Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
May 16, 2018

Opinion Piece – Our Rapidly Changing Cities Are Threatening The Aussie Way Of Life – Ten Daily – Wednesday, 16 May 2018

In a nation famed for its easy lifestyle, we must find ways to manage growth in our cities so it does not destroy our Australian quality of life.

Late last year statisticians reported a fascinating demographic shift that highlighted a fundamental change in the lifestyle of Australians in the 21st century.

Official figures on housing approvals for November 2017 showed there were more apartments and townhouses approved by councils across Australia than stand-alone houses with yards.

The figures highlight how population growth is leading to increased population density in our cities as more Australians embrace apartment living in preference to the traditional house on a block of land in the suburbs.

As the population increases, there has been a consequential increase in population density, particularly along existing public transport corridors.

This growth presents a great challenge for all levels of government.

In a nation famed for its easy lifestyle, we must find ways to manage growth in our cities so it does not destroy our Australian quality of life. Indeed, if we confront today’s big demographic shifts in a spirit of goodwill and collaboration, we might just be able to harness change in ways that improve our quality of life.

The starting point is the promotion of communities.

When you live in a house with a yard in the suburbs, you tend to see your neighbours frequently, either on the street, over the back fence or at the local shops.

This contact nurtures community links.

In a future where more people live in apartments, we must think of ways to ensure that apartment buildings are designed in ways that also promote human contact.

Urban planning regulations should encourage the development of lively precincts around high-intensity residential areas including entertainment areas, parks, playgrounds and other areas where people can congregate safely for community activities.

We should also encourage mixed-use developments with units on upper floors and shops and other public spaces at ground level.

Indeed, governments could seek to partner with the private sector to incorporate public facilities like libraries or government service centres into residential developments.

Putting this another way, governments need to move beyond seeing themselves as impassive regulators that tick boxes on building standards and start seeing themselves as partners in building better communities.

Governments need to work with the private sector to look beyond the design of individual buildings to also consider the spaces between buildings and he way in which buildings fit into their neighbourhoods.

We have a choice here.

We can create soulless and sterile streetscapes where people seldom stop to talk to each other. Or we can be creative and create vibrant public areas that facilitate human contact and enrich communities.

Good planning can deliver these outcomes.

For example, in the Inner West of Sydney, slight height increases were allowed in new apartments on New Canterbury road, Dulwich Hill, in return for ground floor space to accommodate the Emanuel Tsardoulias Council Library.

The other key to better cities in the 21st century is increased Commonwealth investment in public transport.

The Government’s Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics has calculated that traffic congestion cost the Australian economy $16.5 billion in lost economic activity in 2015.

Increasing population density in cities will worsen this problem.

We can no longer afford to ignore the need for major enhancements to our urban rail systems.

State Governments are doing their bit, funding projects such as the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project and the Perth METRONET.

But the Coalition Federal Government has been indifferent to public transport. In 2013 the Abbott Government cancelled all public transport investment not under construction.

Malcolm Turnbull overturned the ban on public transport investment. And while the 2018-19 Budget did include some public transport commitments, the money will not start to flow in many cases until years from now.

That’s not good enough.

The shift to greater urban population density is already on.

Governments must keep up with changing needs. There is no time to waste.

This piece was first published by Ten Daily on Wednesday, 16 May 2018: http://bit.ly/2rMbICj

May 8, 2018

Opinion Piece – The one thing to look out for in this Budget – The Daily Telegraph – Tuesday, 8 May 2018

American shyster Charles Ponzi famously used fraudulent accounting and slick narrative to sustain a mirage of activity and report positive financial returns to investors, who later lost all their money.

The 2018 Federal Budget is talking a big infrastructure game, but indications are it will have more to do with Charles Ponzi than delivering real infrastructure projects or economic productivity.

Since taking office, the Federal Coalition Government has gone to great lengths to create a mirage of infrastructure investment without actually providing direct funding.

Instead it has used mechanisms like equity funding and talk of “innovative’’ financing to create the false narrative that we can meet our infrastructure needs without having a short-term fiscal impact.

But let me explain a few realities about infrastructure.

Infrastructure cannot pay for itself.

Either governments pay by allocating taxpayer’s money in their budgets; or else users pay via electricity bills or motorway tolls, for example.

Capital city rail systems need taxpayer funds from the Budget.

This is because the payment of fares by commuters usually covers less than half of the operating costs and recovers none of the construction cost.

