We have hit the ground running at the start of 2023. Being an election year it will certainly focus the political minds and also provide the infrastructure sector with an opportunity to influence public policy and investment ahead of the next government term. It will also, hopefully, be the first full year of being ‘back to normal’ with borders fully open and any notion of COVID-19 lockdowns well in our rear mirror.
Building Nations 2023 will be held on 7-8 June at the Te Pae Christchurch Conference Centre with the theme ‘Moving from ambition to action’. We will all be looking forward to hearing what our leading politicians, both the existing and hopefuls, are promising us on the infrastructure front.
As the current parliamentary term nears its end, we are conscious of the significant legislative programme that is still making its journey through the House. In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see what the result of Cabinet’s review of priorities is and what remains on the table to progress this term.
The team at Infrastructure New Zealand is currently busy preparing submissions on the two replacement resource management bills, the two latest water services entities bills, and the Future of Local Government Review Report. These proposed changes will have a big impact on the sector and its operating environment. It is critical to get these right, so we will be inputting constructively to these processes.
Fundamental, transformational large-scale reforms that take several years are really hard. However, it is important that the momentum is maintained. INZ has advocated for change in all these areas in order to create the best environment for the development and operation of infrastructure to support the communities and businesses of Aotearoa while protecting our natural environment. The legislation isn’t perfect, it never is. It is also difficult to fully understand how all the different components come together, and there are always concerns around implementation and exactly how future decisions will be made. Our task is to contribute to the process to help ensure the final legislation takes account of valid concerns, addresses these, and overall provides as much clarity as possible to all players in the new system.
The beginning of the year is also a good time to reflect on INZ’s Strategic Priorities. Our four key areas identified last year were also reinforced in the polling taken during November’s Building Nations (BN), these are:
- sustainable funding and financing
- climate change and sustainable infrastructure
- diversity in thought and people, and
- skills retention /ensuring a future pipeline of talent.
Our work involves the following aspects:
- influencing government policy
- advocating by being the voice for our members, and
- providing independent policy advice and research.
Sustainable funding and financing
More than 60% of BN attendees who responded to our poll agreed that accessing private sector financing and delivery capacity was key to addressing our infrastructure deficit and funding gap. This remains a critical focus and its one INZ and its Funding and Financing Working Group are keen to make progress on this year. One way to get private sector funding on the table as part of any project’s development is to ensure it is considered during the business case development phases. We are interested in developing some guidance here as to which aspects should be considered and what financing models could be appropriate. We need to face up to the reality that the government simply doesn’t have enough funding available to meet the country’s infrastructure needs. One aspect will be making submissions on the Government’s legislative programme across the resource management reform, Three Waters reform and the Local Government Review to ensure the principles of sustainable funding and financing feature. We are also delving into the subjects of better application, standardisation and evaluation with more consistency across the numerous government funds that are available for infrastructure funding.
Climate change and sustainable infrastructure
Almost 40% of BN polling responders considered that climate change and sustainable development should be front of mind for INZ as it develops its work programme and focus for the year. INZ will look to be more deliberate in addressing its climate change impacts and the opportunities for our sector to build greater resilience and sustainability into its practices by teaming up with other partners and stakeholders. Over the coming year, we look forward to seeing and responding to the third part of the resource management reform package, the Climate Adaption Bill.
Diversity of thought and people
The feedback from our BN polling was not so positive on the question of how far the infrastructure sector has to go before it is truly diverse and inclusive and equitable with more than 70% indicating it wouldn’t happen in the near future or for a long time. This reinforces why this area of focus is critical to the sector and New Zealand’s future. INZ will look to leverage partnership opportunities and work under the Construction Sector Accord. Our two industry networks: Women in Infrastructure (WIN) and The Infrastructure Collective (TIC) have key roles to play in supporting and encouraging diversity in our sector.
Skills retention /ensuring a future pipeline of talent
After the recent immigration setting changes we are starting to slowly see an increase in our available infrastructure workforce and supporting supply chain. These workers are critical to ensuring we have the skills and talent needed. It will be a long-term challenge to face the fact that there is a global workforce shortage, and we are competing with the rest of the world. INZ will continue its work as part of the Construction Sector Accord Transformation Plan by partnering on our actions. It is important that there is more cooperation and collaboration across the sector to attract people and allow them to see the fantastic career prospects and the opportunities to make a tangible difference. We will also be looking at the lessons learned from ‘Infrastructure Australia’ around the delivery pipeline.
Now our borders are fully open, INZ will be looking to set up international delegation tours once again. These have been amazing opportunities for senior infrastructure leaders to see first-hand international best practice, learn from key people at the forefront, and build international connections.