Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 01 Hansard (Wednesday, 2 December 2020) . . Page.. 70 ..
Questions without notice
MS LEE: My question is to the Chief Minister. Chief Minister, in the Canberra Times on 10 November you are quoted as saying that the government’s $4 billion infrastructure program would be your biggest challenge, suggesting that you had a “degree of concern” about the construction industry’s capacity to complete the work. Chief Minister, when did you start to have these concerns and why did you not share them with the public before the election?
MR BARR: I thank Ms Lee for the question. I have been very clear about this for about a decade. The biggest challenge that the government faces in being able to deliver the capital program each year is supply-side constraints; that is, industry capacity. I think it stretches back over the entirety of the self-governing period. We are a small jurisdiction; we undertake big infrastructure projects; we need to import skills and labour. In the middle of a pandemic, that can be challenging.
I took the opportunity to meet with Infrastructure Australia in Sydney last week to discuss various matters around industry capacity and what is anticipated to impact on our program, largely through projects of the New South Wales and Victorian governments. We do not operate as an island in isolation from the rest of the Australian infrastructure market and it will be a challenge for every state and territory over the next few years to deliver their ambitious infrastructure programs because there will be supply-side constraints. What I am particularly concerned about is the deteriorating trade relationship with China, given that so much of the necessary equipment and products necessary to undertake a lot of construction in this nation are imported, including from China.
MS LEE: What steps, if any, did you take, either in the last 10 years or before the election, to assess the industry capacity before announcing what you were going to deliver in the election campaign?
MR BARR: Extensive meetings with industry peak organisations who go on the public record time and again and assure the government of their capacity to deliver the program, and in fact often argue for a larger program than we budget for. I do my best to take them at face value on what they say they will be able to deliver over a four-year period, but I note the reality of the availability of supplies, the availability of labour and the challenges that the pandemic and the impact of the size of the national infrastructure program will have across the next four years.
One thing that is particularly clear is that there is a level of infrastructure project size that can be absorbed by the local market and then there are other projects that clearly go to tier 1 contractors who operate nationally and internationally. Part of the programming challenge, if you like, around the delivery of infrastructure is getting the right balance between the two sets of infrastructure programs over the course of a four-year period.