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1.4 Embrace technology and innovation

Technology is increasingly important for everyday life, from the smart phone to apps and smart home appliances. Figure 6 shows the rapid increase of internet use by Australians. Technology has provided new ways to communicate, work, access services and connect socially.

While the ways technology will continue to change people’s lives over the next 30 years is unknown, our recommendations support Victoria to embrace technological opportunities to enhance efficiency and productivity, allow new industries to flourish, provide better access to services, and improve people’s quality of life.

Rapid technological change accelerates innovation

Victorians adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic in ways previously not thought possible. In 2018, one quarter of Australians were unfamiliar with technologies such as digital education, telehealth, and on-demand transport,1 but the COVID-19 pandemic hyper-charged technology use. Many businesses rapidly moved online, causing e-commerce to explode with record growth of 169.9% in Victoria in the year to August 2020.2 This shows technology can facilitate rapid change, and that people can swiftly adapt.

Figure 6 Australians have rapidly increased their internet usage 300dpi 2
Figure 6: Australians have rapidly increased their internet usage.
This graph shows the rapid increase in data downloaded, with a seven-fold increase from June 2013 to December 2019. The graph shows data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from 2013 to 2018, when it switches to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Responsibility for collecting internet data use changed in December 2018 from the ABS to the ACCC. Note that ACCC data on the graphic is illustrative, and is not directly comparable to the ABS data.

We can retain and learn from many of the technological adaptations made during the pandemic. The growing practice of telemedicine and telehealth services can promote better access to health services, particularly in areas of regional Victoria where access to skilled medical specialists and health professionals is more challenging. Digital access can substitute for many face-to-face interactions including remote working, video-conferencing, and remote service delivery. It can potentially overcome many disparities, including limited transport access or distance.

Globally, technology is rapidly changing, driven by rising internet use, digitisation, smart technologies, and automation. Many new technologies with potential implications for infrastructure are developing swiftly, such as 5G mobile, artificial intelligence, automated and connected vehicles, drones, virtual and augmented reality, the `Internet of Things’, and digital health and education.3 They have immense potential benefits, with some estimating that digital innovation could deliver $315 billion in gross economic value to Australia during the next decade.4

Technology can change the infrastructure that Victoria needs. For example, automated vehicles could lead to significant network efficiency improvements that could mitigate congestion and boost economic growth.5 This could mean redesigning road layouts and avoiding or delaying major infrastructure investments.6 Other technology is still at early concept stage or is unproven, making it difficult to anticipate any benefits of supporting infrastructure.

These may simply require monitoring technological developments, such as urban air mobility and hyperloop technologies.

New technology and applications are also increasing productivity, enhancing services, and promoting innovation.

Technology can underpin new business models, such as using reverse osmosis to create drinking water, or using algorithms to closely match users and providers, such as in ride sharing. Technology can help integrate transport services, with public and private transport services combining to deliver affordable and sustainable choices and a seamless customer experience. Sometimes allowing new technology to flourish requires regulatory changes. Regulatory shortcomings can impose costs on business and the community.7 During rapid technological evolution, prescriptive regulation can stifle innovation. Instead, regulation focusing on outcomes, such as safety, can protect consumers while allowing innovation to flourish.8

Widespread adoption of rapidly advancing technology also has risks. For example, digital technologies need strong privacy safeguards and robust cyber security, so information is non-identifiable and stored securely. Cyber-breaches can erode community trust, and potentially discourage use or thwart innovation. Governments must also consider the fairness and ethics of automating public functions so the benefits of technology are equitably distributed and do not undermine labour standards.

In a hyper-connected world, individuals and families who cannot afford or are not able to access personal technology are at risk of deepening disadvantage. The social consequences of rapid technology change means governments need to focus on sharing the benefits widely. For example, people who can afford rooftop solar and energy efficiency upgrades are rewarded with lower bills and more efficient usage, while those who cannot end up paying higher energy bills. Our community panel on accelerating adoption of electric and low-emission vehicles identified major principles of a just transition, equitable access, and sharing knowledge.9

Technology can provide alternative service delivery methods

As business models change, so too can government services. Government providers can try different ways of working, including innovative models of health care, justice and policing services. Technology can transform government services, which in turn alters their infrastructure requirements. Digital technology can substitute for buildings. Health services demonstrated and expanded different ways of providing health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, without necessarily requiring more dedicated infrastructure, including by evolving telehealth, outreach services, and ‘hospital in the home’ arrangements.10 Telehealth services complement in-person care by providing telephone and online health services, allowing easier and potentially earlier interventions.

