Opportunities presented by the Digital Living Lab and the challenges of providing affordable housing were both top of the agenda for a trip to Brisbane to promote the SMART Infrastructure Facility.

The two-day trip by the facility’s advisory council and the university executive, including vice-chancellor Professor Paul Wellings and EIS Executive Dean Chris Cook, was part of an ongoing program to reach out to the regions and keep them informed of the fast pace of change at SMART.

Tania Brown, the facility’s chief operating officer, says it is vital to continue to communicate what SMART can do for stakeholders.

‘It’s important that we engage face-to-face to remind them that you are there, and you are an option that they can use,’ she says.

‘The government has spent a lot of money establishing SMART and we want to make sure they are aware of our increased capacities.’

The trip consisted of meeting both with politicians – former Federal treasurer Wayne Swan MP, and fellow Labor MPs Milton Dick and Terri Butler – as well as stakeholders such as the Queensland Treasury, Brisbane Ports and representatives from Transport and Main Roads.

Transport issues connecting Brisbane to regional centres such as the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, mirrored the issues that affect Sydney CBD with places like the Illawarra and Central Coast.

Key to the success of the visit was to introduce Joe Branigan, SMART’s head of the economic and governance unit, who moved to Brisbane from Canberra earlier this year.

He talked about the economic analysis of the Illawarra rail line using recent rail modelling, and ways to improve connectivity to Sydney.

Linked to this issue is that of affordable housing, and how to ensure key workers – such as nurses, police or cleaners – can afford to live in metropolitan cities close to their place of work.

Possibilities for this ‘key worker strategy’ may include legislation on new developments, or even the idea that the government could step in as a developer for key sites close to the CBD.

Another key message was the recent launch of the Digital Living Lab in the Illawarra, and how the Internet of Things can offer exciting possibilities for cheap and efficient connectivity, particularly for facilities such as ports.

‘When SMART was established, the Internet of Things didn’t exist and now it’s a major area for us,’ Ms Brown says.

She believes that the meetings will be the start of an on-going conversation and hopes that it may lead to research commissions for the facility.

Future meetings are planned for the SMART Advisory Council in Sydney and Canberra.