29 August 2023

Building resilient infrastructure in the Pacific Islands

There are opportunities for Australian companies to build sustainable resilient infrastructure in the Pacific and contribute to the region’s economic prosperity.

For more than 50 years, Australia and the Pacific have worked together to achieve lasting sovereignty, stability, security and prosperity for all Pacific countries and peoples.

A major part of Australia’s development program to the Pacific is infrastructure development. Australia is the largest infrastructure financier to Pacific governments after the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

ADB estimates over US$30 billion needs to be invested in the Pacific’s infrastructure by 2030. Better roads, ports, telecommunications, water and energy infrastructure will underpin economic development, increase employment and attract investment into new industries. It will enable Pacific nations to integrate with global supply chains and participate in the global economy.

At a grassroots level, robust infrastructure ensures remote Pacific communities can access essential services. There is also an urgent need for climate-resilient infrastructure.

The Developing Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure in the Blue Pacific Conference will highlight opportunities for Australian companies to invest in or build infrastructure across the Pacific. Attendees will hear about countries’ infrastructure pipelines for the next 3–5 years and how to get involved in these projects. The conference will help companies understand how to engage with businesses in the Pacific Islands, including how to work with local workforces and supply chains.

‘Australian companies make solid business partners for Pacific organisations,’ says Adrian Weeks, Austrade’s Senior Trade Commissioner, Port Moresby and Solomon Islands. ‘We are well regarded for delivering high-quality projects in partnership with Pacific companies and development agencies.

This conference will present great opportunities to bring innovative solutions to projects. This innovation can then be transferred to project partners, building local capacity and new capabilities.

The need for resilient infrastructure across the Pacific

International development donors have made major investments in the Pacific that have improved the quality of life. The investments have helped bring essential services such as water storage and treatment, hospitals and schools to remote communities.

However, Pacific Island countries are among the most exposed nations, globally, to the effects of climate change. Yet many lack the resources and capacity to respond to external shocks because of ageing or inadequate roads, sea walls, ports and power networks.

The Pacific region also faces energy challenges. Its limited supply of fossil fuels has led to a historical dependence on imported diesel for power generation. This has made nations vulnerable to fluctuating energy prices.

At the same time, outdated power infrastructure, geographical dispersion, small economies of scale, and limited generation capacity have resulted in high power costs, transmission and distribution losses, and low electrification rates.

Opportunities for Australian infrastructure companies

The most critical infrastructure projects are focused on strengthening climate and disaster resilience. These include building new marinas and seawalls and investing in renewable energy projects. There is high demand for construction services for the marine environment, renewable energy solutions, and power infrastructure and transmission.

Projects differ between nations. In Fiji, the focus is on improving water supply and treatment, with the Water Authority of Fiji tendering for suppliers. Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati are seeking renewable energy products to reduce their use of diesel fuel. Meanwhile, renewing port infrastructure is top of mind for Papua New Guinea.

Australian companies continue to deliver on major projects. Power Protection Industries (PPI) is customising electrical solutions for infrastructure projects across the Pacific. Hall Contracting, Australia’s largest dredging company, is delivering climate adaptation projects with a focus on community resilience in Nuie and Tuvalu. Hydroflux is providing ecologically sustainable water and wastewater solutions for businesses and municipalities in Fiji. Geofabrics has developed a range of coast protection solutions to build climate resilience.

Australian companies are not only building infrastructure, they are helping train the next generation. Beca HunterH20 is working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian Water Partnership. This initiative includes the Young Water Professionals program, which is helping train young people in the Pacific region.

‘We’ve trained them in a range of areas around modern water utilities,’ says Peter Dennis, Beca HunterH20’s General Manager of Water. ‘These include governance and technical skills and procurement and risk – and built their toolbox to become water utility professionals. It’s a great example of supporting our neighbours in the Pacific.’

Partnerships with bilateral and multilateral development agencies

Many infrastructure projects in the Pacific are funded by the Australian Government and/or multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Pacific Marine Group recently built a provincial wharf in Alotau in Papua New Guinea with funding from the Asian Development Bank and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The project was an initiative of the PNG Climate Change Development Authority, which focuses on constructing climate change–resistant infrastructure.

‘Most bilateral and multilateral agencies are open to discussion about solutions for infrastructure gaps,’ says Weeks. ‘Deeper collaboration is often needed to solve complex challenges like energy or fresh water supply to remote or rural areas.’

There are also investment opportunities. Private-sector investment will be critical to deliver large-scale projects such as renewable energy infrastructure. Palau’s first utility-scale solar and battery energy storage facility was built by renewable energy developer Solar Pacific Pristine Power. It received $31.4 million in funding from the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFPP).

Since being established in 2019, AIFFP has signed agreements for 12 projects in 9 Pacific Island countries worth over $1.2 billion. AIFFP is supporting a range of transformative projects, including new ICT cables to provide connectivity across the region and major investments in PNG ports and airports in Fiji, Timor and Nauru.

Austrade’s assistance

Austrade will host a stand at the Developing Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure in the Blue Pacific Conference and Trade Expo. Interested parties can meet with Austrade to discuss aspects of doing business across the Pacific.

‘The conference will give Australian companies a first-hand understanding of the investments being made and assess how their capabilities could contribute to the projects,’ says Weeks. ‘We can share insights about the potential challenges and the importance of partnerships and networks to address the challenges.

‘Our Pacific neighbours are living with the effects of climate change. We are at a critical point in time where Australian companies can help mitigate these effects and make a lasting contribution to climate resilience in the Pacific.’

Register now

The Developing Sustainable Resilient Infrastructure in the Blue Pacific Conference will be held in Brisbane on 25–27 September 2023. It will be one of the biggest infrastructure conferences ever held involving all the Pacific Island countries, their governments and private sectors.

The Australian Government, the governments of New Zealand, France and Japan, other government donors and donor agencies such as the multilateral development banks will be in attendance. The event includes a Trade Expo, where companies can set up booths to display their products and services.

Visit the Australia Pacific Islands Business Council website to find out more and register for the conference.

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