Over 56 million telehealth services were delivered and 83,540 providers used telehealth services nationally from 13 March 2020 to 21 April 2021.11 An NBN Co survey also found 48% of respondents who needed to access a health service during the pandemic used a telehealth service, and 63% are willing to consider telehealth.12

Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically transformed the administration of courts and tribunals, which were required to change traditional protocols and procedures.13 For example, virtual courtrooms allow many cases to progress without the participants needing to attend in person.

Technology and data analytics can help infrastructure perform better

Technology provides new ways of collecting and disseminating information about infrastructure and the services it supports. Technologies can create, collect, and analyse data, supporting more targeted interventions, superior service delivery models, and better asset management.

Victorians are increasingly using new technology to help manage their daily lives. Apps can show people how much electricity they use, count their steps, and support their budgeting goals. An Australian survey identified that 75% of respondents used the internet to download an app in 2017–18 and that 35% used one or more smart home activated tools in the same period.15

Smart homes with Wi-Fi connected devices create an ‘Internet of Things’, allowing people to turn on televisions, lights and appliances by voice command, set timers, ask questions about the weather or even remotely check visitors at their door.16 Intelligent transport systems can communicate between private and public transport vehicles, and between vehicles and infrastructure. This has the dual benefits of reducing manual processes for managing traffic flows and responding more quickly to manage congestion and reduce queuing. Victoria already has limited dedicated traffic signals that prioritise movements of buses and trams. Traffic light synchronisation in Orange County, California, reduced overall travel times by 11%, the number of stops by 75% and greenhouse gas emissions by 7%.17

Case Study

Embedded technology in bridges for better asset management

Victoria has thousands of rail and road bridges which need to stay structurally sound and safe for users. FiBridge is an innovative technology trial to improve management and maintenance of Victoria’s bridges. Advanced fibre-optic sensors on rail and road bridges collect real time structural performance data and send the information back for analysis by asset managers. This can immediately identify anomalies in the bridge’s condition. It can replace some in-person inspections, providing faster, cheaper, and more accurate condition reports. It can detect faults earlier, potentially averting disastrous bridge failures and helping target inspections and maintenance to the most needed places.14

Incorporating uncertainty into infrastructure planning

Planning for infrastructure in uncertain times is challenging. The exact evolution of technology is unpredictable, as is its impact on long-lived assets. Challenging assumptions can have a profound impact on predictions for infrastructure investment.

Scenario planning involves constructing multiple different projections under different assumptions. It improves understanding of the value of infrastructure investments in different possible futures. It also helps document the value of keeping options open under different possible circumstances, and identifies situations where infrastructure could become redundant.

Infrastructure sectors that undertake scenario planning are better prepared. For example, to help plan for the nations electricity and gas needs, the AEMO has developed an Integrated System Plan, using several scenarios that represent plausible futures to assess risks, opportunities and development needs.18 The electricity sector is experiencing considerable disruption from renewable and storage technologies, but the pace of growth is uncertain with national consensus still to be reached on greenhouse gas emission reduction aspirations.

The Integrated System Plan identifies the infrastructure investments that hold the most value in different circumstances, and the potential impact of not investing.

Similarly, in preparing our Advice on Automated and Zero Emissions Vehicles Infrastructure, we modelled several scenarios based on different assumptions about the availability and use of transport technologies.19 We prepared multiple transport and land use modelling scenarios in developing this strategy. We are also examining implications for Victoria’s gas network infrastructure under different 2050 energy sector scenarios, providing our final advice to the Victorian Government by the end of 2021.
Having staged, incremental planning for infrastructure projects also helps to manage uncertainty. For instance, designing infrastructure to adapt as technologies mature keeps infrastructure resilient and investments productive. New and significantly upgraded infrastructure can consider its capability to be connected, including by embedding technology.20 It can also assist infrastructure maintenance, recording its condition to support continuing safe and effective operation over its useful life.

