Social impact should be a key driver for infrastructure investment

Social impact should be a key driver for investment, not just economic impact, AECOM End Market Director, Infrastructure and Environment ANZ, Ray Rawlings told CEDA at a recent livestream.  

“The economic hardships from COVID are major challenges there's no disputing that, but if the crisis prompts a reappraisal of societal concerns – and we think it will – it's likely that social needs will get more attention in the future,” he said.

“We think many people will shift towards a greater appreciation of benefits such as protecting public health, correcting social inequities, improving access, boosting quality of life and enhancing well-being.

“We are seeing that in some procurement models…agencies are specifying the social outcomes – sustainability or environmental outcomes, local workforce participation and upskilling, achieving employment targets for disadvantaged worker groups.

“So arguably social impact should also be a key driver for investment not just the economic impact and this this will create infrastructure that's best for our world.”

Westport Taskforce Independent Chair, Nicole Lockwood, echoed these sentiments, saying that the pandemic had changed the way we use infrastructure overnight.

“As we know infrastructure is an enabler for a range of different outcomes and I think one of the opportunities at the moment is to really understand how all of those pieces fit together,” she said.

“At a time like this, that long-term lens and the ability to bring the whole system together is critical.

“When we look at what we've done to the system out of necessity, we've really started to see maybe a different way of using our assets.

Ms Lockwood discussed the role of the community in infrastructure projects and planning.

“The community is really starting to call for a greater involvement in decision-making around infrastructure,” she said.


“We are not in a position anymore where we can dictate to a community what the answer to an infrastructure problem will be and deliver it without any interference.

“(There) has been numerous examples around the country where communities have got a very strong view about how they want their lifestyle to look and more infrastructure they want to enable that, so continuing to create platforms to have those conversations to allow everyone to participate in the solution and then the delivery, means we're going to get a far more effective outcome.”

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, the Hon. Alan Tudge discussed the Government priorities in infrastructure and the role of migration in driving Australia’s recovery.

“Economists’ know (migration) is one of our big three economic drivers: population, productivity, participation,” he said. 

“Australia has done very well from a population perspective, growing very rapidly for 100 years – about 1.6 per annum on average – double the United States, almost three times the OECD average.

“Sixty per cent of that population growth is migration. At the moment, migration is zero.

“That has an immediate and dramatic impact on our economic growth, and it certainly has a particularly significant impact on those areas which have very high migration rates as a proportion of their population growth, that being Sydney and Melbourne particularly, our two big economic engines.

“When you close the borders as we did for very good reasons…the challenge then is how do we go about thinking about, ‘can we start to gradually get migration going again at some stage into the future’.

“Nothing is going to happen fast here. At the moment we’re in a pretty safe place, outside of Victoria is going very well, but many other countries aren’t so it’s still some time away.

“We are thinking pretty deeply about this question and about migration and how we can get our population growing again.

“International students for example, we want to get some pilots going. How we can get those real job multiplying skilled migrants into the country when they are needed, thinking through how you can get those entrepreneurs and business investors back into the country and the like.

“But I think it will be some time before we'll have migration at anywhere near the levels that we've had over the last decade, as I just cannot foresee that unless we unless we have a global vaccine which is widely available in the foreseeable future.

“The good news though flicking to infrastructure is…that it allows us to catch up if you like from an infrastructure expenditure perspective.

“The growth rates particularly of the big cities, which were under in some respects very significant infrastructure pressure because of rapid growth – Melbourne, Sydney, in southeast Queensland – won’t have quite the same growth rates over the next few years so we've got that opportunity to catch up a little bit.

“As you no doubt are aware, and you expect and want us to do, is to use infrastructure dollars as a lever for growing jobs and stimulating the economy and we've been doing exactly that in relation to infrastructure expenditure.”

Mr Tudge highlighted the $10 billion announcement which has been brought forward into this year to 2022 to “accelerate the projects that are underway and to create new jobs.”

“Most of those projects as you'd probably understand are actually small-scale projects in local communities in regional areas…because they're the ones that can start more rapidly,” he said.

“We think there's at least 12,000 to 15,000 jobs that will be created through that process directly and possibly more indirectly.

“We've also brought forward and accelerated some of the massive monster projects which have been in the planning and which we've put more money towards to get them going, six or so months earlier.

“The most significant of those is the Western Sydney Airport rail connection which both the state and Federal Government put in an extra $1.75 billion, and that means that it will get under way this year…completed in 2026 for when the airport opens.

“Ten or 11 billion dollars’ worth of investment, about 14,000 jobs created from largely from Western Sydney, in that time period as well.

“Part of the ledger on this which has been happening really behind the scenes quietly and cooperatively, is doing some really clear work with our state counterparts on some of the bottlenecks which are occurring, so that we can accelerate some of the larger scale projects and get them going more rapidly.”

Mr Tudge said this work started earlier on in the pandemic with practical issues like freight and logistics for drivers and supermarkets, for example opening up hours for trucks to deliver, which has now moved to evaluating civil or commercial projects and what is required to get them off the ground.

“We've already said that for some of the really mega projects we want the approvals processes in essence to be halved, from what will be an average of almost four years to one or two years,” he said.

“Some of that will be in terms of environmental approvals whereby we don't want to reduce the standards, but we can certainly do that more quickly.

“If we can do those things more quickly, (it) means more jobs more quickly and it means more economic activity more quickly, as it means we don't have money held up in the private sector waiting to be deployed.”