In this week’s Infrastructure Policy Watch, Infrastructure Australia gains influence, and Te Waihanga explores how recent extreme weather affected infrastructure.
Australian government looks to enhance the role of Infrastructure Australia
Infrastructure Australia (IA) is the independent infrastructure advisory body tasked with ensuring Australia has a strong pipeline of infrastructure projects linked to national priorities.
Last year, the Australian government commissioned an independent review of IA. The review recommended IA be given a clearer purpose with a legislated mandate, that its role as a national adviser be enhanced and that its governance structure be reformed.
On 22 March, the Australian government introduced the Infrastructure Australia Amendment (Independent Review) Bill 2023 into Parliament.
The bill looks to implement the review’s recommendations and give IA more influence over government decision making.
Specifically, the bill seeks to accomplish three main goals:
- Amend the existing Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 to formally establish IA as the Australian government’s independent adviser on nationally significant infrastructure investment, planning and project prioritisation.
- Establish a new governance structure. The current IA Board is planned to be replaced with three commissioners who will become responsible for ensuring the performance of IA’s functions. The commissioners will be supported by an advisory council.
- Redefine IA’s functions as follows:
- develop a national planning and assessment framework to improve national consistency and coordination in infrastructure evaluation
- take a less ‘hands-on’ approach’ to infrastructure assessment by devolving some assessments to state and territory infrastructure bodies, and becoming more focused on accreditation and peer review
- develop targeted infrastructure priority lists and plans
- take a more active role in the post-completion stage of infrastructure projects
The ICE’s view:
IA has been the blueprint for many other countries looking to improve the strategic planning and prioritisation of their infrastructure systems.
The ICE’s Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) report in 2019 featured a case study on IA as an exemplar for others, looking at its work and impact.
However, reviews of infrastructure bodies are common practice to help ensure they have the functions to match the ever-changing requirements of infrastructure policymaking.
The independent review and subsequent bill enhancing the IA’s role shows the value Australian policymakers place on it.
This becomes even more important as Australia has now passed a law to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – infrastructure will be crucial to achieve that goal.
The ICE will be monitoring with bill as it goes through the Australian Parliament.
Irrespective of the changes, the most important aspect is for policymakers to heed Infrastructure Australia’s advice.
The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission, also known as Te Waihanga, has published an initial assessment of the impact of the January 2023 storm on Auckland’s infrastructure system.
The storm completely eclipsed any previous flooding event in Auckland’s history, both in intensity and scale. The city received 245mm of rainfall in 24 hours – a 52% increase on the previous record set in 1985.
Te Waihanga concludes that the storm led to Auckland’s infrastructure suffering brief and localised loss of service in most cases – power, water and wastewater, telecommunications, roads, rail and air were all affected.
The more serious outages were less widespread and were largely caused by landslides rather than flooding.
The report highlights the importance of understanding and managing interdependencies between infrastructure systems.
For example, the loss of telecommunication services during the storm was not due to damage to telecommunications infrastructure. Instead, it was caused by damage to the wider electricity network.
Te Waihanga concludes its assessment by stating that there is a more fundamental discussion to be had in New Zealand about the country’s infrastructure in the face of climate change.
The debate has become more pressing in light of Cyclone Gabrielle, which hit North Island less than a month later.
This includes what level of risk people are willing and able to tolerate, and who costs should fall on to manage this risk.
The ICE’s view:
Infrastructure owners and operators must ensure that they understand the interdependencies between infrastructure systems.
Infrastructure is an interconnected ‘system of systems’ and it must be managed as such. Policymakers and infrastructure owners need to understand the systems better so they can intervene more effectively.
This is something the ICE recently highlighted in a policy paper on the UK’s infrastructure system climate resilience.
Te Waihanga is right to highlight the difficult trade-offs between cost and infrastructure resilience. As the ICE has highlighted in a UK context, it will be impossible to quickly adapt every single part of the infrastructure system to the impacts of climate change.
In order to incentivise investment in infrastructure climate resilience and adaptation, there’s first a need to understand the value it provides.
In the UK, the ICE has called for an economic review of resilience and adaptation, led by HM Treasury – this can then feed into developing resilience standards and allow investment to be targeted to where it will have the greatest impact.
Given the many competing priorities for infrastructure investment, it’s important to get this right.
In case you missed it:
- The ICE analyses the UK Climate Change Committee’s latest adaptation progress report, which shows the UK is underprepared for the climate challenges ahead.
- As part of a new consultation, the ICE is asking: does England need a national transport strategy?
- The ICE provides its assessment of the UK government’s recent Net Zero Strategy update.
Check back in a fortnight for the next edition of the ICE's Infrastructure Policy Watch.
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