Recommendations to embrace technological opportunities and innovation

Infrastructure Victoria makes the following recommendations to better position the Victorian Government to capitalise on technological opportunities and innovate in core service delivery. These are complemented by recommendations to unlock regional economic growth opportunities (see section 4.1) and keep regional Victorians connected (see section 4.2). Many other recommendations incorporate developments in new technology.

Recommendation 21: Prepare for increasingly automated vehicle feets

In the next year, begin updating transport regulations to allow automated vehicle operation on the road network. In the next 10 years, upgrade roads and communications infrastructure to help facilitate increasingly connected and automated vehicles, particularly for corporate and government fleets. Develop policy, business case and land use planning guidance to maximise the benefits of automated vehicles and mitigate their risks.

Automated vehicle technology could radically change Victoria’s transport system and alter transport demand patterns. It could deliver considerable benefits, including reducing road deaths and improving people’s access to education, services, and social connections. But the technology is still evolving, and its transformative potential relies on private sector innovation and government preparedness to maximise its benefits, while minimising any adverse outcomes.

Many benefits of automated vehicles may be realised without government intervention, but the lack of national coordination could slow their adoption. The Victorian Government should take immediate actions to enable their use,21 which also supports delivery of the Victoria’s Zero Emissions Vehicle Roadmap.22 The current regulatory framework for automated vehicles needs to be updated. The National Transport and Infrastructure Council agreed in June 2020 to a single, national approach to regulating automated vehicles on Australian roads. It includes a national regulator and a national law, supported by a general safety duty.

This requires changing driving laws to support automated vehicles and developing a safety assurance system. The Victorian Government can expand the current permit scheme for automated vehicle trials, consistent with the national approach.23 It can also change road maintenance and management practices and integrate automated vehicles into transport pricing.

As this regulatory change occurs, the Victorian Government should develop specific guidance for transport project business cases, accounting for the risks, opportunities and uncertainties posed by automated vehicles, including new ways to use and manage road space, consistent with real options analysis methodology.24 For example, our Advice on Automated and Zero Emission Vehicles outlined scenarios where vehicle-to-vehicle communications means they can safely travel faster, and more closely together.

This means existing road lanes could carry more traffic, deferring road investment and potentially providing more road space for others, such as cyclists and pedestrians.25 Conversely, automated vehicles could lead to more traffic from empty running vehicles and more convenient car travel. This can be mitigated by encouraging public and active transport and implementing transport network pricing (see recommendation 53).

The Victorian Government should also allow flexible planning to support property owners and local authorities to adapt to automated vehicles. Immediate priorities include flexibility in statutory planning for car parking infrastructure and design

standards to allow for retrofits. They also include introducing flexible kerb space in high density areas, so spaces better meet changing demand and usage patterns, as well as local transport and land use goals.26

New vehicle owners already benefit from increasingly automated features, including new safety features. Fleet operators are likely to adopt automated features earlier than others, due to their scale, and the potential fleet-wide efficiency gains and operating cost savings. This includes truck and delivery van fleet operators, bus and coach companies, ride-share and taxi companies, and corporate vehicle fleets – including those of the Victorian Government. These potential savings, and the opportunity to accelerate adoption of the technologies, means the Victorian Government should actively seek out opportunities for early deployment of automated vehicles. Areas with lower traffic volumes and fewer safety risks may be good locations for the testing and early deployment of more advanced vehicles.

Recommendation 22: Facilitate integration of public transport with new mobility services

In the next five years, develop open access ticketing platforms to facilitate integration of public transport modes with new mobility services, incorporating better data sharing and collection. Remove public transport contract barriers to allow integration of existing and emerging transport modes and services.