In the same way, most city, regional and local roads are not tolled, so they can only be funded from government budgets.

Thankfully, in Australia we do not charge patients or school kids for admission to public hospitals and schools. That means the money to pay for new and expanded public hospitals and schools can only come as a grant, from government budgets.

While some of these projects might be delivered through a public-private partnership with private investors, they are repaid for their investment by payments from a government budget.

Infrastructure is built only when state or Federal governments either write a cheque themselves, or allow someone else to directly recover the cost and profit from users.

In short, infrastructure is not free. Because the right projects boost productivity and economic growth, they produce a long-term return to the government, but one that is not hypothecated or direct.

Good projects are also good for sustainability and liveability.

So what do Charles Ponzi and the Turnbull Government’s infrastructure agenda have to do with each other? Each relies on accounting tricks and narrative to mask reality.

Last year, the Turnbull Government took the razor to infrastructure investment.

According to the peak industry body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the 2017 Budget slashed “real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade.”

But rather than be honest about it, the Turnbull Government expanded its clever accounting and slick narrative, glossing over its infrastructure cuts with an illusion of activity.

This approach was exemplified by the off-budget accounting for Inland Rail as an equity injection, in spite of clear and unequivocal advice the project is certain to not pay for itself.

This was capped off by the creation of a new ‘Infrastructure Financing Unit’, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, that would “work with Commonwealth Agencies, the private sector, states and territories on funding and financing opportunities such as public private partnerships, concessional loans, equity injections and value capture.”

A year on the IFU has started no new projects and there are none on the radar.

It no longer reports directly to the Prime Minister or even to a cabinet minister.

Instead it functions as a kind of internal management consultant.

The earlier Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility also shows the illusory value of ‘innovative’ government finance.

At the time of its creation, the Government claimed the NAIF would provide $5 billion of taxpayer’s loans to infrastructure projects critical “to fast tracking growth and unlocking the north’s economic potential.”

Sensibly, NAIF included protections to stop taxpayers being a ‘lender of last resort’ to marginal projects that would fail.

NAIF was a triumph of illusion over reality. It has funded bureaucrats and board meetings in southern capital cities but not new projects.

It is seen as the No Actual Infrastructure Fund.

You can only play tricks once or twice before people catch on; as the saying goes ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’.

A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced a supposed $5 billion for a Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Close scrutiny should be applied to whether this announcement has a corresponding $5 billion in the accounts on Tuesday night.

Instead, it will likely be referred to as an offer of ‘equity’, ‘investment’, ‘partnership’, or some other fancy term.

The same goes for the much-needed Western Sydney Rail, connecting the new airport along the north-south corridor at the centre of the Western Sydney City Deal.

It is unclear whether this project will attract a real funding commitment.

If infrastructure needed nothing more than a cheap taxpayer loan, it would be easy and Australia wouldn’t have struggled with infrastructure for a more than a century.

To pretend otherwise is either dishonest, or delusional.

Metro rail in our cities, safer roads and modern hospitals and schools only happen when the Federal Government is willing to put real money, not infrastructure Ponzi schemes, on the table.

This piece was first published online in The Daily Telegraph  on Tuesday, 8 May, 2018: [https://bit.ly/2rrIFUA] 

May 8, 2018

Opinion Piece – Anthony Albanese: The one thing to look out for in this Budget – Tuesday, 8 May 2018

AMERICAN shyster Charles Ponzi famously used fraudulent accounting and slick narrative to sustain a mirage of activity and report positive financial returns to investors, who later lost all their money.

The 2018 Federal Budget is talking a big infrastructure game, but indications are it will have more to do with Charles Ponzi than delivering real infrastructure projects or economic productivity.

American shyster Charles Ponzi

Since taking office, the Federal Coalition Government has gone to great lengths to create a mirage of infrastructure investment without actually providing direct funding.

Instead it has used mechanisms like equity funding and talk of “innovative’’ financing to create the false narrative that we can meet our infrastructure needs without having a short-term fiscal impact.

But let me explain a few realities about infrastructure.

Infrastructure cannot pay for itself.

Either governments pay by allocating taxpayer’s money in their budgets; or else users pay via electricity bills or motorway tolls, for example.

Capital city rail systems need taxpayer funds from the Budget.

Capital city rail systems need taxpayer funds. Picture: Brendan Esposito

This is because the payment of fares by commuters usually covers less than half of the operating costs and recovers none of the construction cost.

In the same way, most city, regional and local roads are not tolled, so they can only be funded from government budgets.

