Politics Analysis

Digital boost for South East Queensland a good start

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At the signing of the SEQ City Deal (L-R) former PM Scott Morrison, QLD Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner (Screenshot via YouTube)

While southeast Queensland is being given a large-scale digital boost, the funding might have better served smaller infrastructure projects. Paul Budde reports.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, the Federal Government announced the South East Queensland (SEQ) City Deal (the Deal). With my interest in smart city developments, I had a good look at this plan.

This region hosts several of the leading smart city councils in Australia. Over the last decade or so, I have been involved with smart city developments in Ipswich, Moreton Bay, Logan and the Sunshine Coast. I also had a few meetings with representatives of the SEQ Council of Mayors as this organisation is ideally suited to create collaboration across the region. So, I am really enthusiastic about the regional focus of this “Deal”.

The governments and councils involved signed on to a $1.8 billion deal in March. The Deal is backed by $667.77 million from the Commonwealth, $618.78 million from the state, $501.62 from the SEQ councils and $75 million from industry.

Key projects in which I am particularly interested include $70 million for digital connectivity to support place-based telecommunications infrastructure and improved digital connectivity and $150 million for the SEQ Innovation Economy Fund to support capital projects that promote and grow the region’s innovation economy.

The Deal includes more than 30 projects from Brisbane to Toowoomba, Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast, focused on upgrading the region's transport and digital network and improving “liveability” to support a growing population.

The main focus of the Deal is on big-ticket items such as road and rail infrastructure (I didn’t find anything on bike paths). Click here for an overview of the selected projects.

Large-scale infrastructure projects are attractive for newspaper headlines and to win votes. However, what I have learned over the years, in particular also looking at many overseas city deals, is that small-scale projects can have a far bigger impact to make cities and in particular local neighbourhoods more liveable. The good thing is that they have thought about this, but in the overall scale, they remain a minor part of the Deal.

As information and communications technology (ICT) becomes more and more embedded in any infrastructure – be it transport, housing, healthcare or education – the ICT elements of the larger projects can also be used in the broader smart city developments. The key here, however, is that these developments are not simply done with the traditional silo-thinking mentality.

The councils that I have been working with are very much aware of the synergy effects that can be obtained when you look at these projects on a horizontal scale rather than on a vertical (silo-based) scale. In other words, with that ICT infrastructure in place, what else can be achieved if one thinks and acts smart?

It is therefore good to see that the dedicated telecom investments within the Deal are looked at in that context. Funds for such projects include $30 million for a project to partner with the industry to improve digital connectivity on selected rail corridors, as well as $40 million for local digital priority projects. These will include the deployment of place-based digital infrastructure, projects to address localised connectivity gaps and projects to improve the reliability of telecom services region-wide.

In addition, $750,000 has been committed to a smart region digital plan, aimed at embedding smart solutions in industries and communities across the region.

There is also $150 million in a so-called Innovation Economy Fund to invest in nationally significant capital projects that support small business and social enterprise, with cash for studies to improve digital connectivity and better transport corridors.

Finally, on my list is a $285.8 million SEQ Liveability Fund to deliver improved amenities and support environmental infrastructure and open spaces. The Deal includes a commitment to explore opportunities to build on the smart city expertise of the region's local governments and to leverage the new Sunshine Coast International Submarine Cable Network.

While I applaud the Deal, with so much money involved, more of the fund should have been allocated to the smaller smart city projects.

Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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