An assessment of Australia’s future infrastructure needs

The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019
Infrastructure Major projects Transport infrastructure Cities and towns Urban planning Regional planning Digital communications Broadband Australia

The findings of the Australian Infrastructure Audit are broad in scope, covering the full range of sectors, modes and geographies that are impacted by Australia’s infrastructure. However, across the document there are several key messages and a set of common themes regarding the outcomes for users and the impacts on communities.

Outcomes for users:

  • Access: Access to choice in infrastructure services has improved since the 2015 Audit, largely due to new technology. While access to choice is strongest in fast-growing cities, it is weaker in other areas, and for people from lower socio-economic and diverse backgrounds
  • Quality: The quality of infrastructure services is high for most Australians in urban areas, however population growth is impacting some services. Low density areas, emerging industries and lower socio-economic groups’ needs are not met
  • Cost: Average household infrastructure costs have grown in real terms, but decreased as a proportion of household incomes. However, these costs disproportionally impact low-income households.

Impacts on communities:

  • Fast-growing cities: Infrastructure in our four largest cities is failing to keep pace with rapid population growth, particularly on the urban fringe.
  • Smaller cities and regional centres: These areas are growing as service hubs for their neighbouring regions, including supporting growth as satellites of fast-growing cities.
  • Small towns, rural communities and remote areas: The quality of infrastructure services for people living in remote communities does not meet the standards Australians expect.
  • Developing regions and northern Australia: Infrastructure can catalyse quality of life and productivity by improving connectivity and efficiency

The compounding issues of a changing climate, the re-ordering of the world economy, and increasing political polarisation are reshaping global institutions and norms. Closer to home, our population is growing and changing, the structure of the economy is shifting, our communities and environment are experiencing weather extremes, and rapid technology change is fundamentally reshaping our day-to-day lives.

As a result, Australia finds itself at a unique point in its history with significant implications for how we plan for our future infrastructure.

Infrastructure is central to our quality of life. But looking to the future, user needs are evolving and it is very likely, in coming decades, our infrastructure will look very different to today.

We need to evolve the way we plan for Australia’s infrastructure to embrace this uncertainty. Historically, infrastructure planning has sought to predict future conditions and then provide infrastructure to meet anticipated demand. Today, we require a more robust approach.

Rather than projecting forward the status quo, our infrastructure planning should set an ambitious vision for the country, anticipate and adapt to change, manage risk, and deliver infrastructure that works towards – rather than against – the current and future needs of Australians.

The time is right to reconsider how we deliver infrastructure, and how we can adapt existing networks to our changing user needs. The Australian Infrastructure Audit is the starting point for this process.

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