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Evolving the nation’s finest modern infrastructure achievement

Infrastructure has an oversized role to play to win back community trust
Garry Bowditch asserts infrastructure has an oversized role to play in winning back community trust. It sets the frame of mind of the nation as infrastructure shapes many life defining decisions like where we live, what work we do and how we connect.

Population growth and demographics demand that Australia must continue to be, not only a big spender on infrastructure, but world leading reformer to ensure every dollar hits its mark with customers, community and investors. Therefore, the nation has a great deal to gain by embracing the Customer Stewardship Blueprint and Compass released 26th September 2018 by the John Grill Centre.

Winning back community trust

Developed with infrastructure owners, service providers and government, customer stewardship provides the ways and means for mega projects, asset recycling initiatives and future project pipelines to stay close to customers and communities. It emphasises that great planning, service delivery and value for money is the threshold for earning good returns to shareholders.

Infrastructure has an oversized role to play in winning back community trust. It sets the frame of mind of the nation as infrastructure shapes many life defining decisions like where we live, what work we do and how we connect with community and friends. 

Having responsible, adaptable and reliable infrastructure services is key to sustaining the community consensus that infrastructure investment is good for them and the economy.

Pushing boundaries for global best practice

The good news, as the ten exemplar case studies we examined in our report released today demonstrate, is that Australian infrastructure service providers have much to be proud of in the way they are responding to the changing needs of customers in an environment of rapid technology change and population growth. 

Better Infrastructure Initiative’s 2018 Exemplars identified organisations and government partners that will not be shackled.  Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station and the Convention Centre are examples of two PPP concession holders that have been adaptive and collaborative to work above and beyond their black letter contracts. Rapid population growth and an urgency to make their city more liveable and an attractive investment destination brings the customer stewardship mindset to life.

Brisbane and Sydney airports continue with large investments in new assets, technology and services that push boundaries for global best practice for customers. Enhancing the connectedness with land transport system is a priority and work in progress, but city-transforming initiatives like Melbourne’s proposed City Rail Link speak volumes about having the right investors and operators working together in an accommodating regulatory environment.

The ingenuity of Australians is shown in a trial at Adelaide Airport that is exploring whether it is possible to drop temperatures on extreme weather days through planting of Lucerne grass adjacent to the runway. Trial results are very promising with big efficiency and safety gains for jet aircraft. The Port of Brisbane is actively working beyond the port gate to reduce river sediment that flows downstream into the Port requiring less dredging, freeing up capital for a new cruise terminal.

Many infrastructure businesses have been carrying a disproportionate load in seeking to be better customer centred organisations. Despite good cultures towards customers they often struggle against a tide of regulatory and contractual pressure that places higher importance on black letter compliance to rules rather than customer collaboration.

They are not alone. The 2018 Edelman trust barometer points to a pandemic growth in distrust of public and private institutions in Australia.

Left unchecked it does not augur well for the future provision of infrastructure, particularly where private capital is needed to finance essential community assets like schools, hospitals, roads, water and energy.

Light-handed regulation, a catalyst for growth

While not perfect, light handed regulation and the role of fiduciary boards pioneered in Australia across key parts of the nation’s infrastructure has been a catalyst for the nation’s extraordinary growth since the microeconomic reform heydays of Hawke, Keating and Howard.

Light handed regulation allows firms, often monopolies, to exercise discretion in how it meets regulatory obligations by working with their customers and stakeholders.

Unfortunately, the consensus for light-handed regulation appears at risk, and it would be grave error of public policy judgement to dilute or jettison it in favour of Government re-regulation. This governance model in maritime ports, airports and mobile telecommunications have seen steadfast contributions to massive investments, greater innovation, efficiencies and connectedness to the world. Light-handed regulation and fiduciary boards have proven competent to the task.

The Customer Stewardship Blueprint and Compass opens up new pathways so the nation’s finest infrastructure achievements can evolve to meet higher expectations of customers and community.

It is imperative for the nation to create an alternative to the current debate. Bigger thinking and infrastructure solutions are to be found in the more fertile soil of building relationships, which reinforce growth through reciprocity and are sustained with a commitment to participation first.

Garry Bowditch is Executive Director, Better Infrastructure Initiative, John Grill Centre for Project Leadership, University of Sydney. Read the report: Infrastructure's missing link.