Thankfully, in Australia we do not charge patients or school kids for admission to public hospitals and schools. That means the money to pay for new and expanded public hospitals and schools can only come as a grant, from government budgets.

While some of these projects might be delivered through a public-private partnership with private investors, they are repaid for their investment by payments from a government budget.

Infrastructure is built only when state or Federal governments either write a cheque themselves, or allow someone else to directly recover the cost and profit from users.

In short, infrastructure is not free. Because the right projects boost productivity and economic growth, they produce a long-term return to the government, but one that is not hypothecated or direct.

Malcolm Turnbull has been promoting the infrastructure spend in this Budget. Picture: Peter Rae

Good projects are also good for sustainability and liveability.

So what do Charles Ponzi and the Turnbull Government’s infrastructure agenda have to do with each other? Each relies on accounting tricks and narrative to mask reality.

Last year, the Turnbull Government took the razor to infrastructure investment.

According to the peak industry body Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the 2017 Budget slashed “real budgeted capital funding to its lowest level in more than a decade.”

But rather than be honest about it, the Turnbull Government expanded its clever accounting and slick narrative, glossing over its infrastructure cuts with an illusion of activity.

Treasurer Scott Morrison will hand down the Budget tonight. Picture Kym Smith

This approach was exemplified by the off-budget accounting for Inland Rail as an equity injection, in spite of clear and unequivocal advice the project is certain to not pay for itself.

This was capped off by the creation of a new ‘Infrastructure Financing Unit’, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, that would “work with Commonwealth Agencies, the private sector, states and territories on funding and financing opportunities such as public private partnerships, concessional loans, equity injections and value capture.”

A year on the IFU has started no new projects and there are none on the radar.

It no longer reports directly to the Prime Minister or even to a cabinet minister.

Instead it functions as a kind of internal management consultant.

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese. Picture: Daniel Munoz

The earlier Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility also shows the illusory value of

‘innovative’ government finance.

At the time of its creation, the Government claimed the NAIF would provide $5 billion of taxpayer’s loans to infrastructure projects critical “to fast tracking growth and unlocking the north’s economic potential.”

Sensibly, NAIF included protections to stop taxpayers being a ‘lender of last resort’

to marginal projects that would fail.

NAIF was a triumph of illusion over reality. It has funded bureaucrats and board

meetings in southern capital cities but not new projects.

It is seen as the No Actual Infrastructure Fund.

You can only play tricks once or twice before people catch on; as the saying goes ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’.

A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced a supposed $5 billion for a Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Close scrutiny should be applied to whether this announcement has a corresponding $5 billion in the accounts on Tuesday night.

Will we see funding for the Western Sydney Rail? Picture: Dean Lewins

Instead, it will likely be referred to as an offer of ‘equity’, ‘investment’, ‘partnership’, or some other fancy term.

The same goes for the much-needed Western Sydney Rail, connecting the new airport along the north-south corridor at the centre of the Western Sydney City Deal.

It is unclear whether this project will attract a real funding commitment.

If infrastructure needed nothing more than a cheap taxpayer loan, it would be easy and Australia wouldn’t have struggled with infrastructure for a more than a century.

To pretend otherwise is either dishonest, or delusional.Metro rail in our cities, safer roads and modern hospitals and schools only happen when the Federal Government is willing to put real money, not infrastructure Ponzi schemes, on the table.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Infrastructure Minister

This piece was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 8 May 2018

May 7, 2018

Opinion Piece – Let’s Make Our Rail Challenge an Opportunity – Monday, 7 May 2018

Great challenges often bring great opportunities.

In the next few decades, Australia faces the difficult challenge of upgrading public transport services in our cities to tackle traffic congestion.

Bringing our nation’s passenger rail services into the 21st century is an essential investment in future economic growth, in addition to being vital for improving liveability in our cities.

We have no choice. According to the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics, traffic congestion is already costing the economy about $16 billion a year in lost productivity.

The good news is meeting our public transport needs comes with an opportunity to revitalise our manufacturing sector by building the necessary rolling stock – trains and trams – here in Australia, rather than sourcing them offshore.

In coming years, states will roll out projects including the Melbourne metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Perth METRONET, the Western Sydney Rail and the Melbourne Airport Rail. Then there is the Inland Rail freight link from Brisbane to Melbourne, and, potentially, the High Speed Rail Link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Canberra and Sydney.

These services will require at least 1100 new trains and trams in the next three decades.

