A year of crisis, collaboration & innovation
As the year comes to a close, the recovery effort from the COVID-19 pandemic is only just beginning.
The impacts of the events of 2020 will continue for years to come, reshaping how sectors interact with one another, how Australians interact with those sectors and how we plan and deliver infrastructure. It is now impossible to ignore the systems that connect us and demand new, innovative solutions.
This has been a year of quick response and collaboration on complex problems.
I want to thank you all for the support you have given us this year, for your collaboration in the face of a crisis and for the work yet to come.
NEW REPORT - Understanding the pandemic’s impacts on infrastructure use
Last week, we launched a new report detailing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Australian infrastructure sectors. Infrastructure Australia developed the report at the request of the Australian Government, in collaboration with L.E.K. Consulting. The report provides a snapshot of how COVID-19 has changed the way Australian communities use infrastructure.
Infrastructure beyond COVID-19: A national study on the impacts of the pandemic on Australia builds on the challenges and opportunities identified in the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit and will help inform the reform recommendations in the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, which aims to be one of the world’s most comprehensive plans for infrastructure in the post-COVID era.
Highlights from the report
The report highlights sweeping changes in the way Australians use critical infrastructure – across the transport, telecommunications, digital, energy, water, waste, and social infrastructure sectors. The report found that Australia's infrastructure sector responded well, while the pandemic accelerated structural trends.
Some key findings:
- Around 4 million people have been working from home since March (30% of the workforce).
- A third of those wish to remain working remotely.
- Public transport use has settled at a ‘new norm’ 60–70% of pre-COVID-19 levels.
- 100% growth in monthly online retail, five times the annual growth recorded in 2019 – resulting in similar growth in parcel delivery and micro-freight.
- The longstanding decentralisation trend in electricity has accelerated.
- 20% increase in municipal waste.
- Acceleration of regionalization, with a 200% increase in net migration from capital cities to regional areas.
The report identifies unique opportunities for recovery and innovation (such as our head start on recovery and regional resilience) and unique challenges for infrastructure emerging from the pandemic (such as increased waste and car dependency).
A year of new approaches
I want to express my gratitude to our staff and key stakeholders for adapting to an entirely new way of working this year – it has allowed us to contribute to the national recovery effort and transform the nature of our work.
This year we…
- Engaged with 1000+ stakeholders on the Australian infrastructure Plan alone.
- Spoke at 90+ events to further the national dialogue on infrastructure needs.
- Launched our first Reconciliation Action Plan (Reflect).
- Worked on 21 business case evaluations.
- Got 7 research papers published or underway.
Responding to crisis and supporting recovery
We have taken our advisory role seriously in the national recovery from the pandemic. We have:
- collaborated to deliver 10 principles for infrastructure recovery from COVID-19 with network of jurisdictional infrastructure bodies
- advocated for a four-staged infrastructure recovery response: protect and maintain; mobilisation; accelerate; and reform.
- taken critical actions to streamline our project evaluation process (more on this below)
- launched two editions of the Infrastructure Priority List to maintain the pipeline of nationally significant infrastructure investments (and working on the next release for early next year).
I myself have been proud to contribute directly to recovery as a member of the Expert Advisory Panel for CSIRO Report on Climate and Disaster Resilience and a Territory Economic Reconstruction Commissioner.
Taking on new responsibilities
In the 2020–21 Federal Budget, we received additional funding to provide reform and investment advice in support of the infrastructure-led COVID recovery. With this we are:
- Expanding the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan to respond to COVID-19
- Leading new research on market capacity and the ability of the infrastructure sector to deliver the investment pipeline
Conducting an 18-month comprehensive reset of the Infrastructure Australia Assessment Framework, the basis for inclusion on the Infrastructure Priority List.
Collaboration is the key to decisive action
This year, collaboration has been critical. I am grateful to our stakeholders across the country for working together with us to make new things possible this year:
- Coordinating across jurisdictions: We now host fortnightly meetings with the infrastructure, transport and Treasury officials of other jurisdictions to ensure our responses are coordinated. This has evolved from a forum on immediate recovery response to a focus on next steps for progressive planning.
- Resilience and climate have become a top priority. We have partnered with CSIRO, Building Queensland and Infrastructure NSW on climate risk and climate scenarios.
- Disaster response: We provided advice to the Royal Commission on National Natural Disaster Arrangements, with a focus on telecommunications.
- Transport: We have provided technical input to the upcoming update of the Australian Transport Assessment and Planning (ATAP) Guidelines.
- Electric vehicles: We joined the first workshop of the Distributed Energy Integration Taskforce on Electric Vehicle’s Residential Tariffs and Incentives.
- Northern Australia: We have invested in our relationships in Northern Australia in a year when economic recovery and resilience are front of mind. In March, our Chiefs of Infrastructure Assessment and Infrastructure Prioritisation, David Tucker and Robin Jackson, travelled to the Northern Territory to engage with stakeholders and in November our CEO Romilly Madew returned in her capacity as a Territory Economic Reconstruction Commissioner. We have been grateful to strengthen our engagement with the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility at a time when their organisation has been transforming its capacity to contribute to economic development in Northern Australia, collaborating with them on our assessment of regional infrastructure proposals and our Reconciliation Action Plan.
Our new online course for infrastructure professionals
We have a new training course available for infrastructure professionals. It is designed for anyone working on an infrastructure proposal to submit to Infrastructure Australia for evaluation.
The course will help you:
- understand the role of Infrastructure Australia
- understand how to use our Assessment Framework
- understand the purpose of our evaluations
- understand the process of having an Initiative or Project evaluated and your role in the evaluation, and
- understand the value of engaging with us early.
We are still running our Improving Investment Decision workshops, which we have moved to Zoom. Before attending a workshop, you will need to complete the online training course.
These workshops bring infrastructure professionals together to share tips and tools for developing infrastructure business cases. We have been running them across the country since 2017.
If you want to find out more about our workshops or the online course, contact: IAeducation@infrastructure.gov.au
Continuously improving our evaluation of infrastructure proposals
In 2019, we began a customer experience review of our process for evaluating infrastructure proposals and sought feedback from those of you who have gone through the process. This year, we have focused on continuous improvement, working to streamline the process, address key pain points and strengthen collaboration.
We have made changes to improve the process:
- You can now workshop the clarifications stage with us face-to-face, to quickly work through our observations.
- We have new jurisdictional managers to provide tailored advice and experience specific to your state or territory.
- You can access on our website examples of business cases we have assessed from around the country.
- You can access more guidance on how the evaluation process works (see our online course).
- You have more opportunities to give us feedback on the evaluation process.
All of this helps us to work together with you on your infrastructure proposal, to get your business case into its best state for assessment. Ultimately, this leads to higher-quality infrastructure proposals for investment for the benefit of Australian communities.
A major reset to our Assessment Framework
Alongside these changes, we are undertaking a major reset of our Assessment Framework to ensure it remains an easy-to-use guide to our evaluation process and the evidence we require from infrastructure proposals. We will maintain clear alignment of the Assessment Framework with jurisdictional requirements, provide new guidance on emerging areas of best practice and clarify our guidance on our minimum requirements.
We look forward to collaborating with you on this update and sharing the new edition in mid-2021.
The next Infrastructure Priority List is coming in early 2021
In early 2021, we will be launching a full update to the Infrastructure Priority List. New proposals will join the list and we will share details of how nationally significant proposals have progressed.
The Priority List will include investments to respond to immediate challenges, such as Australia’s COVID-19 recovery, capacity constraints in high-growth areas and regional service gaps. It will also include forward-thinking proposals that can deliver long-term productivity and community benefits.