The Global Foundation recently convened a hybrid roundtable discussion on the theme of ‘sustainable infrastructure’ in Melbourne and online, to which we were delighted to welcome Professor Enrico Giovannini, former Italian Minister for Sustainable Infrastructures and Mobility, as our guest of honour. Enrico’s presentation shared how Italy became an example of global best practice in sustainable infrastructure, providing inspiration and guidance for Australia’s sustainability journey and for possible wider application in Australia’s neighbourhood.

A positive conclusion from the session was that the Foundation was encouraged to investigate the topic further and that the possibility of Prof. Giovannini visiting Australia for the purpose was canvassed.

The session was kindly hosted by Mr Mike Fitzpatrick AO (Director, Squitchy Lane), and formed part of the Foundation’s new Australian Transformation series of discussions about longer-term issues affecting Australia’s sustainable national development in a global context.

Thank you to our speakers:

  • Professor Enrico Giovannini – former Minister for Sustainable Infrastructures and Mobility in Italy
  • Ms Sharan Burrow AC – Global Advocate for Rights and Sustainability
  • Ms Maryanne Graham – Executive General Manager | Corporate & Stakeholder Affairs, Transgrid
  • Ms Jane Hider – Partner, King & Wood Mallesons
  • Mr Rob Knott – Chair, GHD
  • Mr Ian Porter – First Assistant Secretary | Policy & Research, Australian Government Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications & the Arts.

Below is a summary of the key discussion points from the session.

Italy’s model

Italy’s approach to the development of new infrastructure is an example of global best practice in sustainability and aligns with international guidelines including the UN 2030 Agenda and the G20 Principles for sustainable infrastructure. Under Italy’s new guidelines implemented in 2021, all prospective infrastructure projects are given a sustainability score to determine their eligibility for government funding. The criteria encompass more than environmental sustainability; prospective projects are evaluated for their environmental, economic, social, and institutional/ governance sustainability. Project outcomes are also assessed through these four lenses. Italy’s new approach was made possible through the collaboration of experts from various backgrounds, including environmental science, engineering, and economics. Another positive outcome of the new guidelines has been the reduction of the time needed to assess public tenders from 18 months to just four months.

Beyond environmental sustainability

A theme emerging from the session was the importance of viewing sustainability as more than just environmental sustainability. To be truly sustainable, infrastructure projects should also be economically, socially, and institutionally sustainable. While Australia incorporates financial sustainability into its infrastructure regulation, social concerns and the broader social legacies of infrastructure projects are often overlooked. Whether there is a social licence for the development of new infrastructure is an important consideration that should be incorporated into regulatory frameworks.

Challenges for Australia

Participants discussed Australia’s progress towards sustainability, including the country’s decarbonisation strategy and legislated emissions reduction targets.

Aligning Australia’s three tiers of government (local, state and federal) presents a challenge to the country’s sustainability journey, especially in cases where infrastructure projects cross jurisdictional boundaries. Participants pointed to instances of overlap and contradiction between federal, state and territory regulatory frameworks. Simplifying and harmonising this regulation would provide greater clarity and certainty for those investing in sustainable infrastructure projects.

Detailed agreements between the Commonwealth Government and state governments will also be key to progressing reforms on sustainability regulation. To ensure a just transition, care should be taken to include local governments in this process, as they provide valuable insights and knowledge on the unique needs of their communities.

Further, practical challenges for Australia include skills shortages and lengthy approval processes for new projects.


There is a need for substantial private sector investment in Australia’s clean energy transition. There is a challenge, therefore, in making projects appeal to private sector investors. Innovative funding solutions were discussed, including the concept of an intellectual property (IP) bank.

More about the Australian Transformation series

The idea for the series originated in a national roundtable discussion convened by the Foundation in May 2021, which was hosted by the Governor General in Canberra. We agreed at the time that Australia lacked a coherent, long-term national strategy, one that could be understood and embraced by its citizens.  We agreed that we should ‘work more closely together and collectively advocate for an ‘Australian Transformation’ around three issues: of national identity centred on indigenous recognition; a sustainable transformation of the Australian economy; and a clearer sense of what constituted the national interest and consequent global engagement.

Under the guidance of our Leadership Group and our Board, we are providing renewed focus to the Foundation’s programs in Australia for balance of this year and into 2024. The series will culminate in a session featuring the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, whose participation will centre on shaping the future of the economy. Foundation members will be updated on the details of all upcoming events once they are known.

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