According to the most-recent census, between 2011 and 2016, the number of jobs in Australian manufacturing fell by 24 per cent to about 680,000.

The expansion of rail provides a chance to reverse this trend and create thousands of new, well-paid jobs, including apprenticeships for young people.

That’s why the next Labor Government will create a National Rail Industry Plan – a blueprint for co-operation between governments, businesses and unions in the national interest.

The Plan will support Australian manufacturers to access rail industry work while optimising training opportunities for young people and building up local industry’s capacity via research and development.

But the starting point should be an acceptance that when it comes to buying trains and trams, cheapest is not necessarily best.

While overseas manufacturers might offer lower prices, building rolling stock here has broader community benefits, like jobs, that must be built into any cost comparison.

Consider some recent examples.

In 2014 the Coalition Newman conservative State Government in Queensland arranged to pay a German company with manufacturing facilities in India $4.4 billion for new carriages associated with an expansion of suburban passenger services in Brisbane.

There were few local jobs beyond maintenance roles.

But the Victorian Labor State Government is investing $2.3 billion to build 65 seven-car trains in Victoria as part of its program to improve its passenger rail service.

It is being delivered by the Andrews Government in partnership with private consortium Evolution Rail, creating 1100 jobs in Victoria.

That includes 100 apprenticeships – 100 young people earning a wage while learning skills that will last them a lifetime.

This is the sort of investment Labor would aim to promote under a rail industry plan.

It will include investment in research and development, including universities and research agencies so that, as we build trains here, we are developing our capacity to reduce costs and improve quality.

It would set guidelines for collaboration between government, industry and the training providers to ensure apprentices are taught the skills needed for the industry to prosper.

Critically, it would promote co-operation between states.

Under current arrangements states are doing their own thing on procurement, with 36 different train models in our public transport fleet, many being purchased overseas.

We should standardise the rolling stock platform used in this country instead of designing a new model each time a government decides to acquire new trains or trams.

Key features of Labor’s plan include:

  • Tying Federal investment in rail projects to objectives including work being undertaken in Australia.
  • Establishing the Office of National Industry Co-ordination top undertake a national audit of the adequacy, capacity and condition of passenger trains nationally.
  • Reinstating the Rail Supplier Advocate, abolished by the Coalition in 2013, to help small and medium-sized enterprises identify export opportunities and link with Government purchasing bodies.
  • Establishing a Rail Industry Council to prevent loss of more jobs and address the need for more local research and development.

A key element of the plan is to seek to create certainty for manufacturers by ironing out the peaks and troughs in market demand through better co-ordination on procurement between state governments.

If every state government orders a new fleet of trains at the same time, local industry cannot deliver. Better coordination of tenders would allow for a steady stream of work that could sustain and indeed grow the local industry.

Our National Rail Industry Plan will also target job creation in regional Australia.

In the 21st century, there are two sure-fire ways to generate economic growth – investing in infrastructure to lift capacity and boost productivity, and investing in people through education and training.

A National Rail Industry Plan can address both.

This piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 7 May 2018

May 4, 2018

Opinion Piece – People Power Wins Reform on Craft Beer – Friday, 4 May 2018

Imagine if the rate of GST you paid on buy milk or fruit juice varied according to the size of its container.

Just say you bought milk in a two litre bottle with a GST rate of 10%, but the rate was 20% for a 1 litre bottle.

Consumers wouldn’t accept this. Tax systems should be fair.

That’s why it is great news that Tuesday’s Budget will reform excise arrangements relating to the sale of beer in Australia.

The reforms will address the fact that the existing system taxes brewers unequally and is inhibiting growth of the craft beer industry in comparison to big breweries.

Under existing arrangements, if you produce beer in a 50 litre keg, the rate of excise that applies is the less than that applying to the same beer in a 30 litre keg.

This is unfair to craft brewers who tend to sell their product in smaller kegs, particularly when supplying small restaurants and bars in their local communities.

This is ridiculous. It adds to the price of craft beers.

With craft breweries popping up all over the country, including in regional areas, governments should be promoting the industry for the jobs it is creating for Australians.

For more than two years I have been working with craft brewers, particularly in my electorate of Grayndler, to campaign for excise reform.

We collected more than 1,400 signatures for a petition to Parliament.

And when my colleague Joel Fitzgibbon and I raised the need for change in Parliament last year, our motion attracted support across the political divide.

That’s why I am so pleased that Treasurer Scott Morrison has seen the common sense in our push and says he will level the excise playing field in the Budget.

