Opportunities for the taking

The Australian government is investing $50 billion in infrastructure projects over the next 15 years to meet the challenges of economic and social development and international competitiveness.

While it’s a challenge for the nation, it represents an opportunity for business. But how can business take advantage of new infrastructure projects? 

Karla McPhail sits on the board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, a $5 billion fund to encourage and complement private sector infrastructure investment in northern Australia. She is also CEO of Undamine Industries, a contracting company specialising in the black coal industry, supplying a turnkey workforce 24/7.

She says suppliers need to ready themselves to take advantage of prospects as they present themselves. “Opportunity will not come begging at your door,” McPhail says. “Businesses need to seek out where they can be exceptional.”

A plan for Australia

In 2015, Infrastructure Australia (IA) developed the first Australian Infrastructure Plan.

The Plan sets out 78 recommendations for reform and provides a vision and roadmap to address current infrastructure gaps. Alongside it is IA's reinvigorated Infrastructure Priority List, which identifies 93 priority projects and initiatives.

Infrastructure Australia has identified urban congestion and national freight connectivity as important infrastructure challenges. But McPhail sees other advantages flowing from key infrastructure upgrades in the form of increased demand for supplies that may be filled by local businesses – particularly those that conform to national certification standards.

“Businesses committed to Quality Assurance standards of organisation, environment and safety are always competitive at a supplier level because of the investment and actioning of internal and external standards,” McPhail says.

Last month, the IA board added the M80 Ring Road Upgrade in Victoria as a high-priority project, as well as Forrestfield Airport Rail Link in Western Australia, Moorebank Intermodal Terminal in NSW and the Adelaide-Tarcoola Rail Upgrade in South Australia.  

Anna Chau, executive director, Project Advisory at Infrastructure Australia, says the benefits to local business lie well beyond the construction phase.

Of Melbourne’s M80 Ring Road, Chau says “the improved connectivity along this corridor will have a positive impact on all business”.

The upgrade addresses road congestion on a 38-kilometre freeway used by more than 160,000 vehicles every day. “This corridor connects major population centres in Melbourne’s north and west to the port, airports and other major roads,” she says.

The Adelaide-Tarcoola Rail Upgrade is part of a long-term strategy to increase rail freight carriage and brings forward the re-railing of 600 kilometres of track originally scheduled over the next 25 years.

According to Chau, “this improves capacity from Adelaide to Perth to support projected freight volumes and brings forward manufacturing opportunities for local rail businesses.”

A helping hand for business

As someone who has ridden the rise and fall of the mining construction boom, McPhail says the most significant thing businesses need to understand is that they are not in competition with one another.

“Australian businesses need to work together to build strong partnerships and to complement each other,” she says. “We need to network and educate each other. I don’t work in isolation.”

In New Zealand and all Australian states except Western Australia, the Industry Capability Network (ICN) introduces businesses to project opportunities large and small.

In Queensland ICN is owned and operated by not-for-profit QMI Solutions in partnership with the state government.

QMI Solutions director and CEO Gary Christian agrees with McPhail that collaboration is the way forward for SMEs in particular. The organisation is in the process of bringing together new platforms to facilitate industry, government, universities, innovators and businesses to collaborate, but Christian says it’s important for businesses to first articulate what they offer through a capability statement.

He says the ICN Gateway is a good starting point to build a business profile and to understand what projects are being listed and what capability is sought after by project owners.

“Once a profile is built, we can then link businesses with the opportunities that lie in new projects,” Christian says.

At a recent series of workshops in Victoria, 500 SME business leaders met to discuss ways business could benefit from infrastructure activity.

Victorian ICN CEO Don Matthews told participants it means adopting a new mindset towards collaboration and taking a long-term view to building the capabilities that will make them a vital link in the supply chain.

“There is enormous potential for SMEs not currently involved in the infrastructure sector to access opportunity, he says. “The demand is there for capability, capacity and specialist intellectual property.”

 Find out more about Infrastructure Australia’s ‘Infrastructure Priority List’ by visiting:


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Words by Christine McKee

The articles represent the views of the authors and not necessarily that of the Bank. You should seek independent professional advice before acting on any matters set out in the articles.