Enabling the DIY infrastructure protagonist to do more is one very important step for Australia to fully grasp the economic and social opportunities before it.
Australians are self-starters, independently minded and with a strong sense of community and customers. It comes as no surprise that Australians have a rich history of solving their own problems, be it for infrastructure, business or cultural advancement without idly waiting for government.
Customer-led ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) infrastructure is a national investment priority. It is a call to un-limit the nations assets and services to greater dynamism and entrepreneurial uplift. Australia has a rich history of infrastructure protagonists where their legacies are scattered across the vastness of Australia’s landscape.
Its rivers and coastline show where individuals and communities banded together to finance fund and build warehouses, wharves, roads, bridges and railway lines. It is not an exaggeration to say that Australia’s do it yourself attitude has been a major driver of the Australian economy.
Changes from new technology and escalating community preferences for energy, transport, water and waste highlight that infrastructure in the 21st century is shifting so services, data and choice are the new levers of enduring growth, jobs and opportunity.
But is the nation readying itself for this future?
Political volatility may continue, however the leadership of all infrastructure stakeholders must prevail.
Unlocking economic growth with dynamism, enterprise and social cohesion can be done, especially by accessing and liberating deep talents, skills and collaboration capacities that are abundant in the Australian community.
Vision and passion of infrastructure protagonists drawn from citizens, community groups and business are key market actors that bring imagination and agility to challenge and disrupt traditional ‘silo’ infrastructure as well as to help stitch together a better functioning system-wide performance.
Tapping the full potential of these protagonists will require Australia to improve the quality of data and transparency of decision-making across every aspect of infrastructure. Markets are empowered by information, and their efficiency is determined by it. So it is no surprise that this is also what activates DIY protagonists to have a clear line of sight to gaps, bottlenecks and under performance that can be remedied.
It is time to strengthen the infrastructure ecosystem with more community and business protagonists as the epicentre of a new decision making model. Its objective is to marshal infrastructure investment and the rapid realisation of better services, new markets and higher productivity; the alchemy of why investment occurs in infrastructure in the first place.
It is time for investors to stand up as infrastructure stewards.
There is much discussion about capital abundance and the desire of superannuation and pension funds to invest in infrastructure. This is a good thing and should be helped where possible. But if investors want long-term trust from the community, then they are going to have to demonstrate that long-term ownership of infrastructure assets results not only in better services, but also responds to changing needs of customers.
Investors and businesses in infrastructure are on the threshold of an important opportunity to lift performance when they reprioritise objectives and resources to better engage, innovate and fulfil the escalating expectations of customers. The DIY infrastructure protagonists discussed in this paper are setting the standard, and now their impact needs to be at scale.
There are untapped commercial, environmental and social benefits awaiting investors that are prepared to go beyond basic compliance to contracts and concessions that have been awarded from government.
Reporting regularly on service performance for infrastructure assets is one way to encourage better services and quality long term stewardship.
Business has an important role to play in developing the infrastructure for tomorrow through innovation and risk taking. Digital connectivity is opening up many new opportunities, but just as important is business being a risk taker. The Pilbara was opened up in the 1960s through the mining sector being prepared to take on risk. Most recently, Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport serves as an example of a family business being prepared to take a big development risk and future patronage.
Correcting infrastructure gaps and making new markets, demands a business sector that is more front footed to imagination, innovation and risk taking without waiting for government. This is a critical way for Australia to efficiently meet the great diversity of needs in both cities and regional Australia.
It is also important that Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) companies, which are a fundamental engine of business risk taking, do more for new capital formation. The ultimate responsibility however rests with business, which has the capacity to be a major driver of infrastructure development and risk taking across the nation.
With an estimated $47 billion of community infrastructurei that is in a poor to very poor state requiring immediate renewal or upgrade, it is time for communities to seize the opportunity to determine the infrastructure they want, without waiting for government to tell them what, when and how they will get it.
The Better Infrastructure Initiative at the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership is seeking to stimulate a conversation concerning the establishment of a Community Infrastructure Ecosystem. Its purpose, to accelerate the role and impact of the DIY infrastructure protagonist, and could consist of three inter-linked elements.
1. Community Infrastructure Hub that develops community ideas on projects where individuals, groups and clubs can join up with other like-minded groups; strengthen their collective ideas in readiness for financing and funding.
2. Community Capital Enterprise is the financing and funding arm of the ecosystem, and would act as a market maker, in mixing and matching projects with capital. The vision is for the CCE to be a new investment market that has the potential to be valued in the order of $10 billion in 3-5 years.
3. Project Management & Delivery will be specific to each project in accordance with the capital providers and with ongoing community oversight.
The ecosystem is a concept that will be tested with stakeholders and is intended to be a catalyst in bringing together business, universities, providers of capital, government and the community sector and consolidate both efforts and outcomes. While independent of government the ecosystem should collaborate with them where it makes sense to do so as part of its mandate in enabling DIY community protagonists.
A customer-led DIY infrastructure future can start today.
iAustralian Local Government Association, National State of Assets, 2015 p.8.
This executive summary is written by Garry Bowditch, Executive Director of the Better Infrastructure Initiative, John Grill Centre for Project Leadership. Read the full paper Why wait for government? Customer-led DIY Infrastructure, Australia’s No. 1 priority.