THURSDAY, 17 SEPTEMBER 2020
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This crisis has once again reminded us why infrastructure is so important to our economy and to the functioning of our society.
Throughout it all our ports have kept operating, our transport and logistics infrastructure has kept moving, our buses and trains have kept running, construction workers have kept building, our airlines and airports have done everything they can to keep planes in the sky, and Australians have moved about by foot and bicycle in record numbers.
It is increasingly clear that just as infrastructure has kept us going throughout this crisis it will play a critical role in seeing us out of it. Not just in terms of the economic stimulus it brings, but much more.
We are in our first recession for three decades, and for the first time in our history there are over a million Australians are out of work. Through the hard-learned lessons of recessions past, we know that Governments must act to limit the pain, to stop the damage, and to regrow the economy.
To do that, we must invest in infrastructure. From roads and rail, to housing, water storage, communications and roundabouts.
Even before this crisis we were facing challenges. Our pre-COVID economy was in the doldrums with disappointing growth, stagnant wages growth and sluggish productivity.
In response, the Governor of the RBA called for infrastructure funding to be increased on at least 20 occasions.
Without substantial investment in infrastructure, Infrastructure Australia was predicting road congestion costs to our major cities would more than double over the next decade, while public transport would become ever more crowded.
Without investment, Infrastructure Australia found that the cost this inflicted on our economy would reach almost $40 billion by 2031.
Before COVID, all indicators pointed to a future where Australians were less productive and spent less time at home with their families. After COVID, we must ensure things are different.
After COVID, thing will be different.
Not only will we need to get Australia working again, but our very way of living may be changed.
While the ultimate impacts on our lives will be seen over the longer term, there is anecdotal evidence abounding that the experience of working from home and staggered starting hours – and the success that it has been for many of us – has led Australians to reconsider where they base their lives. This is particularly true in Victoria, which has experienced a much longer lockdown.
Free from being tied to big office towers in the capital cities, Australians may no longer rush to work in peak hour, they may spend some of their working week in the home office, and some may even relocate to regions. As we move out of the pandemic, governments at all levels will have to be aware and responsive to the changes that have happened in our economy, as well as to our society. What will it mean for cities, and what will it mean for regions?
This means that there will need to be more consideration of the types of infrastructure we build. Australia’s infrastructure networks today are largely built to get commuters into the centre of the cities in the morning and return them home to the suburbs in the evening. If the use of our cities changes our infrastructure will need to follow suit. The investments that offered the greatest benefits in the past may not be the same in the post-COVID environment, and governments will need to be awake to those changes.
In being awake to these changes, we must break the inertia and misplaced priorities that has defined infrastructure funding over recent election cycles, while at the same time building a more resilient, more productive and more liveable Australia.
With those brief remarks, I will pass back to Adrian for some questions.