Who’s going to be paying your wages next year?

What about five years from now, or 10? If you work in the building sector, or any of the many industries that supply and service it, the answer to that question is likely to be: infrastructure.

There’s a catch though. Some things will need to change if Australia is to get the productive, sustainable infrastructure we need.

It’s no secret that Australia’s economy is slowing. The mining boom is ending. Manufacturing is continuing its long, slow contraction. That means that we need to spend money on infrastructure projects simply to ensure that we have jobs and that money is circulating in our economy. And, as several experts have pointed out recently, with costs to borrow money at an all time low, now is the perfect time to lock in financing for infrastructure projects.

In the long term, too, our infrastructure needs to be as sustainable and productive as possible if Australian business is to remain competitive into the future, with maximum productivity across our transport, water, electricity and telecommunications networks.

Our society is changing, with our population set to increase while also growing older. At the same time, climate change means our weather will become less predictable and more extreme. Households are using less energy and travelling less by car. Our environment is under strain, with species extinctions on the rise at the same time as our cities and towns generate increasing amounts of waste. All of these factors mean our infrastructure has to change and improve to meet these challenges.

A new report by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), compiling the views of 35 representatives of industry, government, and academia, calls for the development of a pathway to sustainable and productive infrastructure to meet the economic, social and environmental challenges we face.

There are major challenges we must overcome on the road to delivering the infrastructure Australia needs. Politicians find it hard to look beyond the short-term election timetable when approving new projects. It takes too long to act on new infrastructure, with politics, funding constraints and stalled decision making processes stretching the timetable out so that years elapse between concept and reality.

We need to take the long view to achieve better and more rapidly deliverable outcomes. Infrastructure Australia plans to release a 15-year plan, but ASBEC believes a 30-year plan would better, with a focus on the big picture rather than the incremental steps we need to take: where we need to go, rather than how we get there. A five-year review cycle would help to ensure things stay on track.

This long-term, visionary plan should be apolitical, removing infrastructure decisions from short-term political distortion, and should engage stakeholders to inform the design and delivery of the plan. And it should contain pathways to guide the implementation of the plan through the key processes of engagement, planning, decision, funding and execution.

Most people want a future Australia that is economically robust, with good jobs available, where our cities become more liveable as their populations grow, and where our environment is cared for so we can all enjoy the clean air, clean water and unique wildlife that define our country. If we’re going to make that future Australia a reality, the first thing we need is the right planning and investment in sustainable and productive infrastructure across the nation.