The Budget will also allow craft brewers to claim rebates for some of the excise they pay, which will have an even greater effect in promoting equity.

This is a victory for common sense and for people power. The changes will be welcomed by craft brewers and drinkers.

But more importantly, they will boost the national economy.

There are at least 400 craft breweries in Australia, many of them in regional areas. All of them create jobs for locals.

Craft beer is a growth sector. We should be promoting that growth because it will lead to the creation of more jobs and more economic activity.

The old system was also holding back the growth of craft beer as a tourist attraction.

In the same way that wine enthusiasts enjoy touring wine-producing regions to taste the product at the cellar door, craft beer aficionados like to visit breweries.

In NSW alone, dozens of craft beer tours are available, including in my electorate, where Dave’s Brewery Tours offers a six-hour tour that includes lunch in a local pub and visits to three local breweries drawn from establishments like Wayward, Rocks, Grifter, Batch, Willie the Boatman, Akasha and Young Henry’s.

Craft beer tours are also thriving in regional areas like the Hunter Valley, the Illawarra, Gold Coast/Byron Bay, the Mornington Peninsula and the Margaret River – communities that are always looking for new ways to attract visitors and create new jobs.

We must get behind this new tourism sector.

Indeed, most state tourism bodies are promoting craft brewery tourism. The Queensland Government is creating a formal craft brewing strategy to help promote jobs growth.

Even Austrade, the Federal Government’s trade promotion arm, is in on the act, encouraging craft brewers to seek markets in Asia and promoting the industry’s export potential on its websites.

One ever-present feature of life in the 21st century is that the pace of change is always accelerating.

That requires Governments to be alert to the emergence of new industries and to remove unnecessary obstacles to their growth.

The rise of the Australian craft beer industry has been rapid.

In only a decade or so it has grown from humble beginnings into a multi-billion dollar business that is revitalising communities and creating jobs around the nation.

It is very good that the Federal Government is moving to keep up.

This piece was first published in The Big Smoke on Friday, 4 April, 2018: [https://bit.ly/2w83YQE] 

FRIDAY, 4 APRIL, 2018

Apr 16, 2018

Opinion Piece – The Federal Government is Failing to Invest in Tasmanian Infrastructure Needs – The Mercury – Monday, 16 April 2018

Imagine you had kept your brick-size mobile phone from the 1980s and tried to use it to meet your communications needs in 2018.

No internet. No graphics. No games. It simply would not be fit for purpose.

It would inhibit your productivity. You would be unable to function in line with the needs of the 21st century.

Just like computers and other technology, railways, roads and other infrastructure must be fit for the demands that face communities in the 21st century.

That means they must not only be maintained but, where appropriate, upgraded to meet emerging needs.

When it comes to infrastructure in Tasmania, this message should be top-of-mind for the Turnbull Government as it prepares next month’s Federal Budget.

At a time Tasmania needs investment to support growth sectors like tourism, federal funding for Tasmanian infrastructure, already way too low, is about to fall off a cliff.

Budget documents show in this financial year the Commonwealth will provide Tasmania with $174 million in infrastructure grants.

But by 2020-21 the figure will plummet to $61.5 million.

That’s a huge decline on the average of $316 million a year invested over the six years of the former Labor federal government on the Midland, Brooker and Bass Highways as well as freight rail revitalisation, port upgrades and a range of other projects.

The Coalition, which has been happy to deliver billions for new toll roads interstate, must use the 2018 budget to reverse its cuts in Tasmania.

It’s not just about ensuring Tasmanians have adequate infrastructure to enjoy their lives as they move around the state, as important as that is. It’s also about the economy.

Investing in infrastructure provides short-term benefits of construction jobs and economic activity. Good projects also deliver productivity gains that drive growth and jobs for years.

This is critical for Tasmania because good roads are important to support one of the state’s strongest growth industries — tourism.

Tasmania leads the nation in growth in international tourism, with visits up 18 per cent in the past year. Already, the industry provides 37,000 jobs — 16 per cent of the state’s workforce.

The local industry is excited about the potential for further expansion.

To unlock that potential we must invest in infrastructure like roads, but also invest directly in tourism attractions and associated facilities at iconic destinations like Cradle Mountain and Three Capes.

It’s not enough to ensure our infrastructure meets current tourism industry needs. It must also have the capacity to facilitate ongoing growth, because more growth means more jobs.

All the political players at the state level understand the importance of infrastructure investment to jobs in tourism.

