Today, Infrastructure Australia released its 2021 Infrastructure Priority List, and regional Australia is once again the poor cousin.
Of the identified ‘High Priority Projects’, not a single one is in a regional area – with only Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane rating a mention.
“Unfortunately, if this is what the Government means when it says it’s committed to regional Australia than it smacks of rhetoric rather real action,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
Ms Simson said it proved that the way projects were assessed and prioritised was broken.
“There is something drastically wrong with this process when Western Sydney alone is identified for more than $7 billion of new high priority infrastructure projects and regional Australia is almost completely ignored.
“Regional Australia needs transformational infrastructure, just like the Western Sydney Airport development, to finally capture all the benefits and economic potential of our regional communities and economies.
“Bureaucratic processes, such as needlessly high discount rates for cost-benefit analysis set by Treasury, deprioritise and demote regional infrastructure as afterthoughts.
“We are calling on state and federal treasuries to review the high discount rates used to assess infrastructure proposals that disadvantage investment proposals in projects with long-term horizons for benefits, this includes most regional projects.
“We understand Infrastructure Australia is supportive of a review into discount rates.
“The NFF also acknowledges Infrastructure Australia’s efforts in identifying regional initiatives, however they need to be fully-costed and shovel-ready.”
Regional Australia is home to 8 million Australians.
“It’s insulting that our social and economic needs are somehow viewed to be worth less than the 2 million residents of Western Sydney,” Ms Simson said.
“Regional infrastructure must mean infrastructure built for the primary benefit of regional Australians.
“We are thankful to the Federal Government for funding projects, like the Inland Rail, despite it not being deemed a high priority.”
The NFF-led Regionalisation Agenda launched this week and supported by leading voices of industry and business, highlights the lack of transformative infrastructure as a key barrier to regional development, as well as the lack establishment of a viable food and fibre manufacturing and processing industry in the regions.
“Australia is lacking processing facilities for produce such as wool, cotton and forestry products, despite being world leaders in growing the raw fibre,” Ms Simson said.
“Regional Australia should be the host of a world leading export industry in food and fibre manufacturing and to achieve that we need equitable investment in transformative infrastructure.
“We welcome assurances from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, that the Government is committed to the regionalisation of Australia.
“However, actions speak louder than words, and today, unfortunately, Infrastructure Australia’s list is completely at odds with the Government’s positive messaging.
“Our regions deserve a shovel-ready, high priority list for development investments to be drawn up otherwise the Government risks their commitment being seen as nothing more than a bumper sticker,” Ms Simson said.