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The ACT Government is investing in the infrastructure Canberra needs to ensure it continues to be one of the world’s most liveable and sustainable cities.

The following is a Ministerial Statement I gave to the Legislative Assembly today:

In October 2019, we released an ambitious and comprehensive, 10-year ACT Infrastructure Plan, to advise the community, businesses and the construction sector of the Government’s infrastructure priorities.

The ACT Infrastructure Plan is a blueprint for our city’s development and a vision for the future, and outlines $14 billion worth of infrastructure projects across health, education, transport, and community services.

As I said when I first launched the Plan, our goal was to take a longer-term view of our community’s needs, and map out the physical, social and digital infrastructure necessary to meet them.

Good infrastructure supports a productive economy – but it can do much more than that.

Infrastructure that is well planned and thoughtfully delivered can improve people’s quality of life, strengthen effective service delivery, support adaptation to a changing climate, and break down barriers to social inclusion.

Investing in Canberra's infrastructure

Strategically investing in infrastructure that improves wellbeing and supports economic growth is a key element of the Government’s fiscal strategy.

The ACT Infrastructure Plan outlines our priority infrastructure projects like the Canberra Hospital expansion, which will create 500 jobs during the construction phase – and contribute to our commitment to employ 400 new health care professionals in this parliamentary term.

It outlines our aim to build and expand schools in our suburbs; and establish the new CIT Woden campus.

And it outlines the process of extending Canberra’s light rail network to Commonwealth Park, on its way to Woden.

The infrastructure plan’s key objective – to provide the ACT community, construction companies and businesses with confidence in the focus and pipeline of ACT Government spending – has proven incredibly valuable over the past two years.

But since the release of the 2019 ACT Infrastructure Plan, the world has shifted significantly. 

The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the global economy and led to a sharp spike in national and global unemployment.

Having a clear infrastructure plan already laid out allowed the ACT to move quickly to reconfirm major projects and fast-track the rollout of a large number of smaller screwdriver-ready projects.

Doing so saved thousands of direct and ancillary jobs in the ACT economy through the worst of the global recession.

Over the past two years we have also seen even greater community awareness of the climate emergency we face. 

Canberra's renewable infrastructure

The ACT has acted on the urgent need to build the renewable infrastructure necessary to get cities and economic sectors to zero emissions as quickly as possible, while ensuring the vulnerable members of our community are not disadvantaged by this rapid change.

Canberra's Big Battery

In the ACT, we have always led the nation on climate action – and we continue to take the lead role in our country, and the region.

In October, we took our ambitious plan for the Big Canberra Battery to the community; a distributed large-scale battery storage system harnessing an emerging technology that varies in size and use.

Now, we’re getting on with the job, and a number of reputable companies have expressed an interest in being involved in the project.

We are also helping Canberra households invest in renewable energy upgrades through the Sustainable Household Scheme, creating up to 2,000 sustainable jobs, while saving families hundreds of dollars a year and lowering energy consumption.

Madam Speaker, another significant change since the release of the 2019 Plan, and one that I welcome, is the Commonwealth Government’s recognition that, as a growing and essential regional hub, the ACT deserves a fairer proportion of national infrastructure spending.

The Commonwealth public service has recognised that the ACT Government is a good partner to work with, and it’s a step in the right direction that we have been able to work closely with them on the development of these projects.

Updating the ACT's infrastructure plan

Given these major changes, 2021 is an opportune time to update the ACT Infrastructure Plan to reflect the new global, national and local context of our infrastructure priorities.

So today I can confirm that the Government will consult, develop and release an update to the ACT Infrastructure Plan by the end of 2021.

Good construction projects are about more than jobs; they’re also about improving productivity, connections, educational opportunities and health outcomes.

The past year has demonstrated why an infrastructure plan is essential to business and economic confidence, and for keeping Canberrans in work.

The 2020-21 ACT Budget continues to prioritise the development of critical infrastructure while keeping Canberrans employed.

This includes our Infrastructure Investment Program, the largest in the Territory’s history, which commits $4.3 billion over the next four years across a range of important projects, including almost $2.8 billion for health, education and transport infrastructure (including capital provisions).  

Public housing is also an important element of our infrastructure investment and an integral component of the Government’s urban renewal program.

The 2020-21 Budget allocates $105 million over four years to further boost public housing infrastructure.

Together, with an investment of more than $500 million over six years through Housing ACT, the ACT Government will have invested more than $1 billion in building new public housing right across Canberra over the 10 years to 2025.

The 2020-21 Budget also funds minor capital upgrades and maintenance of existing infrastructure, including $277 million over four years through the Better Infrastructure Fund.

The ACT Government has also established the Capital Works Reserve to give building and civil works companies confidence that they can keep workers on the job if they are running ahead of schedule.

Major infrastructure projects create jobs

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, the Commonwealth Government has recognised that Canberra is a growing and critical regional hub in its own right, and one that hundreds of thousands of New South Wales residents rely on for their economic, education and health needs.  

That, combined with our strong track record of transport project delivery, means the Commonwealth has shown an increasing willingness to partner with the ACT Government on a raft of major infrastructure projects including:

  • Light Rail stage 2A;
  • The duplications of Gundaroo Drive and William Hovell Drive;
  • Upgrades to the Monaro Highway and Tuggeranong Parkway; and
  • The Molonglo River bridge crossing.

Commonwealth investment in the ACT, through national partnership agreements outlined in the 2021-22 federal budget, totals $629 million over five years, from 2020-21.

As I reiterated during the last sitting, it’s about time the Commonwealth delivered funding for major projects in the ACT – funding that flows readily to marginal electorates.

Madam Speaker, our pipeline of infrastructure is a critical element of the ACT’s Jobs and Economic Recovery Plan, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger and more resilient and grow our employment base to more than 250,000 jobs by 2025.

The ACT continues to have the strongest labour market in the country and one of the strongest economies in Australia.

While payroll jobs in the construction industry fell 2.6 per cent between March and April 2020 – during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic – about 60 per cent of jobs in the sector had recovered since then, as of last month (May).

Our Jobs and Economic Recovery Plan sends a clear message of our decision to invest in Canberra, giving businesses the confidence to invest and keep Canberrans in work.

This extends to the ACT Infrastructure Plan, which is central to continued community, business and industry confidence in Canberra’s pipeline of projects – large and small.

It is important we can continue the delivery of our significantly advanced major projects without unnecessary delays.

Any major changes to proposals simply to differentiate oneself, as we’ve seen around the country, wastes time, creates sovereign risk and jeopardises business confidence.

Madam Speaker, I look forward to keeping the Assembly, and the community, updated on the ACT Infrastructure Plan, as we continue to ensure Canberra emerges stronger, together.