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COVID-19 changed everything – including our infrastructure future

COVID has upended our economy, our approach to medical advice and even our use of hand sanitiser. But its biggest impact may be on where we live and work.

Our central business districts – the economic powerhouses of the country – stand almost empty due to ongoing lockdowns. Even when we could move about, many office buildings had the lights turned off as so many workers stayed hunkered down in their suburban homes.

Lockdowns and COVID have changed our shopping habits and our living habits. Infrastructure Australia is thinking about how much of that change will endure.

Lockdowns and COVID have changed our shopping habits and our living habits. Infrastructure Australia is thinking about how much of that change will endure.Credit:Wolter Peeters

The past 12 months have seen the greatest migration of people out of capitals to the regions since the gold rushes of the 19th century. House values in regional NSW have grown by almost 25 per cent over the past 12 months while in regional Tasmania they’re up by more than 26 per cent.

Now Infrastructure Australia has offered a road map of reform to deal with these changes and to make our communities – be they inner-city Sydney or a rural-residential development outside Wodonga – more liveable.

Every election, our political parties offer infrastructure as if it’s a reward for voting the “correct” way. How else to explain a cluster of railway station car parks promised to at-risk seats in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs at the last election?

Infrastructure Australia, charged with looking beyond the politics that so often determines projects, has gone much, much further by trying to determine the medium to long-term effects of the pandemic.

From turning stormwater and wastewater into potable water to getting governments to stage their major infrastructure projects to best use our limited resources, the agency has a very long list of issues that need to be addressed.

They include ones that politicians of all stripes are afraid to confront. That includes “ensuring infrastructure decisions are transparent” to increasing the per kilometre cost of regional rail services as long as the money is pumped back into upgraded services.

At their heart is the quality of life of all Australians, be they in the largest city to the smallest remote community.

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