New businesses are using technology to disrupt traditional transport models. They are creating new ways for people to manage how they get around, reducing the need to own a car, consult a map or check a timetable. New mobility services can improve the ease and efficiency of using transport, providing a cheaper, seamless, and more attractive alternative to traditional car ownership.27 Online platforms use artificial intelligence to match, schedule, dispatch, plan and buy transport trips – all through a single app. These services also streamline payment systems and data analysis,28 and unlock opportunities for innovative transport service design and delivery.29 New mobility services can help people travel from transport hubs to their individual destinations more cheaply and efficiently than traditional public transport services. They may also be a prerequisite for maximising the benefits of automated vehicles, especially to facilitate efficient use of shared fleets.30 If managed appropriately, technology offers the opportunity to build digital literacy through improved access to local transport services. This will especially improve mobility for people who cannot drive, or cannot afford to, including some people with disability or older Victorians.31

As these technologies develop, people will increasingly want to compare services offered by multiple independent providers across all moperi-urbanc transport, taxis, ride-share, bike-share, and even automated vehicles. Around the world, people can increasingly pay for multi-stage journeys in a single transaction through a single portal by selecting one or multiple combinations of different transport services, at varying prices.32 This approach encourages people to monitor different transport prices, and respond by changing their behaviour, including if transport prices change to help manage demand (see section 2.3). To successfully integrate mobility apps into the transport system, the Victorian Government should facilitate open, integrated payments across third-party purchasing platforms, ticketing, validation, and barrier systems for public transport.33 This should be incorporated into the update of the ticketing services tender due in 2023. This will need to overcome the commercial issues of revenue allocation, including from public transport ticket sales. Third-party access to public transport ticketing means new mobility service providers can include public transport in their journey planning, booking and billing systems. As part of collaborative arrangements for third-party access, providers should also be required to share useful, de-identified data and information.

The Victorian Government should also ensure new contracts for public transport operators allow for changes to accommodate new mobility services. This includes an option for new mobility service providers to bid for the provision of local transport services currently provided by buses in metropolitan and regional areas. Current public transport contracts prevent new transport business from operating public transport-style services, stopping development of these options. Better data collection and sharing (see recommendation 40) will also assist the development of new mobility services. The Victorian Government could consider using a third-party firm for sourcing and collecting data.

Case Study.

New mobility services are operating around the world.

Whim: Helsinki, Finland34

Whim is a Finnish mobile app designed to improve transport route efficiency and information transparency. It allows people to book and pay for transport in a single transaction and operates across multiple transport modes, including public transport, bike-sharing, share-cars, long distance trains and taxi services. The app is a user-friendly and engaging platform, and centralises transport information for the entire transport system.35 Whim was the world’s first mobility service to offer multi-transport ticketing across different services in one app.

polygoCard: Stuttgart, Germany36

The polygoCard is the primary online mobility service in Stuttgart, Germany. It is a multi-modal booking platform that includes many types of public and private transport. It works for public transport, and car and bicycle sharing services, including for electric vehicles. Monthly public transport ticket subscribers receive 30 minutes of free access to conventional bikeshare, a free 15 minutes of electric bikeshare and discounts on all other bikeshare tariffs, including cargo bikes. The polygoCard also integrates local library membership and provides access to many city services.

Based initially on a federal grant to promote new mobility integration, the polygoCard was developed collaboratively between the government and private sector, with over 23 partners involved in the initial design stage, including with traffic, science, consulting and software expertise. These partnerships incorporated knowledge of public transport options like Stuttgart’s light rail, bus, S-Bahn and regional train services.37

arevo: Victoria, Australia38

The RACV has developed arevo, a free app. It allows people to schedule their journeys in one place, including public transport, ride-share, car, car-share, cycling and walking. It also provides public transport timetable and car parking information, can be used to top up myki cards, and provides public transport disruption notifications. Bookings are currently redirected to partner apps to finalise payment, but developers are looking to consolidate bookings into the platform.

Recommendation 23: Incorporate personal mobility devices in regulation

In the next two years, incorporate nationally consistent rules for personal mobility devices in Victorian legislation, update existing active transport design standards to better accommodate new devices and develop a statewide regulatory framework for shared mobility schemes.

