Infrastructure key to regional boom

Article by Max Maddison courtesy of the Australian.

A flagship report has called for an overhaul of infrastructure policy to better address the needs of regional communities, with hopes improved transport links and manufacturing hubs could bring regional GDP growth in line with that of Australia’s fastest-growing cities.

Infrastructure Australia’s 15-year road map highlighted that regional areas and centres had experienced net growth of 200 per cent since the start of the pandemic, a trend assisted by the increased capacity of people to work from home.

The report says continued growth in boom areas will require a new “place based” approach to investment aimed at attracting people away from cities to regional locations. It also sets targets aimed at bringing jobs growth in regional centres in to line with the national average within 10 to 15 years.

Infrastructure Australia chief of policy and research Peter Colacino said regional manufacturing hubs could be created to supply materials for major projects. He pointed to Whyalla in South Australia, which manufactured the steel for Australian rail tracks, as an example of a regional centre booming off the back of specialisation.

The report says improving regional connectivity is critical to unlocking additional growth and backs a staged investment in transport infrastructure aimed at supporting economic diversification and sustainable population growth. It says this strengthens the case for modern, fast rail improvements.

Mass movements of people from cities to towns such as Margaret River in Western Australia and Orange in NSW – both as holiday destinations and places of residence – had sparked huge demand for housing and services.

The report says a more coordinated infrastructure policy would meet specific needs by drawing on each region’s competitive advantage, facilitate growth and encourage a better balancing of population growth between cities and regions.

Governments have so far failed to deliver on promises of highspeed rail, notably a connection between Sydney and Melbourne.

Infrastructure Australia warned any rail investment would rely on “strategic alignment” across population growth and locations, and would require political commitment across multiple electoral cycles.

But rather than mega-projects, or a “$10bn solution”, Mr Colacino said there were a range of “more affordable solutions” available to governments.

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