By Romilly Madew, Chief Executive, Infrastructure Australia
In this excerpt from her keynote address at the Critical Infrastructure Summit 2020, Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive, Romilly Madew, outlines ten principles that should underpin the infrastructure-led recovery from COVID-19.
Australia’s infrastructure sector will be critical as we navigate the rolling series of crises facing our country – drought, flood, bushfires and COVID-19 – as well as the long-term transformation of the economy and the ‘new normal’ of record investment highlighted in Infrastructure Australia’s 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit.
Before the pandemic, over 20 per cent of Australia’s GDP could be attributed to our infrastructure sectors. Given the significant economic contribution of the sector, we should be proud that during COVID-19, the industry has proven that it can be resilient and agile in dealing with a fast-changing landscape.
In addition to infrastructure-led stimulus and recovery plans announced by the Australian Government and numerous state and territory governments, we are seeing a re-prioritisation of projects and a greater focus on investments that will deliver the greatest economic benefits.
We have seen an increased focus on resilience, a key theme from the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit and our 2020 updates to the Infrastructure Priority List, as well as greater collaboration across the public and private sector as we together work to streamline and fast-track approval processes.
Supporting the infrastructure-led recovery
Since the beginning of the dual health and economic crises, Infrastructure Australia has been working closely with the Australian Government, infrastructure bodies in the states and territories and industry on policy advice to guide the COVID-19 response.
Working collaboratively with our colleagues in the states and territories, our focus has been on improving our ability to move quickly to identify investments that will boost productivity, keep the economy growing and help create jobs.
We are advocating for a staged infrastructure recovery response, beginning with protecting and maintaining the existing pipeline of projects. Mobilising new projects both small and large is the second phase, with industry reform also to be considered as part of Australia’s long term recovery response.
To support this staged approach and ensure infrastructure can play its role in driving the recovery, we have worked closely with Building Queensland, Infrastructure NSW, Infrastructure SA, Infrastructure Victoria, Infrastructure WA and Infrastructure Tasmania, as well as our counterparts in NT and the ACT.
Together we have established a set of principles that should underpin Australia’s infrastructure-led recovery from COVID-19:
- Build confidence in the sector and the future project pipeline: support the timeliness of the existing pipeline, address constraints across the sector and prepare for future disruption by accelerating infrastructure planning and approvals, finance and procurement, delivery, maintenance, and renewal.
- Select projects and reforms that deliver lasting benefits: projects should offer more than short term stimulus by enhancing productivity, improving sustainability, building resilience, or encouraging innovation.
- Provide a staged and proportionate response: with the response commensurate to the location and scale of impact on the sector, as well as the appropriate time- scale of interventions.
- Target intervention: for the regions and industry sectors experiencing the greatest impacts, and with the greatest capacity to benefit from a response, such as building, tourism and retail.
- Coordinate action across industry and jurisdictions: the industry is interconnected and the capacity of the market finite, so an infrastructure response must be equally coordinated across all three levels of government, regional development frameworks and responses to climate and other disasters.
- Reduce time to market and accelerate delivery: maintain rigour while facilitating timely decision-making, planning approval and funding decisions. Align decision- making frameworks and fast-track approvals within agreed programs or project pipelines.
- Build industry capacity and capability: through leadership development, building skills and capability, supporting innovation and exchanging experience across the public and private sectors.
- Increase collaboration and openness in contracting: engage industry early and openly on scope, budget and timing, in return for transparent contracting, supporting industry sustainability, facilitate reasonable commercial outcomes and provide a foundation for lasting reform.
- Address the funding challenge and amplify private investment: public funding and reform should unlock private investment or innovation, multiplying the dollar for dollar impact.
- Remove supply chain bottlenecks: infrastructure supports supply chain efficiency, while benefiting from its effectiveness. Regulation and pricing should be reviewed to ensure it is flexible and outcome focused.
In developing these principles with our colleagues in the states and territories, our aim has been to support a balanced approach to rebuilding right across the nation and the transformation of the economy to the ‘new normal’.
Australia’s response to COVID-19 should progress policy priorities by enabling the long-term sustainability of the sector, building community resilience and transforming the economy.
Alongside the State Infrastructure Strategies, the Australian Infrastructure Plan due for release in 2021, will provide a template for this reform.
There is still time to register for free to attend the remaining Critical Infrastructure Summit Virtual Conferences. Or watch Romilly’s presentation and previous speakers on-demand. Visit www.critical-infrastructure.com.au/tickets/