Australia’s Infrastructure Priority List has received a mixed welcome from freight representatives – some important players involved in Australia’s international trade are yet to be convinced about some of the transportation priorities laid out in the list.

In this latest addition to our series on ‘Infrastructure’, we look at Australia’s just-released Infrastructure Priority List and explore why some commentators suggest it fails to address some key infrastructure and transportation concerns.

This list is compiled with a long-term focus in mind, according to Infrastructure Australia (IA) Chair, Julieanne Alroe. It is formed by amalgamating the viewpoints and submissions from over 500 interested parties, including governments, stakeholder groups and the community, and is based on the Australian Infrastructure Audit.

“These are the strategic investments recommended by the independent IA board to best meet the connectivity needs of Australia’s growing cities, strengthen our global role as an exporter of goods and services and make our infrastructure more resilient,” Alroe said.

The latest list targets $55bn worth of infrastructure projects deemed high priority. Alroe also revealed $25bn of projects are now off the list and entering the delivery phase. A strong focus of this year’s list outlines upgrades to the rail sector, a priority earmarked as essential to allow Australia’s satellite cities to develop stronger economic fundamentals and links to the country’s bigger cities.

“The Priority List identifies a number of additional opportunities to improve connectivity between capitals and neighbouring cities. This includes improvements to rail capacity on the Melbourne–Geelong and Brisbane–Gold Coast rail lines, as well as rail upgrades on lines from Sydney to the regional centres of Newcastle and Wollongong,” explained Alroe.

However, Travis Brooks-Garrett, Director, Freight and Trade Alliance (FTA) Pty Ltd and Secretariat, Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA), told Forward with Toll that he has mixed feelings about some of the funding priorities on the list.

He stressed, “The IA Infrastructure Priority List has been widely praised by freight industry groups for its focus on de-congestion, delivering significant benefits for last-mile deliveries and with a focus on improving freight movements through port precincts.”

Brooks-Garrett listed some notable projects in the list, including the Sydney Gateway project connecting WestConnex to Port Botany and Sydney Airport; the Port Botany Freight Rail Duplication project; and measures to improve the connection between Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway and CityLink.

He then warned, “However, some FTA/APSA members, who represent Australia’s largest importers and exporters, remain unconvinced about the widely promoted “Inland Rail project” and its benefits to regional exporters.”

Brooks-Garrett explained that some of his members believe coastal shipping would deliver a lot more value to the country’s freight network for substantially less public investment compared to pumping further funds into the rail sector. This point was made recently by Mike Gallacher, CEO of Ports Australia, as reported by Logistics & Materials Handling. He told the Australian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Infrastructure that domestic sea freight had expanded by just one percent over the last 25 years. He pointed out that an imbalance exists between this growth and the expansion of rail and road freight, which have grown by 210 percent and 61 percent respectively during the same period. He insists the development of the country’s ports are intrinsically linked to the nation’s prosperity.

Brooks-Garrett also noted that the Perth Freight Link was not included on IA’s list. Furthermore, he insists straightforward allocation of investment is not enough, as other priorities need to be considered.

He reasoned, “The Australian Government needs to actively oversee road pricing to ensure that the use of the infrastructure remains affordable to the freight network, particularly for export supply chains. Last year, we had the unfortunate situation where agri-exporters were avoiding Melbourne’s Citylink due to significant toll hikes. What’s the point of new infrastructure if it’s unaffordable?”

Brooks-Garrett raised similar concerns about road pricing and its effect on the movement of freight in Forward with Toll’s ‘Congestion Charging’ series.

He also welcomed an infrastructure proposal – the prospect of a second container port in New South Wales (NSW) at the Port of Newcastle – which is currently under review by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

He explained his thinking, “At present, the Port of Newcastle has restrictions placed on it by the NSW Government. In broad terms, intrastate competition between container ports would be a positive development for pricing and service levels. A container port in Newcastle may also be able to compete with the Port of Brisbane for contestable trade in northern NSW.”

The overriding national importance of infrastructure was pressed home when Australia recently passed a bill protecting critical infrastructure, as revealed in the South China Morning Post. The reported aims of the bill are “to combat espionage, sabotage and coercion arising from foreign involvement in the nation’s assets”. Indeed, Australia has already set up the Critical Infrastructure Centre to monitor risks to its all-important infrastructure in a bid to protect national security interests.

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) strongly supports measures to enhance investment in infrastructure, which, the body maintains, will improve supply chain efficiency and safety, and improve Australia’s international competitiveness.

“As an industry leader, ALC has always been among IA’s most enthusiastic supporters because we have long believed that the best way to ensure effective infrastructure investment is for an independent umpire to make evidence-based assessments of projects, which can then be used by governments to inform decision-making,” said ALC Managing Director, Michael Kilgariff.

The ALC also believes the 2018 Infrastructure Priority List comes at a crucial moment under the broader National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

The ALC earmarks the following projects as priorities to allow Australia to meet its growing freight challenges:

  • the Sydney Gateway connecting WestConnex to Port Botany & Sydney Airport
  • the Port Botany Freight Rail Duplication to boost port efficiency
  • the Chullora Junction upgrade to enhance Sydney’s freight rail network
  • Preserving the corridor for the Western Sydney Airport fuel pipeline
  • Preserving the corridor for Western Sydney Freight Line and Intermodal Terminal access
  • Improving connection between Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway and CityLink
  • Inland Rail and a dedicated freight rail connection to the Port of Brisbane
  • Implementation of the Advanced Train Management System on the ARTC network.