The 2015-2016 Budget released Tuesday night promises continued commitment to infrastructure funding programmes from 2014, with additional investment in building stronger regions, but little focus on housing and affordability.
The government is continuing its $50 billion commitment to the Infrastructure Growth Package, with 19 new major projects commencing last year, and another 55 due to commence in 2015.
The Asset Recycling Initiative, agreed upon by New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory so far, is expected generate more than $15 billion of additional infrastructure activity.
Projects include new roads in most Australian states and territories, bridge upgrades, and a new Mobile Black Spot Programme.
ROADS, RAIL AND AIRPORTS
Tasmania was a key focus in the 2015 Budget, with the government investing $60 million in developing the state’s irrigation system. A further $203 million will be used to expand the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme to include exports.
Work on the Midland Highway in Tasmania is continuing, with an additional five safety projects to be completed by May 2015.
The government remains committed to improving Melbourne's East West Link motorway, and has not redirected funding. This leaves $3 billion in funding for any Victorian Government that builds the East West Link. There is no new money for road or rail projects around Melbourne beyond last year’s promises.
Commitment also remains to Badgerys Creek Airport in Sydney, with an ongoing $3.6 billion Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, but no new funding beyond $2.9 billion for nearby roads.
Major work has commenced on the $3 billion NorthConnex project, expected to create 8700 jobs for New South Wales, while the M5 West widening project was completed in December 2014. Early works on WestConnex also commenced this year. This project is expected to deliver $20 billion in economic benefits and create around 10,000 jobs.
Last year saw the beginning of construction on South Australia’s Torrens Road to River Torrens project, with new major works expected in 2015, including the North-South Road Corridor, which will receive close to $1 billion of funding.
A further $499 million was provided for road infrastructure in WA following a GST revenue shortfall. Construction of the $1 billion Gateway WA Project is expected to be completed by mid-2016, with works on the Perth Freight Link to commence early 2016.
In the Northern Territory, the government has so far constructed the first section of the $103 million Tiger Brennan Drive duplication.
Numerous major projects in Queensland are being delivered on schedule, including the Bruce Highway, the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing and the Gateway Motorway North. Over 70 bridges will be upgraded under tranche 1 of the Bridges Renewal Programme.
The Budget also suggested the potential privatisation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, owner of interstate tracks.
The government is investing also strongly in Northern Australia with the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility expected to help develop the region through better road, rail, port and power infrastructure.
The government is also developing regional Australia through the $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund, where every lower house federal MP in the country is to be allocated $150,000 for investment in local infrastructure projects.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) continues to be rolled out across Australia, with another 3.1 million homes and businesses expected to have the NBN in place or under construction by September 2016.
A $100 million Mobile Black Spots Programme will see the first base stations rolled out later this year, with 95 new projects under the programme in total.
LACK OF REFORM
The Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) has criticised the Budget, claiming it is too light on necessary structural changes.
The Institute felt more focus should have been placed on reforms that would “boost productivity, investment, and our standard of living”, including investment in new housing and more infrastructure in major cities.
“The unwinding of the mining boom is placing a heavy toll on government finances and the broader economy,” said UDIA national VP, Michael Corcoran.
“Development and new housing construction is currently doing much of the heavy lifting in the Australian economy, and with most of Australia’s capital cities still suffering from a chronic housing shortage, it’s an area that still has plenty of room to grow.”
The Budget projected dwelling investment to hold steady at 6.5% in 2015-16 before decreasing to 4.5% in 2016-17.
Mr Corcoran said barriers such as inadequate investment in urban infrastructure, red tape, and high and inefficient taxes and charges on new housing are still holding back new housing construction, and contributing to worsening housing affordability.
“Given the significant challenges facing Australia, the Government needs to get serious about making the difficult changes necessary to support future growth.
“Failure to do so soon will put Australia’s future prosperity at risk,” said Mr Corcoran.