2017 Federal Budget: a mixed bag for spatial and surveying

The 2017-2018 Australian Federal Budget announced last night by treasurer Scott Morrison presents a mixed bag for spatial and surveying professionals.

The introduction of new funding for major infrastructure projects—including $8.4 billion for a Melbourne-Brisbane inland rail link and $5.3 billion for Sydney’s second airport—will provide major new work opportunities for spatial and surveying business.

An exciting new satellite imagery service, Digital Earth Australia, will also provide Australians with openly available satellite imagery updated every five days. However, the next generation of professionals is set to suffer, with cuts to university funding and changes to how students pay for tuition.

See how the budget affects you by reading our summary and comments from industry leaders below.

How the budget will impact spatial and surveying


Proposed route for the Brisbane-Melbourne Inland Rail as at 1 May 2017. Source: Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (click to enlarge)

A number of big ticket infrastructure items were announced to the tune of $75 billion in total. These include:

  • $8.4 billion for a Melbourne-Brisbane inland rail link (pictured), with construction to begin this financial year
  • Sydney’s Second airport at Badgerys Creek to receive $5.3 billion over 10 years
  • $2.3 billion to supported for Western Australia road and rail projects
  • $1 billion to fund deals within cities to develop urban areas
  • $844 million upgrade to the Bruce Highway
  • $550 million Victorian regional rail fund and $30 million for airport link business case
  • $37 million for new energy infrastructure and gas pipeline in South Australia
  • Plans for the Federal Government to buy back share of Snowy Hydro from Victorian and NSW governments

 Education & training:

Changes to how tertiary education students pay for tuition will increase barriers to higher education, through the introduction of:

  • HECS debt threshold lowered to those earning over $42,000 a year
  • University students face 7.5 per cent tuition hike

However, funding is set to rise for carreers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and training for high demand jobs:

  • $1.5 billion for a Skilling Australians Fund, which will support apprenticeships and traineeships in occupations in high demand
  • $24 million for a Rural and regional Enterprise Scholarships program for STEM, and support for regional students through community-owned study hubs

Private business:

Small businesses are set to be further advantaged, while big business loses out. Small and medium-sized businesses will get a lower tax rate and more incentives to invest, including:

  • Small business $20,000 instant asset write-off extended (as with last year)
  • Businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million will receive a company tax cut
  • $9.1 million (including 3.5 million in capital funding) to simplify business registration and licencing services
  • $300 million over two years to establish a National Partnership on Regulatory Reform to combat red tape


Spending in defence will almost double from $32.4 billion in 2016-17 to $58.7 billion in 2025-26. However, details state that the employment of external consultants and contractors will be reduced.

Satellite imagery:

Funding has been announced for a new service called Digital Earth Australia, which promises to provide updated satellite imagery every five days for all of Australia. $15.3 million will be allocated to Geoscience Australia over two years to create Digital Earth Australia from the existing Australian Geoscience Data Cube.

A mixed bag for spatial and surveying

General Manager of the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI), Chris Malouf, said that the Federal Budget presents a mixed bag for its membership of spatial and surveying professionals.

“We welcome the government’s announcement of major infrastructure spending in Sydney, for the new airport at Badgerys Creek, and in WA for major road and rail initiatives,” Malouf said. “We also welcome the government’s announcement of funding of $8 billion to build a rail line linking Brisbane to Melbourne.”

“These major infrastructure spends will all have significant components of work requiring the professional services of surveyors and spatial scientists.”

However, it was tertiary education and defence that has Malouf concerned.

“Whilst we also welcome the announcement that the Department of Defence will get $34.6 billion in 2017-18 and $150.6 billion over the forward estimates, it is concerning to read that the number of consultants and contractors being employed will be cut,” he said.

“With regard to tertiary education, it is disappointing to see that the university fees will increase by 1.8 per cent next year, and 7.5 per cent by 2022. The universities are also facing 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend.

In a climate where there has been a gradual decline over the last decade in the number of universities offering surveying and spatial science related courses, this budget outcome will only further exacerbate the problem.”

A boon for business

Deanna Hutchinson, the CEO of the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) said spatial businesses are set to benefit from the new budget.

Businesses are winners in the Federal Budget, and for spatial businesses the budget offers a smorgasbord of opportunities,” Hutchinson said.

“This budget is focused on infrastructure and education, with significant projects right across Australia, and commitments to skilling.

“The continued, although more background focus on innovation is also very positive for spatial businesses.”

Do you agree that the Federal Budget provides a mixed bag for surveying and spatial? Where would you like to see funding directed? Let us know in the comments below.

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