New personal mobility technologies are rapidly emerging, like electric bikes and scooters. They can expand options for many short, local journeys. However, their unique operating characteristics combined with existing transport infrastructure design poses distinct challenges. Integrating personal mobility devices into the transport system needs comprehensive change to safely realise their full potential and reduce the risk of conflicts and collisions. Different cities have had different experiences with shared mobility schemes. Conventional bike share schemes have flourished in some cities. But they floundered in others, including Melbourne. In the United States, trips taken on shared mobility schemes almost quadrupled from 2017 to 2019.39 However, much of this activity has been highly concentrated, with six US cities accounting for 84% of all trips on station-based bike share schemes, and only three cities accounting for 40% of all e-scooter trips in 2018.40 Device costs have fallen, potentially increasing consumer purchases, including reports of an increase in electric bicycle sales in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.41

Using more personal mobility devices could help improve Victoria’s transport system. Over half of Melbourne’s car trips are less than 6 kilometres long,42 so mobility devices could help reduce road congestion. But only certain places in Melbourne have shared schemes, without any standard regulatory framework or design standards. For example, current electric bicycle shared schemes focus on inner Melbourne and nearby public transport stops. Individual operators strike unique agreements with different local governments, leading to different practices in each place, and no agreed process for new market entrants. This adds to local governments’ regulatory burden, and effort is duplicated across councils.

As these devices have emerged, providers have become more familiar with consumer preferences, but regulation has not kept pace. Without reform, existing inconsistencies in Transport Accident Commission (TAC) coverage, particularly on shared paths, will be exacerbated.43 Current personal mobility device legislation varies in different states and territories, often subject to ministerial exemption, potentially creating a confusing patchwork of regulatory systems nationwide. The National Transport Commission (NTC) has proposed regulating personal mobility device imports using uniform device operating standards. It has also proposed national model legislation for modern, uniform road rules.44 The Victorian Government should support a national regulatory approach and incorporate these rules for personal mobility devices into Victorian legislation in the next two years. It should also overhaul existing state-based active transport facility design standards to incorporate space requirements for secure personal mobility device parking and storage. This would create more consistent outcomes in public spaces.

The Victorian Government should develop a standard, statewide regulatory framework for shared mobility schemes. The framework should include a consistent enforcement approach to help reduce clutter and manage vandalism. It should also manage safety and crash risks, potentially requiring shared mobility schemes to make contributions to the TAC. The Department of Transport’s Movement and Place Framework could be developed to help identify good locations for shared mobility scheme infrastructure, including by considering reallocating road space to accommodate them (see recommendation 41).

Recommendation 24: Introduce new road network demand management technology

In the next five years, progressively introduce new road network demand management technologies across the state and integrate management systems for different road-based transport modes. Combine them with a road infrastructure upgrade program to optimise the benefits of technologies, such as by providing extra clearways and introducing dedicated lanes for bus routes.

Technology and data analytics can help transport infrastructure perform better, making road operations more agile and responsive. Victoria’s road network operations management technology is decades old and underperforming. Outdated, manually intensive and time-consuming ICT control and review systems manage trams, buses and the road network. This means many major routes are only considered once each decade, when traffic managers examine their performance, layout, and traffic signalling for efficient operation. Without intervention, network performance will decline as traffic and transport movements grow, and mobility options will require more sophisticated network management. In the next five years, the Victorian Government should update the road network operations management system to better manage traffic flows.45 As Victoria continues to grow, the existing road network will need to cater for most extra trips, increasing pressure on motorways and the arterial road network. The Victorian Government has begun funding better data collection and traffic light timing, but will need to do more to create a modern, integrated, multi-modal, real-time network operations system.46 A step in achieving this is to integrate the separate road management systems so they can be managed together. Victoria can learn from successful Australian and international examples, such as the network-wide operating system upgrades underway to manage road networks in real time in Sydney47 and the United Kingdom.48

More efficient road management improves safety, travel times and reliability, as shown in Figure 7. A modern system can maximise infrastructure efficiency, while allowing for scalable upgrades to progressively improve the whole transport network. It can use traffic lane technology to detect the location of buses, trams and emergency vehicles, and coordinate traffic signals to provide them a more reliable journey with potentially better travel times. It can also detect the presence of pedestrians to allow them enough time to cross the road safely or shorten or skip crossing cycles when no one is there. A modern system can identify road users by transport mode, including motorcyclists, detect unexpected incidents, adjust signals and information to divert traffic, change traffic patterns, and improve intersection performance.

