Infrastructure Australia has released the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, providing a 15-year roadmap for infrastructure reform to build a stronger and more secure Australia. 

The 2021 Plan responds to the 180 infrastructure challenges and opportunities identified in Infrastructure Australia’s 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, and sets out detailed recommendations to deliver better infrastructure for all Australians.

It also intends to support national recovery from the still-unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the bushfires, drought, floods and cyber-attacks that have tested resilience in recent years. 

Despite these challenges, the 2021 Plan finds that Australia is well placed to take advantage of opportunities in the post-pandemic recovery phase. Compared to other OECD countries, the Australian economy has performed well and the nation’s infrastructure networks have proven to be relatively resilient. 

The 2021 Plan details how Australia can build on these advantages and the lessons learned from the past year to build strength and security, and prioritises collaboration in the three strategic focus areas that cut across all infrastructure sectors:

  • Unlocking the potential of every place
  • Embedding sustainability and resilience into infrastructure decision-making
  • Driving a step change in industry productivity and innovation

Key themes of the 2021 Plan include adapting to change and uncertainty, harnessing transformative technology and digitisation, delivering public value, embracing a diverse geography, providing minimum service levels that support quality of life for all, and empowering customers and leveraging data.

Key opportunities include:

  • Supporting growth outside our 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

Key reforms in the 2021 Plan

Infrastructure Australia’s vision for 2036 is for Australia to have infrastructure that improves the quality of life of all Australians. 

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.

Through the reform agenda outlined in the 2021 Plan, Infrastructure Australia illustrates how this vision can be achieved. The key areas for reform are:

  1. Place – Unlocking the potential of every location

Each place’s identity informs its infrastructure needs and priorities, enabling investment that builds on a location’s competitive strengths or reduces place-based disadvantage.

  1. Sustainability and resilience – balancing infrastructure outcomes in an uncertain future

Communities are able to resist, absorb, accommodate, recover, transform and thrive in response to the effects of shocks and stresses in a timely and efficient manner, enabling sustainable economic, social, environmental and governance outcomes.

  1. Industry innovation and productivity – facilitating a step change in productivity

An infrastructure industry that is highly productive, efficient, effective, prepared and confident. An environment where industry can sustainably respond to government objectives and vision with capability, capacity and resources in line with Australia’s best interests.

  1. Transport – delivering an integrated network

Getting from A to B is as easy as turning on the kitchen tap. Transport just works, without travellers worrying about how it happens, and people and goods are connected seamlessly.

  1. Energy – enabling an affordable transition to a net zero future

Australia exports clean energy to the world from its high-tech, low-cost, low-emissions energy system. Empowered consumers and businesses manage their own energy costs and participate in an efficient, reliable grid.

  1. Water – prioritising safety and security

Resilient, secure and quality water supplies are available for all Australians and create attractive, liveable and resilient communities.

  1. Telecommunications and digital – ensuring equality in an era of accelerating digitisation

A fully connected Australia that offers resilient, superfast, equitable and wide coverage to everyone.

  1. Social infrastructure – supporting economic prosperity and quality of life

Quality, accessible, future-focused, multi-purpose and economically valued social infrastructure that supports a strong, healthy and prosperous nation and ongoing quality of life for all Australians.

  1. Waste – accelerating Australia’s transition to a circular economy

Shifting from a linear waste management model to a circular economy has transformed Australia from a world-leading waste generator to building new industries as a recycling and remanufacturing powerhouse.

Underpinning this agenda is a focus on: 

  • Population growth
  • Adaptation to climate risk 
  • Building resilience
  • Stimulating employment
  • Driving economic productivity 
  • Embracing a diversity of places  
  • Social equity  

Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive, Romilly Madew, 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 recovery from the still-unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

“Infrastructure investment is at record levels across Australia, demonstrated by the Australian Government’s historic $110 billion infrastructure commitment. The 2021 Plan highlights the importance of leveraging this investment through targeted reform to deliver better infrastructure services for our communities.”

Industry responds

Engineers Australia commends Infrastructure Australia on its community-centered reform agenda and broadly supports the recommendations provided in the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan.

Engineers Australia states it “endorses the aims of the plan to provide a nationally consistent and systemic approach to maintaining, upgrading and building infrastructure that has been well planned. 

“The plan presents a comprehensive roadmap for improving project governance, procurement, technology, and data driven decision-making and design, to connect our cities, regions and remote communities.”

Australian Constructors Association CEO, Jon Davies, said the pandemic has created a once in a generation opportunity for reform and there has never been a more important time for a plan like this.

“The Infrastructure Plan contains good recommendations that, if enacted, would improve industry culture, create increased capacity and capability, and ensure that commercial frameworks are equitable and align the interests of all parties.

 “What we need now is for the Federal Government to get more involved. We cannot afford to wait five, ten or 15 years, the record spend is happening now, companies are going out of business now, people are leaving our industry now,” Mr Davies said.

Consult Australia is pleased to see that the 2021 Plan lays out many of systemic challenges that have been a drag on productivity and innovation.

Chief Executive of Consult Australia, Nicola Grayson, said, “I am proud that ConsultAustralia’s strong advocacy focus on people, pipeline, procurement and practice have beenpicked up by Infrastructure Australia, the leading source of advice for governments on nationally significant infrastructure needs.

“We now need to see change in action. We need the commitment of every state and territory to realise this reform agenda, with priority given to the commercial conditions under which consulting businesses are operating.”

The Infrastructure Sustainability Council has welcomed the 2021 Infrastructure Plan and its emphasis on sustainability and resilience.

Infrastructure Sustainability Council’s CEO, Ainsley Simpson, said, “We are very pleased to see sustainability and resilience valued as strategic priorities and called out on page three of the Plan, rather than buried one hundred pages deep. 

“This speaks volumes about Infrastructure Australia’s priorities and the future direction of infrastructure investment in this country.

“We support systemic reform and are pleased to see a Plan that advances infrastructure policy, planning and procurement for a resilient, inclusive and low-emission future.”

Roads Australia (RA) – the peak body for roads within an integrated transport system – said the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan sets out a practical reform pathway that will deliver more resilient and sustainable transport infrastructure and services for the community.

“The RA Strategic Plan 2021-2023 groups our policy priorities around the four key themes of resilience, place making, people, and data and technology. These themes were identified and endorsed by industry as priority areas of focus – and so it is encouraging to see they are embraced in today’s Plan,” RA President, Michael Bushby, said.

“This is reflected by the recommendation to establish a quadruple bottom-line as a goal for infrastructure investment, so that projects are planned, designed, procured, constructed and operated to maximise economic, environmental, social and governance outcomes.

“RA especially welcomes some of the key recommendations the Plan makes for the future delivery of integrated transport infrastructure and services. 

“In particular, the focus on harnessing opportunities presented by technology by adopting a ‘digital by default’ approach to engineering and construction will deliver productivity, safety and sustainability benefits for governments, industry and the community.”

Read the 2021 Plan here.

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