AFR Infrastructure Summit 2022


I begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we are gathering – the Gadigal of the Eora Nation – and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I extend that respect to any First Nations people who are participating in this event.

Thank you, Michael, for the introduction. 

It is a delight to be back here again addressing the AFR Infrastructure Summit, this time as the still relatively new Minister for Infrastructure.

I have always valued this event as an important opportunity to speak with industry as a whole, to share ideas and experiences – and I know my ministerial colleagues in their portfolios feel the same way.

Last November, when I addressed the AFR’s 2021 Infrastructure Summit, I took the opportunity to speak to you about why the Commonwealth invests in infrastructure – to spread wealth and opportunity, and to build a better, more connected nation.

I identified the problems with the previous government’s approach – the politicisation, the fights between the states and the Commonwealth and the delayed and trouble-prone major projects, with Inland Rail foremost amongst them.

I identified the broader troubles facing the industry – the skills shortages, supply shortages and capacity constraints – which are even more at the forefront of our minds than they were twelve months ago.

And I outlined to you what an Albanese Government would do differently – ending the rorts, reinvigorating Infrastructure Australia, working more closely and collaboratively with states and territories and doing our part to get to Net Zero.

It’s been a busy twelve months since I last spoke to you, but I am very happy to report that it’s been a productive twelve months!

This year, I can report Australia’s emissions reduction targets are now enshrined in law and we are working across my portfolio to play our role in creating a cleaner future.

We have also worked cooperatively with the states and territories to revise our approach to infrastructure investment, and to begin the work of ensuring Commonwealth investments are sustainable, responsible and represent value for money.

We have ended the worst of the rorts, closing down the Commuter Car Park and Building Better Regions Funds, and commenced work on a new $1 billion commitment to deliver community and economic infrastructure that will benefit rural and regional Australia.

The much needed review of Infrastructure Australia is on my desk, and I will have more to say about that soon.

Dr Kerry Schott is well into her review of Inland Rail, taking a a close look at the planning, governance and delivery of this nationally important project.

We’ve done a lot, but there is so much more to do.

As you would all have seen, the October Budget was an important first step towards ensuring that the Commonwealth’s infrastructure investment is responsible, affordable and sustainable.

Everyone in this room knows the risk that rising labour and material costs pose to projects around the country.

We see it in residential construction, we see it in commercial construction, and we certainly see it in major infrastructure projects.

While maintaining our investment of over $120 billion over 10 years, our Budget saw us reposition and recalibrate Australia’s infrastructure pipeline to better align with actual delivery.

In the current high inflation and capacity constrained environment, it is important that we do not contribute to further overheating the sector.

That is why we have streamlined the infrastructure investment pipeline, ensuring that key projects are prioritised and Australians see improved equity, transparency and value for money.

We did not do make these changes alone, but in close consultation with every state and territory government.

At an August meeting with all my state and territory counterparts, Ministers welcomed the new approach.

All jurisdictions share one thing in common – the desire to see a clearer focus on strategic issues of national significance across both the transport and infrastructure sectors.

That is what our refined infrastructure pipeline is designed to achieve.

At the same time as working on the pipeline of projects, we are working to fix up and expand the pipeline of highly skilled workers.

Our Government has established Jobs and Skills Australia, an independent body to strengthen workforce planning.

We are providing 480,000 fee-free TAFE and community-based vocational education places to ensure that Australians have access to the skills they need for the jobs of the future.

We have also announced an increase in the permanent Migration Program planning level to 195,000 in this financial year, to help ease widespread, critical skills shortages.

All this will come on top of our Employment White Paper, which is being developed following on from the Jobs and Skills Summit in September.

And I thank many of you for your participation at, or in the lead up to, the summit.

While we are making these investments, I am also acutely aware that there is one untapped workforce that our construction and infrastructure sectors could lean on – women.

Women currently make up less than 12.7 per cent of construction occupations, and less than 2 per cent of related trade jobs.

It’s always going to be hard to overcome skills shortages with statistics like that.

We all know that there are insufficient pathways for women into the industry and a lack of strategies to attract and retain them.

This is an area in which I am keen to make progress. I know that many of you are working on strategies and plans to address this shortfall and I encourage you to keep up those efforts.

