Talking point: Tasmania's road ahead

As Australia faces the challenges presented by COVID-19, General Manager - Tasmania Darren Beattie shares his insights into the importance of progressing Tasmania's engineering projects to safeguard the industry and grow the pipeline of engineering talent across the state.
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Like many Tasmanians living through the current restrictions of COVID-19, some days one just has to keep plugging on – at the recommended social distance of course.

Maintaining a sense of humour, even on dark days, is important; as is looking to the future.

In the engineering profession we have been heartened by the recent Civil, Building and Construction Roundtable conducted by Ministers Michael Ferguson (Infrastructure) and Elise Archer (Building & Construction).

This is because Tasmania’s current and immediate future will be driven by its large-scale energy projects Battery of the Nation and Marinus, the civil construction and building industries and ongoing and future major and medium projects; all of which are underpinned by engineers.

To paraphrase politicians, “this means Tasmanian jobs”, from engineers working in the field, or on design and maintenance work, through to concrete trucks and their drivers, excavation workers and their big machines and people on stop-go flags

In recent years, Tasmanians have been thrilled to see cranes working in the sky - a clear indication of the economy ticking over - with hundreds of construction workers engaged beneath them.

Some of these projects are continuing; most notably the hotels being completed in the Hobart CBD and surrounds. The University of Tasmania remains committed to its Northern urbanisation programs and, hopefully, work in the south of the state can continue into the medium and long-term future.

The State Government is looking to assist local government, as in Tasmania’s councils, to bring forward capital works projects, and conduct an urgent review of the 10-year Infrastructure Plan.

What is good news, is that the Government - understandably focused on containing and overcoming COVID-19 within the state - is looking to promote “shovel-ready” projects in 2020-2021.

In the next two months, Tasmanian engineering and construction firms will be looking for tenders from organisations such as the Department of State Growth and other GBE’s. The Government is also aiming to bring forward design work from 2021 and will look to accelerate projects in the pre-construction phase.

What I encourage all stakeholders to do is “look inwards”, as in look to Tasmanian firms, because that’s what other states will do to kick-start their economies.

We know there has, and will be, ongoing national discussions about contracts and tendering processes, and Tasmania will, of course, adopt best practice from those machinations.

What Engineers Australia Tasmania wants is a continuation of government and industry briefings to provide up-to-date insights into the status of the pipeline of work; the shovel ready projects. This will enable industry to both plan, and have proper understanding, in real time to prepare accordingly.

As the Australian dollar falls amid the COVID-19 crisis, there are corresponding price increases on resources, with questions emerging about how long local stocks will last. There is therefore a need to also focus on infrastructure maintenance projects which rely less heavily on the supply of materials and equipment.

Engineers Australia urges governments, and other clients, to streamline their procurement processes to accelerate projects.

The Government is working hard to achieve this, but we would also encourage its various departments to support Tasmanian SMEs to continue to engage and develop graduate engineers, so that we have enough competent engineers down the track, when we will need them. Historical reliance on migration is no longer an option so, now more than ever, employers need to make use of the many engineers already onshore.

Tasmania Statewide has a need, and appetite, for projects on every scale; ensuring ongoing work and, most importantly, employment for all practitioners no matter the size of their business

As the recent reports have shown, Pumped Hydro and a new Tasmanian hydrogen industry are just around the corner.

Tasmania – and Australia – has an opportunity to again focus on the overall manufacturing industry. As we have shown on the North-West Coast, we are and can continue to be leaders in innovation.

As I said, there have been dark days, but perhaps now we can see some light over the horizon.

If Tasmania works together – State and Federal Governments, Local Government and local industry – we can emerge into economic and infrastructure building sunshine again.

This story originally appeated in Tasmanian news publication The Mercury.