COVID-19 accelerates structural shifts in infrastructure use, new report finds

By Infrastructure Australia

A major new report from Infrastructure Australia has found that the Australian infrastructure sector responded well to the challenges of COVID-19, while the pandemic accelerated structural trends such as digitisation, more local and regional infrastructure use, as well as service innovations and adaptations.

The response of the sector to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic highlight the relative resilience of Australia’s infrastructure networks. However, lockdowns, social distancing and work-from-home measures have impacted project delivery, created new trends and reversed others.

The findings are part of a new report, Infrastructure beyond COVID-19: A national study on the impacts of the pandemic on Australia, developed by Infrastructure Australia in collaboration with L.E.K Consulting. Requested by the Australian Government in the 2020–21 Federal Budget to supplement work already underway on the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, the report highlights sweeping changes in the way Australians use critical infrastructure – across the transport, telecommunications, digital, energy, water, waste, and social infrastructure sectors.

Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew said: “This report establishes a baseline to help us understand how COVID-19 has changed the way we use infrastructure, and which of these changes could have lasting impacts on how we plan, fund and deliver the services we all rely on.

“COVID-19 has put a pause on the traditional driver of infrastructure, Net Overseas Migration, however the pace of change in the sector has generally increased, with new emerging trends.

“The pandemic put Australia’s infrastructure to the test. However, this report found that compared to other OECD countries, our infrastructure networks are relatively resilient, our service providers are adaptable and our communities are responsive to change.

“Across sectors, we found that Australia’s governments and infrastructure providers navigated dramatic changes to community behaviour and network requirements, and rapidly adjusted their service provision.

“The continuation of infrastructure construction across major projects was a key source of economic activity and employment during the pandemic, and ensured we took advantage of the three-year pause in population growth.

“Public transport providers moved quickly to support social distancing and hygiene measures, latent broadband capacity was released to cope with a surge in demand, and hospital infrastructure was repurposed to deliver 4600 new ICU beds. Importantly, customers, providers, employees and staff were also adaptable to change.

“COVID-19 has demonstrated that there is an opportunity to make better use of what we have. This is a trend that both governments and industry should harness as we consider the infrastructure investment and reform responses that will best support Australia’s long-term economic recovery.”

Infrastructure beyond COVID-19 identifies new challenges and opportunities to build on the evidence base of the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit and will inform the recommendations in the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan – a major reform document that will provide a roadmap for the infrastructure sector to support recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

“Due for release next year, the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan will outline a detailed reform and implementation pathway to help government and industry deliver flexible and resilient infrastructure services that better respond to our changing and diverse community needs,” Ms Madew said.

In response to the impacts of COVID-19, Infrastructure Australia and the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) have coordinated the COVID-19 Transport Demand Modelling Cross-jurisdiction Roundtable to facilitate the exchange of ideas, techniques and tools for considering COVID-19 impacts in travel demand models.

The Roundtable will consider the structural impacts on travel demand within Australia, affecting population and demographic trends, travel demand and travel behaviour across all jurisdictions.

This media release was first posted here.

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