Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning Jackie Trad, has opened the public consultation period for the state’s Draft State Infrastructure Plan.

The state government has commenced a state-wide engagement program and submission can be made to the State Infrastructure Plan (SIP) until December 4. The SIP outlines five priorities for future investment over the short (one to four years) to medium term (five to 15 years), including:

  • Increasing the capacity and resilience of South East Queensland’s transport system
  • A sustainable health care system, with service equivalence delivered through technology wherever possible
  • Dealing with disruption in the energy sector
  • Regional connectivity and freight market access
  • Better preservation of public assets

The Palaszczuk Government has committed $10.1 billion to a capital works program for 2015-2016 in this year’s State Budget, including $3.9 billion on roads and transport, $2.4 billion on energy and water and $1.3 billion on health and community infrastructure. The SIP considers the infrastructure investment priorities of all levels of government and the role private sector plays in delivery and financing of infrastructure, and is presented in two parts. Part A – Strategy outlines a clear program of works and confirming the government’s investment program over the next four years, and Part B Program looks at the five to 15-year horizon to encourage innovation by the private sector, including market led proposals.

More specifically, the SIP considers infrastructure in a variety of contexts including:

  • New builds
  • Upgrades/new maintenance regimes of existing infrastructure
  • Presentation of opportunities for public – private joint funding
  • “Soft infrastructure” development through industry creation, start-up finding, and employment enhancement programs
  • The identification of major projects across multiple infrastructure classes – transport, energy, health, and housing
  • Regionally focused infrastructure priorities

The SIP outlines future infrastructure demand growth being be greatest in terms of public transport, health and water for both SEQ and regional Queensland. In contrast, demand for energy infrastructure is forecast to decline in SEQ and only moderately increase in regional Queensland. Major changes are forecast to the state’s economy and employment, including a massive increase in health care and social assistance and dramatic decrease in manufacturing.

The projected decline in manufacturing is of concern. Are the state’s policy settings supporting the manufacturing sectors and impeding their capacity to compete? As a state that has seen strong in-bound migration in the recent past to support the resources sector, it would be problematic for the state to lose these highly trained professionals into other jurisdictions.

Issues such as difficulty in accessing support systems such as SME business support and funding, urban planning settings and charging regimes that limit the ability to develop non-polluting manufacturing activities, and business and personal tax settings have been noted through multiple media channels for reasons of limited manufacturing growth. Perhaps part of the SIP needs to consider these support structures for manufacturing in Queensland. The fact that industry development focused infrastructure is not a priority area of the SIP is an opportunity missed.

Part A: Strategy

The SIP highlights the strengths and weaknesses in service delivery and demand across the state. There is also recognition that a state as large as Queensland needs to apply infrastructure strategies that meet the specific needs of each region or city, talking into consideration regional economic and demographic frameworks. The SIP identifies Queensland’s key challenges as:

  • The productivity of current and future workforces, including but not limited to issues such as the adoption of new and possibly “disruptive” technologies on workforce numbers and industry types, and the natural progression of older workers/business owners who are gradually reducing their participation in the workforce.
  • Population change and growth, which has an impact on the services delivered by government and private providers and also provides opportunities for new entrants into the delivery of services and measuring outcomes.
  • The fact that consumer expectations will always place loads on infrastructure providers, whether that be education, health, water and electricity, or roads and rail. New technologies, better asset management technologies and access to the communications technologies that will assist in the delivery of new services are high priorities within the SIP.
  • Climate change – mitigation, adaptation and resilience of infrastructure and communities are the outtakes from the SIP. Adapting to climate change will also require planning and design that works with vegetation, soils and natural processes to deliver infrastructure outcomes. Such design recognizes and works with natural defences from extreme storms such as mangroves, natural processes for managing water flows and maintaining water quality, and natural processes to heat, cool, provide light and shelter.
  • Natural environment, while disappointingly not defined as an infrastructure class of its own, has certainly been recognised as a major consideration in the SIP, where achieving strong economic growth and environmental outcomes are complementary objectives to maintaining our prosperity and liveability.
  • Domestic economic activity will see re-allocation of resources, transformation into new and evolving industries, with an emphasis on new technologies such as bio-manufacturing and bio-energy, new agriculture and service industries and a greater emphasis on value-adding industries. These transformations will require new paradigms in education infrastructure and access to high speed technologies.
  • Rapidly changing technology will help make infrastructure more efficient and reduce/slow down the need for new or expansion of infrastructure classes such as major roads, electricity networks and water supply.
  • Regional liveability will be dependent on the delivery of infrastructure that supports investment in other high-value industries. Transport hubs, social and other soft infrastructure, and distributive energy are likely to be keys to success.

