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The COVID-19 pandemic defined 2020 and now, well into February of a new year, it is still a central part of our lives. While the impacts of COVID-19 on Australian communities will continue to evolve, it is already clear that how we use and deliver infrastructure services will never be the same.
COVID-19 has driven major shifts in the Australian economy and brought the role of infrastructure as an enabler into sharper relief. The pandemic has also shown that government and industry must be increasingly attuned to the risks of compounding crises and the complex and uncertain environment in which infrastructure must operate.
Infrastructure Australia’s December 2020 report Infrastructure Beyond COVID 19: A national study on the impacts of the pandemic on Australia found that compared with other OECD countries, our infrastructure networks have proven to be resilient under pressure and open to innovation.
Developed in collaboration with L.E.K. Consulting, our report presents a moment-in-time snapshot of how the pandemic has changed the way we use infrastructure, and considers which of these changes could have lasting impacts on how we plan, fund and deliver the services we all rely on. It finds that while COVID-19 has paused the traditional driver of infrastructure, net overseas migration, the pace of change in the sector has generally increased and new trends have emerged.
Some infrastructure sectors were more affected than others, but the importance of the health response was not limited to infrastructure sectors with direct customer contact, such as transport and social infrastructure. In many areas, COVID-19 has accelerated existing and emerging trends, such as flexible working models. However, it has reversed others – for instance, people have moved away from public transport and into the car.
It has also created new experiences, such as new digital cultural and arts offerings.
Our report found five key trends that we are continuing to watch closely:
We are all fortunate that to date, Australia’s governments and infrastructure providers have successfully navigated dramatic changes to community behaviour and network requirements, and rapidly adjusted their service provision across the transport, telecommunications, digital, energy, water, waste and social sectors.
However, as the pandemic continues to put our infrastructure to the test, we must remain focused on delivering infrastructure that is flexible, resilient and highly attuned to community needs.
On February 26, Infrastructure Australia will be launching the 2021 Infrastructure Priority List. Responding to the many challenges that have emerged over the past year, the Priority List highlights the near-, medium- and long-term investment opportunities for our cities, regions and remote communities.
As the economy and the community continue to absorb and respond to the shocks brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, realising the opportunities for infrastructure to deliver both economic and quality-of-life benefits will be increasingly important. At Infrastructure Australia, we’re focused on creating an evidence base that does exactly that – ensuring our infrastructure services respond to our changing and diverse community needs.