Driving infrastructure reform in the post-COVID era

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Romilly Madew AO FTSE photo
Romilly Madew AO FTSE
Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive

    Directors have called for a continued focus on infrastructure to guide Australia’s COVID-19 recovery. Infrastructure Australia, who are due to release their 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan mid-next year, have expanded their role in response to COVID-19 and are working to provide reform recommendations and an implementation pathway that delivers better services, drives productivity, and supports Australia’s governments in navigating the uncertain times ahead.

    It was heartening to read in the Australian Institute of Company Directors latest sentiment index that directors want to see a major policy reset and continued focus on infrastructure to guide Australia’s COVID-19 recovery. This is exactly what Infrastructure Australia’s 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan will deliver.

    Due for release mid-2021, the next Australian Infrastructure Plan will champion pragmatic reforms to drive productivity, sustainability and quality of life for all Australians. The Plan will include sector-specific analysis of reform opportunities across transport, energy, water, telco and digital, social infrastructure and waste, as well as cross-sectoral recommendations on place, resilience and sustainability, and industry productivity and innovation.

    It aims to be one of the world’s most comprehensive plans for infrastructure in the post-COVID era.

    COVID-19 has shown we need to think differently about how we plan for times of uncertainty. Beyond capital projects and the need for short-term stimulus that has rightly been prioritised in the 2020-21 Federal Budget, we need to focus on reform to shape Australia’s long-term recovery response.

    Our reform agenda needs to support Australia’s economic recovery, but it must also deliver flexible, agile and resilient infrastructure services that better respond to changing and diverse community needs. We must embed sustainability into our infrastructure planning, and show leadership in innovation and digital delivery to provide better services and improve health, education and environmental outcomes.

    Before the pandemic, Infrastructure Australia’s 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit had already highlighted that we were facing a future of unique uncertainty. Back then, few could have imagined the collective impacts of drought, floods, bushfires, cyber risks and COVID-19 on our communities.

    However, the fundamentals were already shifting and COVID-19 in particular has only accelerated the path of change. This includes changes in the way we use infrastructure, impacting work practices, settlement patterns, activity in our CBDs, public transport use, demand for active transport infrastructure and the value placed on green space, as we shift even further towards digitisation and remote service delivery.

    Understanding the impacts of COVID-19

    As Australia moves into the recovery phase, understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on our infrastructure needs to be a priority. To support this, Infrastructure Australia’s role has been expanded to enable us provide detailed reform and investment advice in support of the infrastructure-led recovery.

    With additional resources, we have been able to substantially expand the scope of the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan to respond to COVID-19 and lead new research on the capacity of the infrastructure sector to deliver the current investment pipeline.

    Delivering annual analytical assessments of infrastructure market capacity, this research brings together Commonwealth, State and Territory and industry data to support better decision-making around infrastructure investment and reform.

    Quality project selection remains crucial to meet our current challenges and set us up for the future, which is why over the last 12 months we have also been focused on improving the efficiency of our business case assessments. In an extension of that work, we are pleased to have the opportunity to conduct a major reset of the Assessment Framework, which is our methodology for assessing proposals for inclusion on the Infrastructure Priority List.

    Harmonising and streamlining our Assessment Framework with State and Commonwealth guidelines will be a key focus of this project, as we look to support better business case development and enable publicly-funded projects to come to market as quickly as possible.

    Collaboration is crucial

    A detailed implementation pathway will be delivered as part of the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, informed by extensive engagement with industry, sector experts and thought leaders across government including the Productivity Commission, ACCC, CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology.

    We are pleased to have had the opportunity engage with many AICD members who have provided valuable feedback, sharing their expertise and regional knowledge to help us understand the impacts of COVID-19 and the reforms that should be prioritised to provide the best outcomes for all Australians.

    Our success in seeing Australia through the current economic challenges and towards a prosperous future relies on collaboration across government, industry and the community. This is an absolute priority for Infrastructure Australia as we work to develop to develop pragmatic, evidence-based reform recommendations that deliver better services and support Australia’s governments in navigating the uncertain times ahead.

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