But since its election, the Commonwealth has not commenced one major new infrastructure project in Tasmania. The Federal Government has not even delivered the reduced money it has committed to Tasmania.

Budget documents show that in its first four budgets, the Government announced infrastructure grants worth $589 million for Tasmania. But it has only invested $479 million — $110 million short.

The non-delivery affects road safety programs like the black spots program, which provides funding for roads known to have been the site of serious or fatal accidents.

Since taking office, the Government has allocated $8.4 million to Tasmania in black spots funding, but invested only $5.6 million.

Had it delivered the money promised, it could have delivered safety upgrades to an additional 17 black spots.

Tasmania deserves the infrastructure fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

This piece was first published in the Mercury on Monday, 16 April 2018: https://bit.ly/2H5KRHC

MONDAY, 16 APRIL 2018

Apr 9, 2018

Time to Lift our Investment in Nation Building – Opinion – Herald Sun

It’s no wonder many Australians worry about whether our nation can sustain our current our quality of life with current levels of population growth.

Many baulk at the idea of a bigger Australia when their own lifestyle is being diminished by the negative effects of growth, like traffic congestion and pressure on schools and hospitals.

The missing factor in the public debate is the extent to which governments are failing to meet their responsibility to plan for growth by investing in roads, railways, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.

Growth is inevitable.

But growing pains are not, as long as governments plan for the effects of growth.

Over recent decades Australian governments have under-invested in infrastructure. In particular, the Howard Government collected massive tax windfalls driven by the mining boom but failed to invest in nation building.

According to industry group Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, our nation needs to invest $700 billion to address our existing infrastructure deficit.

But on current figures, we are falling further behind.

At a time when the national population is growing by about 1.8 per cent a year, the current Federal Coalition Government is reducing infrastructure grants to states for rail, road and other infrastructure.

This financial year, the Federal Government will deliver $8 billion in infrastructure grants to the states.

This will fall to $6.2 billion in 2018-19, $5.1 billion in 2019-20 and $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

So over four years, investment will fall by about half – a level that Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has described as “its lowest level in more than a decade’’.

This makes no sense.

A key outcome of these cuts is worsening traffic congestion in our cities, which are home to one in four Australians.

Congestion is eroding Australia’s quality of life, particularly for people who live on the fringes of our cities where housing is most affordable, but who work in the city centre.

It also has an economic cost, with the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics having reported the problem cost the Australian economy $16.5 billion in 2015 in lost productivity.

But there’s also a dramatic social cost.

Too many Australians now live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs that they seldom see in daylight hours.

The long daily commute to work prevents them from taking a part in local community life and robs them of time with their families. Indeed, it is a tragedy that many Australian parents spend more time driving to and from work than they spend at home playing with their children.

When people who bear the effects of traffic congestion hear that the Government will accept 190,000 migrants this year, you can understand why some are concerned.

There are very good economic reasons to maintain a strong immigration program, but only if it accompanied by proper planning.

Our population is ageing. In coming decades there will be fewer Australians working to support those receiving Government benefits. More young migrant families will help to share this burden.

However, more people create more stress on existing infrastructure.

If the nation’s governments want Australians to accept population growth, they must be prepared to invest in infrastructure to preserve and enhance our quality of life.

That’s why the Federal Coalition Government’s infrastructure investment cuts make no sense.

State governments are doing what they can to invest in public transport.

But the Federal Government has refused to work with them to deliver important projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and the AdeLINK light rail expansion.

All of these projects would enhance quality of life in their respective cities.

They would also help to take the edge off the public’s understandable concern about the rate of population growth.

To live in Australia is to have won life’s lottery.

When it comes to lifestyle, environment, culture and opportunity, it doesn’t get any better.

But it’s not all good luck. Previous investment has helped create our enviable lifestyle.

In the 21st century, we need to continue to invest in our nation, not just to preserve that lifestyle, but to deliver the productivity gains that will drive continued economic growth in the national interest.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Cities.

This piece was first published in The Herald Sun on Monday, 9 April, 2018

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Cities.

 

Apr 5, 2018

Look to street level to make high density work – Opinion – The Daily Telegraph

Famed Danish architect Jan Gehl once made an important observation about the design of buildings.

Architecture, Gehl said, could only be considered effective if it met human needs, including the fundamental need for human interaction.

In coming decades, the way we design buildings and communities in Australia will become increasingly important as population growth drives an increase in density.

The populations of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth are expected to increase substantially over coming years.