Through the SIP, the Queensland Government seeks to achieve outcomes that achieve:

  • Improved prosperity and liveability for the state and individual regions
  • The delivery of Infrastructure that leads and supports growth and productivity in region-specific industries and improves the state domestic product figures
  • The delivery of infrastructure that connects our communities and markets (both domestic and international) of both raw and value-added products and services
  • Improved economic, social and environmental sustainability and resilience to disruptions of nature, economic instability and political/ social upheaval

The Queensland Government seeks to achieve these outcomes through improved planning and prioritization in the delivery of infrastructure, improved engagement with communities, industry and other levels of government, and transparent implementation initiatives.

Part B: Program

Part B is primarily an implementation schedule of works across the following asset classes, with forward planning over the one to four-year and five to 15-year timelines (with budget cost projections):

  • Cross-government, with a particular focus on State Development Areas and Priority Development Areas.
  • Transport, with a particular focus on road and rail upgrades, road widening and safety initiatives. These are all very necessary works, however there does not appear to be much focus on improving efficiencies in some of the critical systems such as on-ramp/off-ramp movements to the Pacific Motorway, the need to straighten the Gold Coast to Brisbane rail line to make it more efficient, effective and cost effective for commuters (in time and money).
  • Energy – the SIP considers issues such as distributive energy opportunities, smart metering, growing the gas supply industry, declining demand on network systems and the maintenance and replacement of existing network infrastructure. The SIP states that the Queensland Government will continue to support supply-side and market initiatives that encourage greater utilisation of this energy infrastructure.

Questions about inappropriate behaviour by Queensland energy suppliers in the recent past, the effect of the rulings of the national energy regulator on infrastructure spending and some questionable decision making by the Queensland Competition Authority regarding pricing regime in Queensland possibly makes this infrastructure sector one of the more contentious for consumers and residents.

  • Water – headlining the discussion on water infrastructure, the SIP notes that Queensland’s economic development potential requires essential environmental stewardship by managing catchments, dams, storm water and sewerage releases. Water supply and treatment infrastructure upgrades are the focus of the SIP. Storm water infrastructure barely rates a comment in the implementation phases and only in the five to 15-year opportunities discussion.
  • Health services infrastructure will focus primarily on the upgrading or replacement of existing stock, providing more care in the home or in community settings, improved tele-health services in regional and rural areas, and targeted hospital avoidance programs. Again, technology is seen as a probable major disruptor of health service delivery in the future. Others have written about how high-speed broadband and new personalised health monitoring equipment such as the Apple watch can enhance the ability of consumers to work in collaboration with health care providers to create healthier lifestyles, identify potential health issues earlier and help make the tertiary care system a place for recovery from unforeseen illness and injury and not places overburdened by chronic disease patients.
  • Education and training – 0ver the next four years, the Queensland Government will invest significantly in new schools and the upgrade and maintenance of existing schools and state-owned early childhood infrastructure, embracing new technologies, transforming the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools and expanding the use of technology for early learners. This funding will be central to shaping the future of Queensland and to helping build a stronger base for our economic and social prosperity.
  • Digital economy infrastructure is vital for all infrastructure classes noted and is seen as fundamental to achieving the government’s Advance Queensland vision to create the knowledge-based jobs of the future and build a strong innovation and entrepreneurial culture. Missing, however, are the support initiatives for small to medium-sized industries outside the SIP to access the finding and human capital support to bring innovation to the forefront of economic activity in Queensland. The limited funding and support mechanisms outside very narrowly defined industry sectors such as agriculture makes it very difficult for SMEs to truly enter the digital age and enhance/disrupt their industries at the local, state and international levels.
  • Justice and public safety – new and improved police, emergency services and justice services are a focus of the SIP. Upgrading technologies in communication and development of multi-agency, multi-service delivery models are two of the strategies presented.
  • Arts, culture and recreation – a major focus is on the continuing development of regional infrastructure in arts, sport and recreation; Commonwealth Games related infrastructure; and multi-agency, multi-service delivery models of government funded infrastructure (e.g. spaces that combine sports and community uses with arts and cultural facilities, increased use of temporary infrastructure and outdoor spaces, and delivering arts and culture through digital channels and mobile services).
  • Social housing – The Commonwealth has initiated a process to examine the reallocation of Commonwealth and state roles and responsibilities in relation to housing assistance and homelessness services. Future funding and service provision arrangements for social housing will be dependent on the outcome of this reform process. The SIP references probable changes to the delivery of disability services with the introduction in 2016 of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

With the need to upgrade current social housing stock and new business models required to support the delivery of housing and support services for people who are homeless, disabled and those wishing to “age in place,” the opportunity is there for government and the third sector providers to enter into collaborations with for-profit social impact fund providers and other enterprises to bring a new dynamic to the delivery of social housing.

The draft State Infrastructure Plan is 140 pages of background data and recent history in infrastructure, challenges and objectives, planning and prioritisation, implementation initiatives, and a program of activities and commitments for the future of Queensland’s infrastructure. The SIP is detailed and yet could provide for far more focus on the manufacturing sector, the identification of the natural environment and agriculture as infrastructure classes. The plan can be found here.