The COVID-19 crisis is the perfect time for a building boom, according to an expert from The Australian National University (ANU), who says infrastructure spending should be a key part of Australia's response to the pandemic.
Associate Professor Sara Bice says governments must not be tempted to slow down on infrastructure, arguing our response to the pandemic presents a golden opportunity to put Australian businesses and workers at the centre of this effort, reducing impact while possibly accelerating project delivery.
Her call to action is outlined in an article for the ANU specialist publication, Policy Forum, published today.
"So far, economic packages have rightly focused on things like health funding, job seeker payments, business subsidies and welfare," Associate Professor Bice said.
"But past crises demonstrate the importance of Australia's infrastructure sector to national stimulus.
"It's critical that Australia maintains a focus on project delivery, perhaps even considering an increase in spending before economic recovery begins."
Associate Professor Bice believes empty business districts may present an opportunity to ramp up delivery on big infrastructure projects.
"In recent years, an estimated $30 billion in infrastructure investment has been lost due to project delays, cancellations, or mothballing caused partly by community opposition," she said.
"While much of Australia's economy is hibernating, governments have a chance to kill two birds with one stone. They can reduce the impacts of project delivery on urban businesses while also reducing the likelihood of costly opposition for projects."
According to Associate Professor Bice, policymakers should be asking important questions about current infrastructure projects - for example, can work in high traffic areas be accelerated or completed within the next six months?
"There are opportunities now to be clever and agile in the way projects are sequenced and delivered," she said.
"This might require rapid community engagement to understand people's new working arrangements and the rescheduling of specific projects.
"Work with government departments and private sector partners to look at the schedules of all major infrastructure projects should begin now."
Associated Professor Bice said it is absolutely critical, however, that any potential infrastructure gains must not come at the expense of construction workers' health.
"The work and advice of health professionals, government, and relevant unions will be essential to ensuring that any infrastructure delivery proceeds only where it is safe to do so. Wherever it is possible however, governments and policymakers must make it a priority, throughout and despite this crisis,." she said.
Policy Forum is a specialist website examining the Asia-Pacific's key policy challenges published by the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy. Read Associate Professor Bice's article here: https://www.policyforum.net/austrailas-big-build.