Learning from Australia’s Infrastructure Audit

Published June 2021

The Australian Infrastructure Audit first conducted by the independent body Infrastructure Australia in 2015 and updated every 5 years. As well as looking at future trends, and cross-sectoral challenges, the Audit examined ways to improve industry efficiency, capacity, and capability. The Audit is also used as the basis to develop the Australian Infrastructure Plan. This discussion held in June 2021 drew lessons from Australia’s experience to ensure investments in infrastructure deliver better value and better outcomes.

Key Takeaways

  1. Role of independent agencies: Independent agencies, like Infrastructure Australia and its state equivalents, play an important role in elevating the political debate around infrastructure by producing evidence-based plans and expert policy advice. This work provides stability for plans and pipelines beyond four-year political cycles and ensures politicians across all parties are more informed in representing the needs of their local communities.
  2. Community and systems focus: Australia’s first audit focused on the big picture at a state and territory level and attempted to count and measure different kinds of infrastructure. A key learning was to look at the future and assess on a community level, considering system-based needs across different types of infrastructure and their interconnections. This helps get beyond siloed thinking and drive more coordinated decisions.
  3. Prioritization methodology: Projects will be gauged against a triple bottom line through Infrastructure Australia’s planned Assessment Framework. This looks at factors beyond cost-benefit analysis to include criteria such as strategic fit, societal impact and deliverability. It ensures projects look at broader strategic and social outcomes as well as economic benefits and resonates across the political spectrum.
  4. Comparative data: Post-completion reviews that help better understand project dynamics and drive improvement are still not widely produced, with lighter touch reviews now being rolled out. Data needs to be based on a consistent methodology and should be transparent to support decisions. There is also an opportunity for collaboration between Australia and Canada to develop shared approaches and standards.
  5. Lifecycle mindset: Record new infrastructure investment presents a growing risk around long-term funding gaps for operations and maintenance. There should be a focus on project outcomes and the whole life of the infrastructure at the front end to make the best decisions for the years it will be in operation. Procurement models must be selected based on data and value across the full project lifecycle, not just during delivery.
  6. Funding and financing: Plans should be developed with fiscal constraints to provide realistic expectations. Projects are paid for from taxes or user fees. For projects paid by user fees, there needs to be ongoing engagement and transparency around user costs and service levels. If people are paying to use infrastructure they should see clear benefits, and contracts structured to enable innovation and better service.