In the next five years the Victorian Government should develop and apply modern technology so transport management systems can better coordinate all modes, including emerging modes, in real time. For instance, it can use ‘managed motorway’ technology, apply it to all transport modes, and use technology for better real-time communication with drivers. It should also apply technology to improve operational practices, such as better road rule enforcement, faster disruption responses, quicker road crash clearing, and better priority movements for emergency vehicles. Consistent with international examples, our strategic assessment found improving road operations management can have very large benefits and relatively low costs.49 Our modelling assumed that the system achieved an operation efficiency of just over 5% in the operation of many of Melbourne’s arterial roads, resulting in much better travel times. Sensitivity testing indicates that even if only half of this efficiency improvement was achieved, the initiative would still be compelling. Our modelling also combined the introduction of a new road management system with infrastructure upgrades that produce a more efficient road layout for private vehicles and public transport. 

This included implementing selected new metropolitan clearways and giving specific bus routes a dedicated lane.50 The Bus Reform Implementation Plan, scheduled for completion by 2023, provides the ideal opportunity to integrate road management technology investment with bus network reliability and performance objectives.51 The Victorian Government should complement the introduction of new on-road demand management technologies with a program of infrastructure upgrades over the next five years to maximise its benefits. This can be combined with better driver education and road rule enforcement to help improve traffic flows. A road management system can also more readily help realise the benefits of ‘Big Build’ projects and the changes in travel patterns created by their completion. For example, after removing a level crossing, a road management system can alter traffic signal timings so cars can flow more freely after the improvement, and not simply get caught at the next traffic light. A more efficient road network can also create challenges. Short-term congestion relief encourages more car use. This worsens congestion in heavily used areas over the long term, such as in inner Melbourne. Better travel times may encourage more people to live in peri-urban areas beyond Melbourne’s urban growth boundary, and travel further to work.52 To prevent these outcomes, the Victorian Government can plan to change the way the network operates to efficiently cater for increasing transport movements (see recommendation 33). This includes planning to use the technology to harness desirable benefits, such as reconciling competing demands for road space by different transport modes (see recommendation 41).

Modernising Victoria’s road network operations management systems also provides an opportunity to integrate emerging transport services into the network such as new mobility services and automated vehicles (see recommendations 21 and 22) and move towards managed motorways.53 In future, automated and connected vehicles will need to be connected to a management system to deliver maximum benefits. A modern system could communicate directly with them and provide updates on unexpected changes in traffic conditions and natural disasters, such as in the event of a road accident, new pothole, flooding or a tree falling across the road.54

Figure 7 Better road management systems have widespread benefits HiRes 2
Figure 7: Better road management systems have widespread benefits. This diagram shows that the benefits of better road management systems and use of technology are experienced across the Greater Melbourne road network.

Recommendation 25: Use innovation to deliver better models of health care

Within two years, help slow the growth in demand for hospital infrastructure by developing a comprehensive statewide health innovation strategy, supported by funding over five years to promote and progressively implement better models of health care.

Victorians enjoy one of the highest average life expectancies in the world,55 thanks in part to the public hospital system. However, demand for hospital services continues to increase faster than the capacity to fund them.56 Population growth, ageing and changing health needs mean hospitals may need to provide 80% more inpatient services over the next 20 years.57 Building new infrastructure (recommendation 69) and upgrading existing facilities (recommendation 56) will be critical, but not enough. Even if hospital efficiency continues to improve at current rates, Victoria would need additional capacity equivalent to hundreds of new beds each year to meet demand, which is challenging and expensive.58

Systemic improvements to technology, service delivery and practice can help slow growing demand for more hospital infrastructure.59 Innovative, integrated health care models can provide people, especially the elderly, those in remote areas and people with disabilities, greater choice and better access to quality services in their communities and own homes,60 leaving hospital beds for the most complex and demanding cases. Victorian Government commitments to provide more at-home care, improved telehealth services, mental health hospitals in the home,61 new community hospitals62 and more local mental health services63 are examples of ways pressure can be diverted from acute care. The health sector is used to adapting to developments in medical science, technology, data and practice, but progress needs to be accelerated and innovations by individual providers scaled up.64 Within two years, the Victorian Government should develop a clear, comprehensive and statewide health innovation strategy to promote systematic improvement and help slow the need for hospital expansion. This should promote better models of care, with clear pathways from local and primary care to more advanced treatment, focusing on early intervention and community services.