Unless proper planning occurs, the negative response to this growth will continue to increase.

One necessary response to take pressure off the major capital cities, is to develop decentralisation policies which grow our regional cities.

This was part of the motivation behind the drive to deliver high speed broadband, just as it is a positive product of High Speed Rail.

Even with interventionist policies our capital cities will still grow in density, particularly along public transport corridors.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that increased population density inevitably means an inferior quality of life. If we get the planning right, we can harness change to enrich life in our cities.

The starting point must be an acceptance by governments of the need for more parks and open space in our cities. We must also carefully manage the impact of multi-unit developments on traffic patterns.

In particular, the Federal and State Governments must increase investment in public transport to prevent traffic congestion eroding quality of life and reducing productivity.

These changes are obvious, but still challenging.

But the tougher challenge is to preserve liveability, including people’s capacity to engage with others.

One of the great things about living in a house with a yard in the suburbs is that you tend to mix with your neighbours. This draws you into the life of your community.

Apartments are different. You can live in an apartment and seldom see your neighbours outside of the car park.

To promote community interaction, we must focus heavily on building design.

Rather than thinking about apartment blocks in isolation as individual buildings, it is critical that planning processes also address the spaces between buildings.

Urban design in 21st century Australia must emphasise the development of safe open spaces between city buildings; places where people congregate for community activities.

That means encouraging mixed-use developments with units on upper floors and public spaces beneath.

It also means zoning for recreational facilities and entertainment districts that encourage human activity and provision of cycling and walking tracks to draw people out of their apartments.

It could also mean incorporating community facilities like libraries at the street level of apartment buildings, which will require greater collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Put another way, governments must accept that they need to be prepared to invest in liveability.

Developers will also need to broaden their thinking.

The apartment buildings of the future should be designed to encourage human interaction, not just inside their buildings, but also around them.

That means bigger and more common areas.

For example, greater flexibility in planning schemes could allow a developer to increase the height of a building as a trade-off for provision of more gardens and open spaces around the building.

Developers will also be doing themselves a favour if they work more closely with the existing residents in the vicinity of proposed projects.

Too often critics of development proposals are attacked as NIMBYs, rather than concerned citizens who want to preserve the quality of life of their communities.

That approach absolves developers of their responsibility to work with local communities to achieve genuinely good outcomes.

Collaboration and compromise can often help developers produce better homes.

In my own Inner West community, developer Mirvac recently provoked community protest when it proposed building a 28-storey tower in Marrickville in an area dominated by detached housing and with limited road access.

The company has now been forced back to the drawing board.

In contrast, Mirvac’s redevelopment of the old Harold Park racetrack and tram shed for medium-density housing has been a roaring success.

The difference between the two projects is simple. At Harold Park, Mirvac worked with the local community.

It is often said that you can’t stop progress.

That’s true. But you can make progress work for you.

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Thursday, 5 April 2018. 

Apr 5, 2018

Tyranny of Distance Threatens the Fair Go – Opinion – The Fifth Estate

In the nation of the Fair Go, Australians pride themselves on the idea that anyone in this country has a fair chance to be whatever they want to be.

Australians expect fair access to schools and hospitals so that all children, rich or poor, will have an opportunity to be their best and make their best contribution to society.

But in the 21st century, there’s another impediment to equity that looms as a threat to equity in this country – distance.

In our major capital cities, urban sprawl is making it harder for many Australians, particularly those with limited financial resources, to access the work or educational opportunities they need to achieve their potential.

The problem is at its worst in Sydney, where according to surveys, about one in five workers travel more than 90 minutes a day to get to and from work.

Governments need to address this problem, not just to preserve the concept of a fair go, but also to get the most out of our best asset – our people.

Failing to address this problem could cause some people on the fringes of our cities to rule themselves out of participating in work or education.

That would be a mistake.

Traffic congestion has always been an issue in our cities.

But until recently, average income earners living in the suburbs have avoided the worst effects of congestion because work was available near their homes in industries like manufacturing or retailing.

However, in the 21st century, jobs growth has shifted away from the suburbs and into the CBD in industries like accounting, insurance, information technology and other services industries.

This has created a mismatch between where people can afford to live and where they can find a job. It means many Australians now live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs and spend hours a day on the roads or on crowded buses and trains commuting to and from work.

According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, the resulting traffic congestion cost the economy $16.5 billion in 2015 in lost productivity.

And as well as threatening equity, it is also robbing working parents time with their families.