The Government is in the process of establishing the National Construction Industry Forum to productively address issues in the construction sector, including gender equity and diversity, alongside mental health, safety, training and productivity.

The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill, which is currently before the Parliament, will establish the Forum in legislation.

Taken together, these investments and initiatives to support our future workforce may not provide an instant fix, but they will pay dividends over the longer term for workers with secure jobs and governments and businesses looking for the biggest bang for their infrastructure buck.

At the same time as laying the groundwork for the future of our workforce, we are creating – or in many cases re-creating – the architecture to enable better investment and better decision making.

As you know, I asked two of Australia’s eminent infrastructure experts, Nicole Lockwood and Mike Mrdak, to conduct a review of Infrastructure Australia and report back to the Government.

I am pleased to share that the reviewers received strong engagement from across industry, the public and state and territory governments. The reviewers met with a range of stakeholders and received 59 written submissions. I am sure a number of those submissions came from people in this room – thank you.

I will be announcing the findings of the Infrastructure Australia review soon, but I’m sure you won’t be surprised by some of the feedback they received, including that Infrastructure Australia needs:

  • to have a clear purpose and mandate to strengthen its role in the Commonwealth’s infrastructure ecosystem;
  • a product suite to be refined to better address the Government’s infrastructure investment objectives, including sharpening the Infrastructure Priority List; and
  • an improved assurance and project assessment process for Commonwealth investments that supports the nation’s long-term objectives.

I look forward to sharing the reviewers’ report – and the Government’s response – with you soon.

Along with reforming Infrastructure Australia, I have been working with my state and territory colleagues through our regular Infrastructure and Transport Ministers Meetings to refine our workplan and focus our time on a core set of objectives. 

We have a new workplan that will guide our activity to the end of next year.

The workplan focuses on market capacity constraints affecting the construction industry, improving the interoperability of rail systems, decarbonisation of infrastructure and transport, heavy vehicle productivity and importantly, road safety.

I look forward to working with the states and territories as the Australian Government develops its Infrastructure Policy Statement to be delivered in 2023, which will outline the Government’s priorities for future infrastructure investment. 

And when it comes to net zero, the Government isn’t waiting. As industries and regions move to net zero, the Government is ensuring they also benefit from the transition

We have established a Taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to create a framework for supporting regional communities and workers in fair and equitable ways as Australia transforms to a net zero economy.

A Net Zero Unit has been established in my Department to identify how the infrastructure portfolio can work across government and with the transport and construction sectors to help achieve net zero, and improve the resilience of our transport networks and supply chains in the face of increasing extreme weather events.

This Net Zero Unit will be led by Ian Porter. Ian brings significant experience in climate change, energy and sustainability policy, working across government, public service, consulting and the not-for-profit sector, including most recently heading up program delivery for the Climateworks Centre.

We’re making these changes because we know that the shift to a low carbon economy presents Australia with enormous opportunities for jobs and for communities across the country.

That's why we are investing in projects to support the Port of Newcastle and the Hunter region becoming hydrogen ready, along with the Townsville Hydrogen Hub, and others in places like Tasmania, Gladstone and the Pilbara.

Our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund will do more of the same, helping expand and transform Australia’s industry and economy to secure future prosperity.

Infrastructure will, of course, be playing a key role in enabling this growth.

We will work to take advantage of those opportunities, and share the benefits across the breadth of Australia.

But we also know it will bring challenges, and we are working with industry to tackle those, whether it be working with the transport sector on sustainable aviation fuel or green shipping, or through our Powering Australia Plan and Rewiring the Nation bringing new jobs and clean energy across the country.

By taking these steps, we will get Australian infrastructure back on track and build a better future for us all.

When I spoke to you last year, I concluded by saying that this is an exciting time for infrastructure.

And that an Albanese Labor Government would embrace the challenges and seize the opportunities of our present moment.

Twelve months on, that hasn’t changed. The challenges are still there, but so are the opportunities.

The opportunities to create new jobs, to cut emissions, to grow better, more connected communities and to build a better future for us all.

I look forward to working with you all throughout the years ahead.

Thank you for listening.