The strategy should encourage improvements to business models, delivery and technology that improve service quality and capacity.65 The strategy should also be revised regularly to reflect evolving best practice, in consultation with health providers, emergency services and other stakeholders. The new strategy should establish priorities for, and be supported by, a dedicated fund that is released on completion of the strategy and incentivises the development and implementation of promising innovations and research.66 The Victorian Government has previously used funds for health innovation, but these were small scale and the most notable – the Better Care Victoria Innovation Fund – concluded in 2020.67 The new innovation fund should support a pipeline of projects at varying levels of readiness and risk, enabling pragmatic research, trials and the system wide deployment of new models of care. Digital health, remotely delivered cardiac services and cooperative models based on those used by Aboriginal community controlled organisations are areas stakeholders have told us may offer particular potential.68

The innovation fund should be overseen by an entity already responsible for health service planning and improvement to avoid duplication. It should also explore governance, project and resourcing synergies with the mental health and wellbeing innovation fund recommended by the Royal Commission.69 It should be provided with an initial five-year budget, with an evaluation of the fund’s effectiveness in the penultimate year to determine whether to continue beyond that timeframe.

Case Study.

Innovations that improved care and hospital efficiency.

The health sector has a long history of capitalising on technology, research and emerging best practice to provide better patient outcomes and more efficient hospital services.70 Telehealth and telemedicine have enormous potential, including in regional areas where limited capacity and long distances can make it difficult for patients to access care. This was the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016–17, Mildura Base Hospital used a telehealth model to connect its small intensive care unit to 24/7 support from specialists from the Alfred Hospital, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and the Royal Children’s Hospital.71

Doctors were able to see patients in real time and assist personnel in Mildura with assessment and advice. Telehealth consultations allowed Mildura Base Hospital to provide care comparable to larger services, and reduced transfers of seriously ill patients to other facilities by over 21%, often to Melbourne, 500 kilometres away. It saved $300,000 in ambulance costs alone.72 In 2019, the model was extended to hospitals in Bairnsdale, Central Gippsland, and Wimmera.73 Practical improvements to delivery of health care can have a major impact. In 2017 and 2018, 11 public hospitals implemented a clinical ‘pathway’ for the early management of sepsis, a life threatening response to infection that killed over 3200 Victorians the previous year. Initially piloted by the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the pathway established clear clinical criteria for diagnosis and immediate responses to reduce delays associated with varied practice. Standardising initial sepsis management had remarkable results. Patients were half as likely to die from sepsis, while admissions to intensive care fell by a third. The average length of patients’ hospital stays decreased by 30%.74

Recommendation 26: Modernise courts through digitisation and contemporary shared facilities

In the next year, begin increasing court efficiency and help meet demand by digitising suitable court systems and procedures. Invest in new contemporary, adaptable, multi-jurisdictional court facilities during the next 10 years.

Victoria’s courts are under pressure, especially in Melbourne.75 Growing demand has been complicated by policy changes, such as for bail,76 sentencing77 and family violence, resulting in cases that are more complex and time consuming to resolve.78 Capacity constraints and delays cause longer periods of uncertainty for victims, more time on remand for accused people, and greater overcrowding in remand facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant case backlogs, particularly for complex and criminal proceedings.79

In response to the pandemic, the Victorian Government accelerated technology upgrades to courts to keep them operating, protect the health and safety of users, and increase access to digital hearing services.80 Courts increasingly use remote testimony to reduce attendances for filing hearings,81 and have taken steps to digitise document management. New legislation provides a legal basis for courts to hear more matters remotely.82

The Victorian Government should build on this digital transformation. Modern facilities and technology, virtual courtrooms and remote testimony can simplify court processes, improve convenience, and reduce litigation costs and infrastructure requirements.83 The Victorian Government has provided funds to support digitisation of the Magistrates’ Court and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.84 This investment will need to continue so more civil and non complex matters are conducted online to free up capacity for cases that must be held in person. Remote hearings can also reduce the need for expensive prisoner transport, which costs millions of dollars annually.85 The integrated case management system planned for the Magistrates’ Court and the Children’s Court86 should be expanded to all courts.

