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By Dev Mukherjee.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 17 March 2016.
Infrastructure can improve people’s quality of life and expand the opportunities available for people experiencing disadvantage. Well-designed facilities can maximise the effectiveness of community services, good urban design can enhance community cohesion and support healthy, safe communities, and strong transport links can provide more opportunities to access employment and services.
VCOSS has prepared a submission to Infrastructure Victoria in response to a discussion paper, Laying the Foundations, regarding the development of a 30-year infrastructure strategy for Victoria. VCOSS considers that an infrastructure strategy should:
VCOSS notes that the Laying the Foundations paper includes many of these aspects and we welcomed the broad-ranging objectives and needs identified in the paper.
The VCOSS submission recommended some additional needs that could be addressed in the strategy. It focussed on the objectives that will most assist vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians. These were:
Responding to population growth and change
VCOSS recommended that a 30-year infrastructure strategy should address infrastructure deficits in areas of social and economic disadvantage. The infrastructure deficits in areas of disadvantage exacerbate that disadvantage. Laying the Foundations acknowledged the infrastructure deficits in the high growth suburbs of outer Melbourne, many of which experience high levels of disadvantage. However, there are other areas of disadvantage within Victoria and these areas also have infrastructure deficits, such as rural and regional communities. Addressing these deficits would go some way to reducing the disadvantage experienced by these communities.
VCOSS also recommended the strategy identify the need for community services and post-school education and training infrastructure. Laying the Foundation focused on the increasing need for school and health infrastructure. These are important but are not the only services infrastructure needed in communities. Community services help create the foundation of a strong, cohesive and inclusive community, where everyone is supported to overcome barriers and fulfil their potential. By having a community infrastructure pipeline for new and growing communities, these communities can be supported to thrive, and avoid risks of becoming locations of entrenched disadvantage. Similarly, post-school education and training infrastructure is increasingly needed as employment is concentrated in skilled occupations.
Laying the Foundations acknowledged that housing needs should be part of an infrastructure strategy. The paper focused on increasing the supply of social housing. VCOSS welcomes this but the strategy could go much further to address the housing problems in Victoria. The infrastructure strategy should encourage growth in both social and affordable housing as part of a whole-of-government affordable housing strategy.
It is not only the availability of housing that affects people experiencing disadvantage, it is also its standard. The design and features of dwellings affect their running costs and adaptability for changes in people’s capability over their lifetime. VCOSS encourages the use of the planning system and building code to incorporate life cycle energy use. Further, housing should be easily modified to accommodate changing capabilities as people age, and the differing needs of people with disability.
Enabling workforce participation
VCOSS welcomes the focus on workforce participation in Laying the Foundations. The focus on transport to central Melbourne and non-central city employment centres is an important aspect to enhancing workforce participation. However, the 30-year infrastructure strategy should contain additional actions to improve workforce participation.
A 30-year infrastructure strategy that focuses on enabling workforce participation needs to consider whether jobs created through the strategy are accessible to people who are unemployed.
One way to create accessible jobs is to pursue local development strategies that harness talents and natural features within communities to generate a viable commercial base, and work collaboratively with the community so that people working and living there reap the benefits.
Victoria has numerous ‘regional development’ groupings, and these are most often advisory committees. In our 2014 paper, Tackling Unemployment, VCOSS suggested enhancing these groupings by helping establish or boost local collaborative alliances, so that local communities can work together to create job opportunities. Complementary strategies, such as ensuring local training opportunities are linked with local employment needs, ‘buy local’ campaigns, and consulting with local communities on the most productive infrastructure investments, can further increase the benefits.
The infrastructure strategy needs to recognise the significant contribution of the Victorian community sector to employment and the economy. In some rural communities, the health and community service sectors provide the majority of employment. Any infrastructure investments in these areas provide immediate and long-term benefits to rural communities in terms of employment as well as service provision.
VCOSS looks forward to working with Infrastructure Victoria and the Victorian government to achieve better infrastructure for all Victorians.
Dev Mukherjee is the VCOSS Sector Sustainability Policy Advisor