A world-first International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure, hosted by the SMART Infrastructure Facility at the University of Wollongong, is attracting national publicity.
The program was launched in Sydney with NSW Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations Mike Baird speaking about the O’Farrell government’s view on public-private partnerships.
But in Wollongong on Wednesday, Dr Ken Henry took everyone back to school and got personal in his keynote address at the symposium dinner.
The former special adviser to the prime minister and secretary to the treasury said in many areas of infrastructure, Australia had little reason to be proud.
Dr Henry said Australia was not very good at long-term planning or national approaches to thinking that required Commonwealth and state and territory governments working together.
Nor was it very good at consistently applying rigorous analytical techniques to the assessment of infrastructure projects, or adopting infrastructure systems rather than looking at them on a project-by-project basis.
The nation’s thinking on the way in which infrastructure should be funded, and pricing infrastructure appropriately were also lacking.
Dr Henry said part of the solution was to remember that infrastructure was personal.
He spoke of his childhood in Taree and attending a relatively new high school that was not built large enough to accommodate all the students without demountables.
He went back many years later to find the opposite problem. Large brick buildings that could easily accommodate about 1500children but the campus now only had about 800 students.
He wondered whether today’s thinking about infrastructure requirements would be any better than those of the past.
Dr Henry said over the next 40years, according to the latest official projections, Australia’s population would grow by more than 60per cent but the population aged 65 plus was going to grow by 170per cent to 8.1million.
He then wondered if anyone had any idea where those additional 5.1million people were going to live and how governments were going to provide the infrastructure to satisfy their needs.
He said a demographer had told him that 4million additional Australians would live along the coast between Sydney and Brisbane in places that were now small settlements not terribly well serviced by infrastructure.