This would improve information sharing, enable digital document lodgement and record management, inform judicial decision-making, and support analysis of court processes.87, 88 Online dispute resolution, already used by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and Magistrates’ Court,89 should be extended to appropriate non-criminal, pre-trial and post-trial matters in other jurisdictions. All court and tribunal rooms should be enabled with reliable, secure and scalable internet and audio-visual links. In implementing upgrades, care must be taken so people without access to suitable technology or adequate digital literacy are not disadvantaged.90 Victoria will still need more, and more modern, court infrastructure. Many courts are constrained by inflexible, outdated assets and systems,91 and a large proportion of buildings in Court Services Victoria’s portfolio are over 50 years old.92 The issue is most pressing in the central Melbourne legal precinct: Magistrates’ Court assets are increasingly out of date,93 while substandard fire and safety systems forced the Supreme Court to close facilities on Lonsdale Street.94 To increase court efficiency and meet demand, the Victorian Government should invest in contemporary, adaptable, multi-jurisdictional facilities in the next 10 years. The new Bendigo Law Court Redevelopment is an example of infrastructure designed to serve all jurisdictions and specialist courts, and supports digital evidence, video conferencing, Wi-Fi, and digital recording.95 Central Melbourne is the most pressing priority, followed by renewal of aged facilities in the city’s rapidly growing north and south. Targeted investment in regional cities experiencing increasing demand should be complemented by greater use of digital or alternative service channels (such as Justice Service Centres) for minor civil or tribunal matters, and the consolidation of underused or unsuitable facilities.96

Recommendation 27: Improve technology and infrastructure for a responsive police service

In the next 10 years, invest in technological capacity to better support a responsive police service, and deliver infrastructure to enable a contemporary hub-and-spoke policing model, co-located with health and human services where appropriate.

Victoria’s police service faces challenging trends. Crime is increasingly sophisticated, while complex issues such as family violence, mental illness, and alcohol and drug dependence require closer cooperation with other agencies and jurisdictions. Community values and expectations continue to evolve, informing changes to legislation, legal processes, transparency and professional standards.97 Emergencies like the catastrophic bushfires of 2019–20 and the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to periodically demand major commitments.98 Victoria Police’s Service Delivery Reform program is an opportunity for new investments, including $300 million for system enhancements and reform,99 to deliver a more responsive, visible and modern force.

Investing in new technology can aid more complex investigations. Analytics can identify lines of enquiry that accelerate and enhance investigations, while remote sensors can enhance situational awareness and the timeliness of police responses. Better visualisation and analytical tools, used by a skilled workforce, can improve assessment of disparate pieces of information. This can support intelligence activities through processing sensor data to identify hotspots, connect crimes and link offenders.100 Police can use increasing capabilities of mobile devices to process and receive information outside police stations, enabling them to do their jobs effectively while being more visible in their communities.101 More flexible and dynamic business processes can support Victoria Police to be more agile. They can better manage, structure and store information, organise and assess data and evidence, support effective relationships with other government agencies and help maintain reliable central records. A priority opportunity is using web interfaces and social media to make it easier to connect with and receive information from the public, including victims of family violence who may feel unsafe speaking on a telephone. Information needs to be reliably accessed, in a relevant and useful format for the officer relying or acting on it.102 A more visible police presence in the community could encourage good behaviour, help prevent crime and harm, and improve feelings of safety.103 Yet many current police stations are clustered in older suburbs away from places with high demand, and are infrequently visited.104 Infrastructure investment can support a contemporary hub-and-spoke policing model that sees more police officers in the community, supported by more efficient corporate services and better links to other justice and human services.105 Hubs can also support police services running from smaller contact points in mobile facilities, shopping centres, and community centres, which saves infrastructure costs.106 While not universally appropriate, delivering centralised hub stations in metropolitan Melbourne offers potential to enable police to respond to areas of greatest demand. These could be co-located with appropriate health and human services,107 and build on the multi-disciplinary centres considered by the Family Violence Royal Commission.108 An example is the $45 million Wyndham Police complex, which can accommodate hundreds of police and staff109 and is a major pillar of the Wyndham Justice Precinct’s integrated approach to policing, court, corrections, health and local government services.

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