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Why does Canberra need a long-term infrastructure plan?


The ACT is the fastest-growing jurisdiction in Australia with a growth rate of 23% over the last decade. Population projections released by the ACT Government forecast the territory’s population to reach 784,000 in 2060, with the majority of growth seen in the city’s north. Roughly 57% of Canberrans currently live north of Lake Burley Griffin and that proportion is expected to increase to 65% by 2060. Canberra’s status as a regional hub servicing another half a million people from across the border must also be taken into consideration but is often forgotten given its unique geographical position as an enclave within NSW.

Our current infrastructure is not up to scratch and long-term planning and investment is needed urgently. We have the second-oldest convention centre in the country that has received the least amount of funding for upgrades, and our single stadium at Bruce is at the end of its useful life. With the concentration of population growth in the city’s north, and the increased centrality of the CBD courtesy of the further development of Canberra’s light rail network, we have every reason to invest heavily in the redevelopment of Civic as well as its transport links with the rest of the city and beyond. Now is the time for the ACT and Federal Governments to partner with each other and the private sector to build the entire city-to-lake corridor into a thriving social, cultural and economic hub from which spokes extend outward facilitating the free-flowing exchange of ideas, people, innovations and products throughout the Canberra Region.

The ACT has not received its fair share of infrastructure funding from the Commonwealth over the last decade. City Deals were an initiative launched in 2015 by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with large-scale infrastructure projects, funded in part by substantial Commonwealth contributions, sitting at the heart of each city deal. The first deal was signed in 2016 and a total of nine City Deals and three Regional Deals have now been agreed, including almost $10 billion in Commonwealth investment.

The ACT has seen $0 of that funding as the only jurisdiction without a City or Regional Deal, while some states have multiple.

In the former Coalition Government’s last five years in power, the ACT received only $146 million for new transport infrastructure while the other states and territories shared in $35 billion. That’s just 0.42% of spending despite the ACT accounting for 1.76% of Australia’s total population — roughly 75% less than our fair share. The trend continues with latest Federal Budget papers showing the ACT receiving 40% less than the national per capita average for transport and communication infrastructure spending in 2023-24. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth has committed $2.5 billion to the Brisbane Arena and $240 million for a new stadium in Tasmania.

With Canberra continuing to grow faster than any other capital city in Australia, this inequity in funding needs to be addressed. A long-term infrastructure framework that has the support of our community — and is agreed on by the Federal Government, the ACT Government and the surrounding Local Councils — can help deliver us the funding we need to build and preserve our Canberra. And in uncertain economic times, this framework can create a major project pipeline that will help local industry to build capacity while giving business certainty to invest and grow.