Home' Future Building: The Australian Infrastructure Review : Volume 8 Number 1 Contents futurebuilding 37
The Hon Mark Birrell
Mark Birrell retired as Chairman of Infrastructure Australia in
September 2017. For Partnerships, he was asked to reflect on
‘What is infrastructure all about?’These were his observations.
I believe that infrastructure will deliver transformational and
lasting benefits for a nation if it displays the following 10 key
1. Infrastructure is about... the long term
Firstly, infrastructure must always be about the long term.
Australia will secure deep economic and social gains from
its infrastructure if we pursue integrated project and policy
initiatives that are designed to last several generations.
Taking a long-term view allows proactive planning and
assists the marshalling of resources to meet identified
infrastructure needs. A strategic outlook also allows the existing
asset base to run more sustainably.
The inherently long-term nature of infrastructure is
inconsistent with the ‘short-termism’ that now drives public
debate. Infrastructure is not about quick fixes or single issues.
We therefore need to focus on helping infrastructure policy to
rise above today’s 24-hour news cycle, with its superficial and
negative social media commentary.
Let’s encourage and reward political parties that develop
long-term infrastructure visions, and that back strategic
infrastructure development. It is in all of our interests that
politicians and opinion-leaders look beyond short-term election
cycles and instead focus on intergenerational needs.
Our sector has worked hard to ensure that a
long-term vision is available. The Australian Infrastructure Plan
developed by Infrastructure Australia (IA), reflects a consensus
position on what needs to occur in public policy and project
prioritisation over the next 15 years. The Plan enjoys the backing
of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Engineers Australia, the
Australian Water Association, the Property Council of Australia,
the Australasian Rail Association, and more.
When you take a long-term approach, it helps to build this
valuable consensus position.
2. Infrastructure is about... quality of life
Improving quality of life should be the common goal of all
infrastructure development. The services that infrastructure
delivers in sectors such as transport, water, energy and
telecommunications, enhance the nation’s economic and
social wellbeing. Negative impacts, like congestion, queues or
unreliable services, damage economic performance and erode
So, infrastructure needs to be planned and run to meet the
direct service needs of everyday Australians and protect their
quality of life. If it is, that will help with public consultation on
infrastructure and new projects. This goal is vital in building
community involvement and support.
3. Infrastructure is about... urbanisation
Urbanisation is a ‘megatrend’ that will dominate Australia’s
future, and it is arguably the most important influence on how
we plan infrastructure.
Currently, seven out of every 10 Australians live in cities,
with population growth rates in cities now double what they are
in regional areas. According to IA and the Australian Bureau
of Statistics (ABS) research, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and
Perth will experience a 45 per cent population growth over the
next 15 years – at which time Australia’s population will exceed
Population growth is a very good ‘problem’ for any nation
to have, but if we are to keep Australia’s reputation for livability
Wynyard Walk. Source: CPB Contractors
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