Roadmap for reform: Infrastructure Australia releases 2021 Plan

Infrastructure Australia has today published its landmark 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, calling for a new wave of infrastructure reform to fully leverage the Australian Government’s historic $110 billion infrastructure spend and drive the national COVID-19 recovery.

The 2021 Plan provides Australia’s infrastructure sector with a 15-year roadmap to drive economic growth, maintain and enhance our standard of living and improve the resilience and sustainability of our essential infrastructure.

Underpinning Infrastructure Australia’s agenda is a focus on population growth, adaptation to climate risk, building resilience, stimulating employment, driving economic productivity, embracing a diversity of places and social equity.

Key opportunities identified by Infrastructure Australia include:

  • Supporting growth outside largest cities, in regional centres and northern Australia
  • Investing in transformative technology to deliver affordable and sustainable infrastructure services
  • Promoting changes to the behaviour around infrastructure use, empowering Australians to make sustainable choices
  • Greater transparency and coordination of the project pipeline and reforms to improve industry productivity
  • More collaborative models of infrastructure delivery to support productivity and innovation.

 

While this is the third in a series of practical roadmaps developed by Infrastructure Australia since 2013, Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew said the timing of releasing the 2021 Plan was particularly critical.

“The 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan is being delivered at a critical moment in our history. The pandemic, bushfires, drought, floods, and cyber-attacks have tested our collective resilience during recent years, while the most recent outbreaks have devastated our CBDs and put us at risk of a recession,” she said.

“The 2021 Plan outlines the reforms that will underscore future Australian economic growth. It is focused on identifying the actions required to deliver infrastructure for a stronger Australia and support our national recoveryfrom the still-unfolding COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Madew said.

Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew.

The reform roadmap outlined in the 2021 Plan reflects an industry consensus that was developed in close collaboration with governments, industry and communities. As part of this, Infrastructure Australia completed a comprehensive engagement program that targeted more than 6,500 community members and industry stakeholders across Australia’s cities and regions.

“This collaboration has helped ensure our reform recommendations have broad support, are practical and actionable and provides the strong foundation needed to deliver lasting reform,” Ms Madew said.

The 2021 Plan includes Waste and Social Infrastructure for the first time, alongside Energy, Transport, Telecommunications, and Water. It also focuses on three cross-cutting key themes Place (Cities, Regions, Rural and Remote Areas, and Northern Australia), Sustainability and Resilience, and the infrastructure Industry.

The 2021 Plan provides Infrastructure Australia’s reform pathway to respond to the 180 infrastructure challenges and opportunities identified in the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit. It also responds to the additional infrastructure impacts of the pandemic, including the challenges and opportunities outlined in our Infrastructure Beyond COVID-19 report.

Peter Colacino, Chief of Policy and Research, Infrastructure Australia.

According to Peter Colacino, Chief of Policy and Research at Infrastructure Australia, the Plan’s launch is also timely for the opportunities it provides for sectoral reform and adapting to technological changes.

“With the findings of the 2019 Audit, we now have an opportunity for sectoral reform and responding to changes in energy technology, changes in transport technology, and the coming together of the transport and energy around electric vehicles,” he told Roads & Infrastructure.

“It also allows us to use the Plan to provide a roadmap for reforms that will support economic recovery in our response to COVID to build back better.”

As Mr Colacino pointed out, the need to adapt to a faster pace of change all around the sector was clear even before the pandemic – but become even more critical after.

“The first sentence in the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit said: The pace of change is increasing, and the uncertainties are growing. Of course, we didn’t have a crystal ball to see a pandemic and its impacts on the sector, but we did identify rapid changes occurring around seven key trends, including those around geopolitical shifts, changes in consumer preferences, demographical changes and of course changes in climate and weather conditions,” he said.

According to Mr Colacino, recent events have highlighted that recovery might be even more challenging than Infrastructure Australia assumed at the time of drafting its 2021 Plan.

“I have to say since we did the work on the Plan, we have seen recovery be more challenging than expected.” he said, noting the impacts the COVID Delta variant has had on the Australian states.

Luckily, Infrastructure Australia had prepared for various degrees of uncertainty by testing outcomes of each reform against a range of future scenarios, including: speed of recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, adoption of technological change, the role of an emerging regionalised Australia, and a destabilised world.

“What we are trying to do is to use scenarios to test the central case for reform. Our reforms are based on the work that sits within the Australian Government’s budget. For example, we looked at a faster and a slower rate of COVID-recovery, and I have to say, that view around scenarios was prudent given the latest challenges with the delta strain of the virus,” he said.

“What we’ve also done is to think about rates of technological change, think about geopolitical uncertainty and also think about a regionalisation of population so that we can help ensure the reforms that we propose are effective, regardless of the future.”

Implementing the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan

Infrastructure Australia will now work collaboratively alongside government, industry, and the community to support the implementation of reforms needed in the infrastructure sector.

“Without everybody playing their part, change won’t happen,” Mr Colacino said.

To support the adoption and implementation of reforms across government and industry, each reform identified in the 2021 Plan incorporates a recommendation, which is supported by interim outcomes and a series of enabling activities.

The 2021 Plan also identifies parties to sponsor, lead and support reform as well as the time-period for their adoption. Importantly, each recommendation prioritises community and user outcomes and balances them with implementation costs and risks for government.

“The challenge of progressing the reforms outlined in the 2021 Plan is a shared one – that is why we stand ready to partner with the Commonwealth, states and territories, local government and industry to support the implementation of reform,” Ms Madew said.

“While the Australian Government will respond to the 2021 Plan, many of the actions across water, transport, energy, waste and social infrastructure require action from state and territory or local government. Lasting reform will require increased collaboration.”


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