Infrastructure body calls for systemic approach to resilience planning as cost of natural disasters escalates

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday August 20, 2021

Infrastructure Australia CEO Romilly Madew says there is ‘enormous value’ in driving systemic change in Australia’s resilience planning
Infrastructure Australia CEO Romilly Madew says there is ‘enormous value’ in driving systemic change in Australia’s resilience planning. (Thorsten/Adobe)

Australia must take a whole-of-system approach to infrastructure planning in order to become more resilient to natural disasters and other threats, according to new research released by Infrastructure Australia today.

Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romilly Madew said there was ‘enormous value’ in driving systemic change in Australia’s resilience planning, noting that the cost of natural disasters would rise over the coming decades.

“By 2050, the annual cost of natural disasters in Australia is expected to more than double – from $18 billion per year to more than $39 billion,” she said.

In two new advisory papers, Infrastructure Australia has called for a whole-of-system, all-hazards approach to resilience planning. The entity has argued that the infrastructure planning phase offers the ‘most significant opportunity’ to plan for and achieve resilience.

“The decisions made at this stage establish the trajectory for the remaining phases of the infrastructure lifecycle,” it said.

“It is the stage when key decisions like location, design and management of assets are made, and interdependencies between assets are identified.”

Read more: Infrastructure Australia sets out government priorities to boost Australia’s resilience to climate change

Recent events have brought Australia’s vulnerability to threats such as bushfires, droughts, floods, pandemics and cyber-attacks into ‘sharp relief’, according to Madew.

“The impact on many communities has been devastating, however we also have a real opportunity to learn from these challenges and ensure our infrastructure can better withstand disruption and adapt to shocks and stresses,” she said.

“We need a shift in focus from the resilience of assets themselves, to the contribution of assets to the resilience of the system. Asset and network owners and operators will need to work more closely with the community, emergency responders, and Australian governments at all levels to meet local needs.”

The advisory papers aim to create resilient communities that can resist, absorb, accommodate, recover, transform and thrive in response to the effects of shocks and stresses in a timely, efficient manner to enable sustainable economic, social, environmental and governance outcomes.

They have provided directions for transformational and systemic change in infrastructure planning to achieve infrastructure for resilience, as well as guidance for asset owners and operators in the short term.

Infrastructure Australia’s 10 steps for a systemic approach to managing risk include:

  1. Improve strategic alignment of resilience governance: Governance that adopts a systemic view of risk and establishes accountability and resourcing.
  2. Manage uncertainty through scenario planning: A common set of future scenarios to streamline planning and support cross-sector coordination and shared responsibility.
  3. Improve data collection and sharing for informed planning, action and decision-making: Coordinating, sharing and standardising critical disaster and climate data.
  4. Adopt place-based approaches for resilience: Planning tools and data to consider multiple place-based issues and address resilience and community needs.
  5. Embed resilience into land use planning and development decisions: Planning systems that value and set resilience as policy objectives, incorporate new and emerging data, capture local opportunities.
  6. Improve infrastructure investment decision-making: Agreed mechanisms and guidance for quantifying the projected economic, social, environmental and governance implications of the impacts associated with managing uncertainty or resilience.
  7. Collect and share information on asset and network vulnerability: A shared understanding of the impacts to interconnected systems.
  8. Value blue and green infrastructure: Improving the understanding, valuation and governance of the green and blue infrastructure.
  9. Build trust through more inclusive decision-making: Including communities and informing them about the risk, uncertainty and trade-offs related to infrastructure services and their livelihoods.
  10. Embed traditional ecological knowledge in decision-making: Draw on traditional ecological knowledge to manage land and natural resources and mitigate-risk.

Madew noted that a renewed focus on building the resilience of communities was needed, in addition to organisational resilience and personnel capabilities.

“We encourage all levels of government, communities, industry and academia to build on and make use of this research,” she said.

The proposed steps to improve resilience have been informed by more than 600 experts, as well as the bushfires royal commission, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, the independent NSW Bushfire Inquiry, and 16 stakeholder workshops.

Read more: Infrastructure Victoria proposes $100 billion worth of projects to government


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