  Stability is the key to successfully delivering infrastructure for the future of Australia.”