Remote work is putting pressure on regional infrastructure, creating major gaps in housing, broadband, water security, higher education and public transport, according to a new Infrastructure Australia report.
The 2022 Regional Strengths and Infrastructure Gaps was created following a year-long consultation process with local stakeholders (including councils, businesses and community groups) in each of the 48 Regional Development Australia network areas.
During the consultation, IA asked regional representatives to identify the three to four biggest infrastructure gaps their local areas face, in order to prioritise future projects.
In total, the report identifies 479 infrastructure gaps affecting regional communities across Australia.
While the infrastructure needs vary from region to region, the five issues identified by the largest number of RDA areas are:
- housing affordability (26 of the 48 regions)
- broadband and mobile coverage (23 regions)
- water security for both homes and businesses (22 regions)
- access to further education and skills training (19 regions)
- capacity, connectivity and quality of public transport infrastructure (15 regions)
Surprisingly, in the face of ongoing floods across New South Wales and Queensland, as well as the 2019 bushfires, only one community identified natural disaster resilience as a fifth priority.
The timing of the consultation process was potentially a factor in the small number of communities concerned about disaster recovery. The result might be different if the consultation process were held today.
Climate change was an underlying area of concern for a number of remote communities, and particularly those with large Indigenous communities.
“Stakeholders from … the Torres Strait Islands, expressed community concerns in relation to rising sea levels and the threat of community displacement,” the report stated.
“Participants identified the need for more support for environmental management and resilience, particularly in these vulnerable areas and in response to increasing impacts from natural disasters.
“Opportunities were identified to draw upon local knowledge and land management practices within First Nations communities to manage these risks.”
The study is based on one of the key findings of the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, which recommended that IA should receive funding to examine the impacts of Covid-19 on the infrastructure in regional areas.
According to the new report, COVID-19 has had a number of unique impacts on regional communities, including that:
- population growth has happened because of the increased adoption of remote work
- short-term population movements have created additional pressure on smaller towns and holiday locations
- increased services in some smaller communities have allowed people (who otherwise would have moved to a large metropolitan area) to stay in regional cities
- border restrictions and reduced face-to-face schooling have led to some fly-in-fly-out workers to be permanently based in remote mining communities