For it is in giving that we receive.(St Francis of Assisi)
A big thank you to our clients for the opportunity to work on very interesting projects during 2019. In a sentence, it has been a year of electrification, explosives, timber, leases, water, telecommunications, free zones, customs and trade across Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
Personally, I have been blessed to work some very smart people who have generously shared their experience, skills, talents and good humour in these projects.
Wishing everyone all the very best over the holiday season.
Work with Maxwell Stamp colleagues continues in Saudi Arabia. Gene Tunny and I got a great view of the significant changes occurring right now in downtown Riyadh, including the construction of the city’s USD22.5 billion metro (176km of track and 85 stations). We are on the Sky Bridge at the Kingdom Center, one hundred floors above the city.
Intra regional trade and the effectiveness of 147 active zones (economic, industrial and free) in the Middle East will be under consideration by Lytton Advisory. The firm has been given a mandate to develop advice for the Gulf Cooperative Council Secretariat on the next phase of closer economic cooperation between member states. This will involve a baseline review of existing economic zones, careful analysis of customs arrangements between Gulf states, an examination of World Trade Organisation implications and economic modelling of preferred solutions. Lytton Advisory is looking forward to working with colleagues from Maxwell Stamp in the Middle East, building on engagements in the region over the past three years.
Craig Lawrence has three decades of experience as a professional economist and has advised on a wide range of infrastructure projects in Australia, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Part 2 of our conversation covers, among other things:
public private partnerships or PPPs, their pros and their cons;
challenges in infrastructure provision in emerging economies;
the merits of quasi-independent infrastructure advisory bodies such as Infrastructure Australia and Building Queensland; and
the geopolitics of infrastructure (e.g. Chinese takeover of a Sri Lankan port, Australia blocking Huawei’s involvement in 5G infrastructure, and the 99-year leasing out of Darwin port to a Chinese company).
Linear economic systems are inherently unsustainable, creating intergenerational equity where markets for this are not readily available. Understanding waste management approaches and the role of critical raw materials is key to developing effective approaches that move us towards the circular economy. It was one of the reasons I recently completed a short course in these issues.
Thanks to Gene Tunny, Principal at Adept Economics, for inviting me onto his new podcast series – Economics Explained. We discussed the nature of infrastructure, the services these assets supply and how good economic analysis helps select better infrastructure projects. Gene and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the last two years. He is a leading independent economist who blogs regularly at queenslandeconomywatch.com.
State Infrastructure Plan plays to division between SEQ and Regional Queensland.
The recently released State Infrastructure Plan (SIP) provides a much needed framework for the planning and prioritising of infrastructure delivery in Queensland and should be widely supported.
However, it also reinforces subconsciously the division that exists between SEQ and Regional Queensland when it comes to limited infrastructure dollars being spread across a large and high needs state.
The SIP outlines a $49.5 billion infrastructure program over the next four years from the Queensland Government ($12.9 billion in 2019-20) that claims to be supporting an estimated 40,500 jobs. Based on these metrics alone it is delivering economic development at a time when overall economic growth in Queensland is below trend.
Since the original SIP was released in 2016, Queensland has experienced significant changes including our population growing to more than five million, changing regional economies, and advanced technologies altering both infrastructure and service delivery.
As a result the 2019 SIP details the infrastructure investment strategy and delivery program for the next four years, in order to provide the private sector and other levels of government with clear direction of what is in the pipeline.
The Queensland Government’s SIP mantra is ensuring the right infrastructure is delivered in the right place and at the right time to meet the demands of a growing state. This is a commendable goal of any government and one that directly aligns with community and industry expectation.
If the document has one regrettable feature it is the cementing of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude when it comes to infrastructure rollout across Queensland. For example the SIP reads “Importantly, about 60 per cent of the capital program and 25,500 of the jobs supported are outside the Greater Brisbane area.”
Much of the narrative of a fair split between the two parts of the State is about a political necessity following the Federal Election result whereby Queensland Labor were wiped out north and west of Brisbane.
As an illustration of this point, the 2019 SIP is 207 pages long verses 159 pages back in 2018 and these extra 48 pages are directly up front and relate purposefully to what the Queensland Government is doing in infrastructure delivery in regional Queensland.
It is not wrong to support regional Queensland but constructing a zoning of spend is counter to the commendable objectives of SIP in supporting economic development, increased productivity and the creation of communities in which people want to live across all of Queensland.
The reality is, what benefits SEQ undoubtedly benefits Regional Queensland and vice-versa when it comes to infrastructure.
Glowing examples of this point are the Gateway North Upgrade and Toowoomba Second Range Crossing whereby freight is passaged through these assets that benefits Regional Queensland. On the other side of the coin is investment in rail and ports in regional Queensland is enabling royalties for frontline service delivery in SEQ. The right narrative is a symbiotic relationship between the South East Corner and all of Regional Queensland.
Putting aside the politics, what the SIP really does is highlight how incredibly difficult infrastructure delivery and prioritisation is in Queensland. Our State has the unfaltering complexity of higher economic and population growth in SEQ meaning we are continually behind the infrastructure roll out curve and yet we have the geographical size, decentralised population and low population densities of regional Queensland.
All of which mean the road, rail, electricity transmission and electricity distribution kilometres are higher than other states and we require more airports and seaports. Quite simply infrastructure delivery in Queensland is complex and difficult – with differing priorities benefiting differing areas at differing times.
In summary, the SIP represents a very good iteration or constant continuing roll out of enabling projects for Queensland. Looking past the politics of its presentation it is investing in critical infrastructure and is in fact investing in a positive future for the Sunshine State.
The schools and TAFE are delivering the skills our economy requires. The bridges, roads, ports and rail are enabling our exports to get to market and commerce to flow. The electricity and water assets are providing the vital inputs for our economy.
The overall spend as impressive as it sounds is still low by historical percentage of GSP standards but the SIP has been well received from many communities and industry sectors and rightly so.