Infrastructure Australia’s recently released Regional Strengths and Infrastructure Gaps report provides a guide for regional communities to support future infrastructure growth and economic development, by localising each area’s strengths and priority opportunities.

The report provides government, industry, businesses and the community with a guide to support record migration and further growth, off the back of the 200 per cent increase in growth in Australia’s regional areas in 2019/2020. This regionalisation trend has continued with the first quarter of 2021 being the largest internal migration on record.

In developing this report, Infrastructure Australia collaborated with 48 Regional Development Australia committees and close to 1,000 community members and stakeholders, to conduct extensive consultation on community views on regional characteristics and challenges. 

This was supported by engagement with key regional stakeholders, including businesses, peak bodies and industry groups, to help create a picture of each area’s diverse assets, growth industries and infrastructure requirements.

For each of the 48 regions in the Regional Strengths and Infrastructure Gaps report, there is a summary of its strengths – key existing assets and regional growth industries – and priority Infrastructure Gaps. These regional summaries were developed in close collaboration with governments, industry and communities.

These region-specific reports also provide a lens to highlight and understand opportunities and prioritise investment. The report also looks for commonalities to promote collaboration and knowledge sharing to enable proactive planning led by local communities.

Infrastructure Australia Chair, Col Murray, said, “This is the first time a report of this magnitude has been conducted solely on Regional Australia that localises each area’s strengths and opportunities. It provides a foundation of data, knowledge and community perceptions to support future infrastructure planning, decision-making and network governance across the country.”

The key themes of the Regional Strengths and Infrastructure Gaps report include:

  • Realising a regional renaissance – expansion of population brings a need to develop new service models and deliver expected infrastructure to continue growth
  • Shared perspectives in changing regions – identification of common themes: unique impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic; a greater need for proactive planning; major projects to be community-led; a changing social landscape; and First Nations communities’ culture and connection to Country
  • Capitalising on Regional Strengths – recognition of existing assets and growth industries that continue to deliver benefit or attract new investment
    • Key existing assets: natural environment, gateway ports, education and research institutions, natural resources, transport infrastructure, strategic location, cultural heritage, climate and topography; health infrastructure, water infrastructure, specialised precincts, energy infrastructure, defence assets, major attractions and tourism brand
    • Key regional growth industries: agriculture, forestry and fishing, tourism, energy, knowledge sector, health care and social assistance, manufacturing, mining, transport, defence and aerospace
  • Prioritising Infrastructure Gaps – identification of three to four priority challenges and opportunities: Infrastructure Gaps most commonly highlighted included availability, diversity and affordability of housing; water security; mobile and broadband connectivity; access to further education and skills training; and connectivity through public transport networks
  • Spotlight on each region ­– recognition of each area’s diversity, opportunities and priorities by the 48 separate reports for further planning and to identify reform and investment options

The report also provides a table outlining the identified key existing strengths within the 48 regions. 45 regions identified Natural Environments as an existing asset, while the next most common was Gateway ports (33 regions), and the least common was Tourism Brand (four regions). A total of 16 key assets are listed alongside the number of regions that identified with it.

Similarly, the key regional growth industries are listed beside the number of regions that identified: Agriculture, forestry and fishing was the most common (34 regions), and Aerospace was the least (three regions).

Alongside these strengths, reviews of existing regional, state and national infrastructure strategies and direct consultation with government, industry and community representatives from across Australia’s 48 regions has identified 479 Infrastructure Gaps across Australia. 

While the needs of regions vary, the five Infrastructure Gaps most frequently highlighted through this process are identified as:

  • Availability, diversity and affordability of housing
  • Broadband and mobile connectivity
  • Water security
  • Access to further education and skills training
  • Capacity, connectivity and quality of public transport infrastructure

Mr Murray said that Infrastructure Australia’s collaborative efforts highlighted that many regions are eager to capitalise on new opportunities and industries. However, they need to have robust, reliable and resilient infrastructure networks to tap into this growth.

Governments at all levels, businesses and communities themselves, have acknowledged the need to address these challenges for many years, but too often they work in isolation.

“With the debut of the Regional Strengths and Infrastructure Gaps, we aim to focus the future effort on mutually acknowledged needs, leveraging the assets of industry and the community, alongside government. However, this report is the beginning, rather than the end of the journey. We hope to encourage all stakeholders to come forward with solutions for local challenges and seize opportunities for growth, innovation and investment,” Mr Murray said.

Published alongside an interactive map, the report is a starting point for discussion between all parties to inform further planning, policy and investment solutions. Further consultation is being encouraged with submissions open until 29 April 2022.

Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive, Romilly Madew, said, “The significant upswing in regionalisation – further accelerated by the pandemic – has compounded pressure on already stretched regional infrastructure assets and networks.

“By drawing out commonalities where they exist, we are aiming to improve information sharing and enable a coordinated, forward-looking view of the challenges and opportunities in Regional Australia. We hope communities embrace the opportunities highlighted in this report and that it becomes a turning point for greater collaboration amongst stakeholders.”

Since the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, Infrastructure Australia has been expanding its focus on regional infrastructure policy and projects. In the 2020 Federal Budget, Infrastructure Australia received additional funding for the report.

ARA Chief Executive Officer, Caroline Wilkie, said the report provides a critical evidence base for future investment and highlighted the need for more public transport in regional Australia.

“This report confirms the importance of addressing existing gaps across the country to drive better outcomes for regional Australians,” Ms Wilkie said

“Improving the capacity, connectivity and quality of public transport in the regions will be an essential part of supporting regional development.

“Faster, more frequent and more reliable rail services are needed to better connect Australia’s regional centres and realise significant economic and social benefits for communities.

“The ARA’s Faster Rail Report confirmed Australian regional rail networks currently lag behind the rest of the world, with today’s report providing further evidence that targeted investment is needed to support better transport options in the regions.”

Property Council of Australia Chief Executive, Ken Morrison, said unsurprisingly, the report found the top challenge for the regions is the provision of diverse and affordable housing.

“This report is a critical piece of work that has the potential to guide governments, businesses and communities as they look to support good growth in the regions,” Mr Morrison said.

“We know housing is not only a huge contributor to economic growth, but the provision of diverse housing options also helps to ensure the workers, teachers, doctors and other service providers can live in these regional towns and contribute to thriving communities.”

 

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