Industry-government-research engagement is vital to national infrastructure delivery.

The Ferryfree European Route E39 project, currently being undertaken in Norway, is an exemplar of industry-government-research engagement in national infrastructure delivery.

The E39 is an existing route that runs almost 1,100 kilometres along the western coast of Norway and via ferry into Denmark. There are eight ferries on the Norwegian route, the highest number of ferries for a single road in Europe. The Ferryfree E39 project is huge financial undertaking (around AU$40 billion) by the Norwegian government to link coastal towns by replacing ferries with fjord crossings using a combination of tunnels and bridges.

It is not as simple as it sounds. For example, the Sognefjord in Western Norway is approximately four kilometres wide, with depths of up to 1,300 metres. Additionally, it has 200 to 300 metres of bottom deposits above the rock, making it a most difficult and challenging fjord to cross.

Adding to the complexity, the Norwegian government also wants to use the bridge infrastructure to produce energy from renewable sources including solar, tide currents, waves and winds.

This massive investment incorporates significant international research to look for ways that will capture current and future technologies, and it is embracing industry, government and researchers working together in a practical and future-focused delivery of national infrastructure.

Completed, this project will be a centrepiece for science and engineering in infrastructure. It will also be cutting edge with renewable energy and technology innovation while revitalising communities that have previously been cut off by land access, and it will help strengthen valuable industry, government and research relationships for a stronger built environment sector.

In Australian terms, there is some very significant growth occurring in transport infrastructure right now:

  • in New South Wales, transport infrastructure construction is estimated at $7.3 billion in 2016-17
  • the Victorian government is still reconsidering the East-West link in a project that was worth between $3 billion and $4 billion
  • the latest Queensland budget reaffirms a commitment to a number of significant transport infrastructure projects including the Toowoomba range crossing valued at $1.6 billion
  • Western Australia is increasing its transport infrastructure to meet growing demand for freight and passenger traffic, with its Perth freight link project valued at $1.6 billion.

While improving the economics of freight and logistics in Australia, these major projects also provide an opportunity to advance the capability of our industry. This should not be overlooked.

A few months ago, Norway’s Petroleum and Energy Minister Tord Lien, and Pal Helsing, president of Kongsberg Oil and Gas Technologies, one of Norway’s leaders in oil services, visited Australia as part of a Norwegian state visit. They were seeking trade and investment opportunities in Australia’s petroleum industry. Both agreed that Australia could be doing more in the research and development space, as they believe this would attract greater international investment for our engineering and construction industry.

The Norwegian government works closely with industry, universities and research institutes to advance the use of technology and improved procurement processes. In particular, the Norwegian government uses R&D incentives to attract development – something Australian governments could do more of.

The bottom line is this: we should be learning from international examples of industry, government and research collaboration like the Norway example. The opportunity in the Australian context is too good to ignore.