Smarter Cities? That means smarter infrastructure

This years’ AFR National Infrastructure Summit in association with Deloitte focused on driving growth through smarter, more efficient cities, and drew some 300 of the nation’s top investors, planners, contractors, advisers and policy-makers from around the country.

As co-chair with the AFR, it was a pleasure to be part of an event with a high calibre of attendees, speakers and ideas. Coffee flowed and conversation ensued: six Ministers and a range of thought leaders from the public and private sector – Uber, Deloitte, Tesla, Transurban, Infrastructure Australia and Transgrid, to name a few – discussed the promise of technology for our cities, the future of mobility, regulation and accountability and the challenges in funding and financing future infrastructure.

Much talk centred around who is driving the change, making the decisions and what are the policy frameworks required to regulate rapid change. My key takeaways from the two days:

  • Legitimate funding models are scarce, and alternative funding models are hard to access and require serious political will
  • Social housing is a problem that must be solved but it is difficult to monetise
  • We aren’t going to build our way out of problems or orchestrate change from scratch, so being able to enhance existing structures with technology – to make them more relevant, efficient and accessible is key
  • Planning across sectors, supported by policy requires courage from government, collaboration between sectors. Patience and an uptake from citizens at every step is critical

Some of the key highlights from our speakers included:

  • The Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, The Hon Darren Chester, MP, highlighted that “congestion is one of our biggest challenges we are faced with in our cities.”
  • The Chairman of Infrastructure Australia, Mark Birrell, called for the Government to back larger “game changing” infrastructure projects, despite public opposition, to make Australia’s cities work better and make them more efficient and liveable.
  • In terms of funding, however, Urban Infrastructure Minister, The Hon Paul Fletcher, MP, said that state governments could not expect to receive grants for infrastructure projects like they have in the past. He said that while grant funding still has a role in the federal budget, the federal government is moving towards wanting a stake in big projects such as the Western Sydney Airport and the $10billion Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project. The use of concessional loads and equity injections would provide better bang for the buck for taxpayers than another round of state grants.
  • Innovation and disruption caused by technology were high on the agenda. Deloitte’s Global Infrastructure and Capital Projects Leader, Nick Prior revealed that emerging technologies such as drones, monitors, wearables, and data analytics are driving innovation and disruption in the infrastructure sector. “Data analytics is one of the key forces driving greater speed and efficiency in the infrastructure sector globally,” he said. For more on this download Nick’s presentation here.
  • Lucy Turnbull, AO, Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission said that technology will be a key motivator for change when considering the future of infrastructure. She expressed the view that cities need to think holistically about mobility rather than public or private transport by combining mass public transport services and more on-demand services such as ride-sharing with private transport and working and cycling options.

This is just a flavour of the insights and discussion over the two days. Luckily for our attendees, we had a super illustrator present on the day to capture some of the insights from our key sessions. These are available to download here and are an engaging and quick way to absorb some of the major insights from the conference.

Download all the illustrations from the AFR National Infrastructure Summit by clicking the image

As I said in my blog before the event, and in my opening remarks, one of the major issues Deloitte will focus on in the coming months is the concept of the Future of Mobility. We’ll be working with our clients, including government, funding and planning bodies, and the auto industry, to examine what mobility could look like in Australia, when the whole way we move from A to B is changing globally. Keep an eye on our Future of Mobility page for more information, where you can register to receive updates on this topic.

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