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State Infrastructure Plan plays to division between SEQ and Regional Queensland

QEAS was fortunate enough to be invited to contribute the below article to Lytton Advisory on Queensland Government’s 2019 State Infrastructure Plan 2019. QEAS Director, Nick Behrens, has been on several project teams led by Lytton Advisory for Queensland Government projects including for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries; the Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning and the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.  The original article can be accessed here.

The recently released State Infrastructure Plan (SIP) provides a much needed framework for the planning and prioritising of infrastructure delivery in Queensland and should be widely supported. 

However, it also reinforces subconsciously the division that exists between SEQ and Regional Queensland when it comes to limited infrastructure dollars being spread across a large and high needs state.

The SIP outlines a $49.5 billion infrastructure program over the next four years from the Queensland Government ($12.9 billion in 2019-20) that claims to be supporting an estimated 40,500 jobs.  Based on these metrics alone it is delivering economic development at a time when overall economic growth in Queensland is below trend. 

Since the original SIP was released in 2016, Queensland has experienced significant changes including our population growing to more than five million, changing regional economies, and advanced technologies altering both infrastructure and service delivery. 

As a result the 2019 SIP details the infrastructure investment strategy and delivery program for the next four years, in order to provide the private sector and other levels of government with clear direction of what is in the pipeline. 

The Queensland Government’s SIP mantra is ensuring the right infrastructure is delivered in the right place and at the right time to meet the demands of a growing state.  This is a commendable goal of any government and one that directly aligns with community and industry expectation. 

If the document has one regrettable feature it is the cementing of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude when it comes to infrastructure rollout across Queensland. For example the SIP reads “Importantly, about 60 per cent of the capital program and 25,500 of the jobs supported are outside the Greater Brisbane area.”

Much of the narrative of a fair split between the two parts of the State is about a political necessity following the Federal Election result whereby Queensland Labor were wiped out north and west of Brisbane.

As an illustration of this point, the 2019 SIP is 207 pages long verses 159 pages back in 2018 and these extra 48 pages are directly up front and relate purposefully to what the Queensland Government is doing in infrastructure delivery in regional Queensland.

It is not wrong to support regional Queensland but constructing a zoning of spend is counter to the commendable objectives of SIP in supporting economic development, increased productivity and the creation of communities in which people want to live across all of Queensland.

The reality is, what benefits SEQ undoubtedly benefits Regional Queensland and vice-versa when it comes to infrastructure.

Glowing examples of this point are the Gateway North Upgrade and Toowoomba Second Range Crossing whereby freight is passaged through these assets that benefits Regional Queensland.  On the other side of the coin is investment in rail and ports in regional Queensland is enabling royalties for frontline service delivery in SEQ.  The right narrative is a symbiotic relationship between the South East Corner and all of Regional Queensland.  

Putting aside the politics, what the SIP really does is highlight how incredibly difficult infrastructure delivery and prioritisation is in Queensland. Our State has the unfaltering complexity of higher economic and population growth in SEQ meaning we are continually behind the infrastructure roll out curve and yet we have the geographical size, decentralised population and low population densities of regional Queensland.

All of which mean the road, rail, electricity transmission and electricity distribution kilometres are higher than other states and we require more airports and seaports.  Quite simply infrastructure delivery in Queensland is complex and difficult - with differing priorities benefiting differing areas at differing times. 

In summary, the SIP represents a very good iteration or constant continuing roll out of enabling projects for Queensland.  Looking past the politics of its presentation it is investing in critical infrastructure and is in fact investing in a positive future for the Sunshine State.  

The schools and TAFE are delivering the skills our economy requires.  The bridges, roads, ports and rail are enabling our exports to get to market and commerce to flow.   The electricity and water assets are providing the vital inputs for our economy.

The overall spend as impressive as it sounds is still low by historical percentage of GSP standards but the SIP has been well received from many communities and industry sectors and rightly so. 

The 2019 SIP is available here.

Caption:

QEAS Director, Nick Behrens, as part of an expert panel commenting on the 2019 State Infrastructure Plan at a Infrastructure Association of Queensland special breakfast.

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