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Infrastructure Australia CEO talks future trends

  • Posted on Thursday 13th, June 2019.

Romilly Madew, Infrastructure Australia CEO, presented at the 2019 AFR National Infrastructure Summit at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne this week. She explained that the needs of the community are evolving and is cause to re-think the delivery of infrastructure and adapt existing networks to those changing needs.

The 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit is due to be published later this year and will present a forward-looking view of Australia's infrastructure challenges and opportunities, according to Madew. It is the second Audit of its type to be undertaken (first published in 2015) and outlines a community-centred approach to infrastructure planning and delivery, with a focus on three key measures: access, quality and cost.

"With the needs of the community at its heart, the Audit will provide a clear picture of the problems we need to solve, and strengthen the evidence base for infrastructure decision-making across Australia," she said.

Infrastructure Australia was established to provide advice on investments and reforms needed to deliver better infrastructure for all Australians. For Madew, the broader content of change that will affect how Australia grows over the next 15 years begins with the economy.

"Australia's economy is undergoing structural shifts, as we move away from manufacturing and resources towards knowledge and service-based industries," she said. "These structural changes to the economy are also having spatial implications, and Australia’s economy is becoming increasingly urbanised with most jobs now located in our larger cities."

Madew explained that Australia now has a multi-tier economy that is characterised by rapid economic growth in fast-growing cities and their surrounding regions; moderate economic growth, consolidation and specialisation in smaller cities and regional centresl; stabilising or declining economic growth in rural and remote areas.

"In 2017-18, Sydney and Melbourne alone accounted for half of our national economic growth," said Madew.

"Infrastructure investment is playing a huge role in facilitating this, with the [New South Wales] and Victorian governments together spending upwards of $78 billion on transport infrastructure.

"Of course, this also reflects the scale of population growth projected for our largest cities, which will play a decisive role in shaping our country in coming years.

"By 2034, Australia’s population will grow by 24 per cent to reach 31 million, with more than three quarters of this growth projected to occur in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

"This offers enormous economic opportunities, but the risk is that our infrastructure fails to keep pace with demand—impacting productivity, quality of life and the world-renowned liveability of our cities."

Rapid technological change is another factor that will play a decisive role in infrastructure, according to Madew.

"Australian governments have been slow to establish planning controls or network standards to support widespread public charging networks for electric vehicles," she said.

"New technologies often push boundaries before controlling legislation is developed or even the need for it is recognised, however there is also often a need for policy or investment to ensure that we gain maximum benefit from new and emerging technologies.

"We also need to be wary of the fact that rapidly changing technology risks leaving some sections of the community behind."

The last major shift that Madew considers is the demand for greater transparency as community expectations change.

"Businesses, including those in the retail and banking sectors, are increasingly capturing and using data to create more tailored experiences for customers.

"Australia’s unique geography brings an added layer of complexity to this shifting of community expectations.

"While Australia has evolved as a federated country of eight states and territories, these boundaries bear little relevance for the different needs of people in each jurisdiction.

"However, it is the scale of each city, town and community that provides a better starting point in understanding the needs of infrastructure users."

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