The challenge of providing enough infrastructure of sufficient quality to drive the economy and maintain quality of life in regional communities is one of the hardest nuts to crack in local government.
No surprise, then, that infrastructure was the major focus of discussion today at ALGA’s National General Assembly, attended by 880 delegates and observers from around Australia.
More than $30 billion is needed to replace old and deteriorating road infrastructure alone, according to a recent report.
Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romilly Madew (pictured) told the assembly that a refreshed national infrastructure audit would be ready to deliver to the Morrison Government next week.
Her speech is well worth a read.
Ms. Madew said the challenge for infrastructure planning in the future would centre on the need for it to work harder to support more Australians at a time of rapid population growth and more economic uncertainty.
The three standards that lasting infrastructure would have to meet were access, quality and cost, she said.
“But unfortunately too often, our infrastructure doesn’t meet these expectations.”
“Congestion, overcrowding, rising bills, outages, and declining service standards are undermining confidence in our infrastructure.”
There would need to be a greater focus on outcomes for users of infrastructure.
The last infrastructure audit was published in 2015, the first step in the development of an infrastructure plan that fell victim to political expediency and the ever important quest to gain the electoral advantage in marginal seats.
There does seem to be more optimism about the impact this audit will have on the development of relevant infrastructure planning. We shall see.
In any case, Ms Madew’s enthusiasm for including local government in any conversation about infrastructure planning as on show at the assembly this morning.
She said it was vital that local government was included in infrastructure strategies as it was the level of government that dealt most closely with communities who, with the right approach, could succeed in having a better say on the future of where they live.
“While federal and state governments have an important role to play in funding and delivering major infrastructure, councils work to create well-planned, liveable spaces that harness existing assets and meet individual community needs,” she said.
“To support this, community engagement needs to be ongoing – not just on a one off basis for particular projects or developments once they have already been planned and designed.
We need frank, two-way conversations about the needs of the community, at the strategic planning stage, to support effective infrastructure planning and delivery now and into the future.”
Another speaker, Andrew Beer from the University of South Australia’s Business School, took up the major infrastructure issue facing councils _ housing.
He pointed out that there was a huge amount of work and knowledge within local government about the efficient provision of housing but a reluctance by councils to talk about that knowledge.
Perhaps, he said, councils feared that if they demonstrated the impact of their work they would only encourage more cost-shifting by state and federal governments.
In any case, housing was likely to become less affordable before it became more affordable so councils should expect more pressure on their resources.
Image: Infrastructure Australia