Development of Infrastructure Is Failing to Keep Up With Population Growth

Infrastructure in our four largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – is failing to keep pace with rapid population growth, particularly on the urban fringe.

Australia’s population is forecast to reach 31 million by 2034, a 24 per cent increase, with Australia’s largest cities forecast to face pressure on access to infrastructure, says the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit.

In its second national audit, Infrastructure Australia presents the infrastructure challenges and opportunities over the next 15 years.

More than $123 billion of construction work has kicked off since 2015, with a committed forward pipeline of more than $200 billion.

Australia’s population is expected to reach 31 million by 2034 – with more than three quarters of this growth projected to occur in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Infrastructure Australia 2019
Australia’s population is expected to reach 31 million by 2034 – with more than three quarters of this growth projected to occur in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

The federal government pledged a record $100 billion infrastructure pipeline, with about $30 billion to be spent in the next four years.

A record infrastructure cash splash was announced as part of the New South Wales budget in June, while Queensland’s state government has committed $49.5 billion on infrastructure investment in the next four years.

But state and federal governments have been under pressure to keep up, while the RBA’s Philip Lowe recently highlighted infrastructure investment as a driver of economic productivity over the short to long-term.

Around $20 billion of infrastructure projects were paused or cancelled over the last decade in part due to community opposition.

“Engagement with customers and the broader community on project planning needs to increase across most sectors and jurisdictions,” the IA audit report notes.

Infrastructure Australia
IA's first national audit was published in 2015.

Infrastructure Australia chair Julieanne Alroe says infill development in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane requires investment in high capacity public transport, enhancements to existing energy and water infrastructure, improved shared spaces and a renewal of inner-city health and education services.

“In contrast, the growing outer suburbs of the other major cities, including Perth, where greenfield development will dominate, is expected to see pressure on their road networks, as well as expansion of utility networks, new shared and recreation spaces as well as cultural facilities,” Alroe said.

“The costs of inaction are significant.

“If investment were to stop, the cost of road congestion is projected to grow by $18.9 billion to $38.7 billion in 2031.

“This impacts the quality of life, as well as our economic productivity and competitiveness as a nation.”

The latest audit examines the major infrastructure sectors of energy, transport, telecommunications, water – and for the first time, social infrastructure and waste.

Infrastructure Australia
In the 10 years to 2016, IA says Australia's domestic freight task grew by 50 per cent. And is expected to grow by another 26 per cent to 2026.

Infrastructure planning: Community at the centre

The audit found infrastructure quality high in urban centres.

“Including our smaller cities and regional centres. However unlike our larger cities, there is little choice of the types of services that people can access,” Alroe said.

Satellite cities – such as Wollongong, Newcastle, Geelong, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast – benefit from high levels of infrastructure access and quality as a result of their proximity to their larger neighbours.

While these cities have the capacity to support growth, the audit highlights the need for more investment to ensure services can support an increasing population.

Related: The Regional Areas Popular For Interstate Migration

The audit found the average household spent more than $314 each week on infrastructure in 2015-2016 – or $16,000 annually.

“Australians earning the lowest 20 per cent of incomes across the country spend around a third of what they earn on infrastructure. This is above a level that would be considered affordable,” Alroe said.

“Australian’s perceptions of affordability are mixed, and often perceptions do not align with actual service costs.

“While concerns about rising energy prices are widely held, the proportion of household incomes spent on energy is relatively low, 2-6 per cent, in contrast to transport which accounts for between 10-22 per cent.”

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