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Australia ‘could lead the world’ in sustainable infrastructure says new report

Aug 13, 2019
  • Article by Madeleine Swain

Australia could lead the world in sustainable infrastructure with benefits for the community and business says Infrastructure Australia (IA) in the Australian Infrastructure Audit released today.

The Green Building Council of Australia welcomes the report as fresh evidence to support urgent action to ensure the productivity, resilience and sustainability of cities and communities across Australia.

GBCA CEO Davina Rooney says that, concerningly, IA has found that we are at risk of not meeting our 2030 Paris Agreement commitments to reduce emissions due to increases in transport, direct combustion and fugitive emissions.

“The Audit contains a clear warning that Australia risks becoming one of the highest carbon emitters per capita in the world,” Rooney says.

“However, these stark challenges sit alongside the considerable opportunities that the right infrastructure can unlock to support the increasing demand for services that is coming with the growth of our cities, regional communities and towns.”

The GBCA is pleased to see the Audit acknowledge the significant contribution buildings can make to: reducing emissions, easing the transition to a low-carbon future across the economy and building resilience. As IA notes, and consistent with the GBCA’s own Carbon Positive Roadmap, these opportunities are broad and include a focus on improving the efficiency of appliances, equipment and building envelopes, fuel switching to electric alternatives, and deployment of on-site distributed energy and water systems or offsite low-carbon electricity. But IA observes that Australian governments often do not incorporate sustainability or resilience into their final infrastructure projects.

“To fully seize the opportunity on offer, government must support the right infrastructure, informed by our broader policy objectives, community need, and appropriately valuing whole of life and broader social benefits,” says Rooney.

“The success of standards like Green Star are rightly acknowledged as providing benchmarks that reduce carbon use and waste, save water and promote better outcomes for communities and the end-user.

“The leadership of Australian industry through the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark and the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment informs the significant opportunities for action highlighted in the Audit.

“The opportunity to expand industry and government leadership, in parallel with greater policy certainty, will deliver benefits across sectors, whether in energy, water, transport or social infrastructure.”

The Audit notes, that in an environment marked by policy uncertainty, Australia’s natural energy advantages, and consumer appetite to seize control of their energy infrastructure, must be leveraged to support our energy transition.

“The importance of better understanding the role of green and blue infrastructure in urban environments, and integrating water in urban planning is rightly identified as an opportunity to enhance quality of life and manage urban heat islands that will increasingly impact the liveability and resilience of our cities,” says Rooney.

“It is fantastic to see the broad benefits of social infrastructure acknowledged as essential to the liveability of our communities. But equally governments must grapple with the significant challenges associated with ageing social infrastructure, particularly in social housing, education, health and aged care, and increasing demand for services.

“The opportunities for this infrastructure to deliver broad co-benefits: to positively contribute to the challenges we face in water, energy, emissions reduction, and better patient and education outcomes should not be overlooked.”

Perhaps most importantly, IA finds that engagement with customers and the broader community is often lacking in the development of business cases for infrastructure, citing $20 billion of infrastructure projects paused or cancelled over the last decade in part due to community opposition.

“IA’s findings highlight the importance of continuously improving our approach to business case development: developing broader business cases for projects that effectively communicate quality of life benefits, and articulate projects in term of desired community and policy outcomes over the long-term,” says Rooney.

“IA is to be commended on this Audit as an invaluable evidence base to support a vision that responds to our nation’s most significant challenges, but which highlights the enormous opportunity ahead of us. The GBCA looks forward to working with IA, and across government and industry, to help deliver the policy reform and action we need across our infrastructure investments to deliver a more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable Australia for today and the next generation.”

Master Builders Australia’s perspective

Investment in transport infrastructure will help bridge the troubled waters of a declining housing market and softening commercial construction sector but there is zero doubt that more needs to be done to fast-track construction activity and ignite economic growth.

“The latest industry forecast predicts that the Government’s ramping up of investment in transport infrastructure will drive up the volume of civil construction work from $92.42 billion in 2019 to nearly $104 billion in 2022,” Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia says.

“This $92.6 billion increase will kick the volume of civil construction work up by 12.5 percent over the next couple of years and this is obviously good news for our industry, the economy and the community,” she adds.

“We are hopeful that investment in urban infrastructure, including projects encompassed in the Government’s Cities Deals, will help to unlock new housing supply and moderate falls in the residential building sector which is forecast to be down 28 per cent from its peak by 2020/21.

“So while we commend and support the Government’s infrastructure agenda there is no doubt more needs to be done. As the Reserve Bank Governor has consistently noted, more infrastructure investment not only adds to demand in the economy and boosts productivity but construction activity needs to actually commence before this occurs – nothing happens if projects languish on lists,” says Wawn.

“Infrastructure Australia’s 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit points to a committed forward pipeline of $200 billion, but also highlights measures that must be considered to accelerate its roll out.

“To overcome capacity constraints, fast track construction activity and better realise the benefits to local economies and communities, governments must urgently adopt more sophisticated procurement models that ease the almost overwhelming reliance on a small number of Tier One contractors, unlock the capacity of Tier Two and Tier Three contractors and facilitate local contractors and small businesses working on local projects.

“Big is not always better, so good on the Prime Minister for backing this measure today.

“There must also be a strong focus on investing in the development of more skilled tradespeople needed to construct the pipeline of infrastructure projects. Master Builders strongly backs the Federal Government’s commitment to reform the vocational education sector including improving its brand so that the erroneous perceptions of young people, parents and careers advisers don’t act as barrier to recruiting the best and brightest into trades where there skills shortages such as building and construction.

“A highly skilled workforce will also be needed to meet future demand for social infrastructure such as hospitals, education and aged care facilities. It’s pleasing to see this category is now more of a focus for the nation’s infrastructure planners,” concludes Wawn.

Images: 123RF’s elenabsl ©123RF.com

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