Governments must adjust their infrastructure programs to the new human needs of the 21st century.

New passenger rail lines and better roads are part of the solution.

But the roads and railways need to work together, providing an integrated transport system. Walking and cycling tracks must be incorporated into this system so people can readily access new public transport hubs from home.

Governments must also promote jobs growth closer to where people live by investing in research facilities at hospitals, universities and in other major projects

The perfect example is in Sydney, with the new Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Developed properly, the airport will provide thousands of jobs in aviation as well as associated sectors including research, tourism, education, advanced manufacturing and logistics.

Between now and the airport’s opening, we must focus on maximising the opportunities for the people of Western Sydney to access these new opportunities.

That’s why we need to build Western Sydney Rail – a north-south rail corridor that will allow people of the region to access the new areas of jobs growth.

Labor has already committed funding for the Western Sydney Rail.

While the Turnbull and Berejiklian Governments have proposed a line from St Marys to Badgerys Creek via the airport, they have yet to fund the link from the Macarthur region to the airport and the extension to Rouse Hill in the north-west.

They should commit to the full project now.

The airport example highlights the way in which Governments must rethink the configuration of our growing cities and their transport systems to ensure they fit in with the demands of the 21st century.

We need to stop seeing Western Sydney as a city dormitory area for the Sydney CBD, but treat it as a discrete centre with its own internally logical transport system.

If we take that approach to infrastructure policy across the nation, we will open up more opportunity for local people to access well-paid jobs.

That will be of benefit to them, because they will be given a Fair Go. But it will also benefit the entire nation, because we will be making the best use of our human resources in the national interest.

his piece was first published in The Fifth Estate on Thursday, 5 April 2018. 

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Cities.

Feb 9, 2018

Cities should give people a sporting chance – Opinion – Daily Telegraph

In a recent ABC interview the new head of the AFL’s Women’s competition, Nicole Livingstone, identified a problem that would have resonated with many Australians living in our big cities.

Asked about how she hoped to ­increase participation in AFL, Ms ­Livingstone said one impediment was the lack of availability of sports fields. There simply aren’t enough sporting fields in big cities to cater to the demand of our growing population.

In my own community in Sydney’s inner west, demand for sporting fields significantly exceeds supply. The area has just 1.5 hectares of open space per 1000 people and 29 sports grounds shared among a population of more than 185,000 people.

We have to keep encouraging our younger generations to exercise — and we need to make sure there is space to do that.

Down the road from my home, the Marrickville Red Devils soccer team has four shifts for training sessions, half of them conducted under lights. That’s a late finish on a school night.

I’ve heard similar stories around Sydney and in other Australian capital cities as population density increases. This issue looms as a new 21st-century barbecue stopper.

Parents already face a challenge encouraging their children away from screens and into physical activity. We must not allow capacity constraints to make it even harder.

One factor driving the increased demand is the welcome explosion of female participation in sports that were traditionally the bastion of boys and men.

Across the country, more women and girls are getting into sport, spurred on by the development of professional leagues in the AFL, soccer, rugby league and cricket.

Cricket Australia’s National Cricket Census showed female participation grew 25 per cent in 2017, while women’s AFL grew an enormous 76 per cent, coinciding with the launch of the national AFL women’s competition.

It’s not just organised sport crying out for more space.

This increased participation must be encouraged and celebrated. Indeed, we need to remove impediments such as the lack of female changing rooms at many ovals.

More broadly, participation in sport by all Australians, regardless of age or gender, is a public health issue.

Sport is our best weapon against obesity. It extends lifespans and reduces costs to the health system.

Governments, sporting organisations and the development industry must work together to increase the availability of open space in the national interest.

That means more sporting fields in and around new housing estates. It also means taking opportunities for protecting and enhancing open space in established suburbs. New developments must incorporate open space, an essential ingredient to improving livability.

Anthony Albanese.

Beyond this, we need to think outside the square. We should make better use of existing sporting fields, such as school ovals. We should also re-examine the design of parkland.

Many city parks have great landscaping and excellent paths for cycling and walking. That is a good thing. But sometimes such paths bisect areas that, left open, could be used for sport, even if it’s just an informal game of touch footy.

It’s important we build flexibility into park design and put the scarce open space to practical use.

That’s just a couple of ideas. I don’t claim to have all the solutions. However, it’s clear current development and land use patterns are not serving community needs when it comes to sport.

We live in one of the world’s great sporting nations. We must keep it that way by working together to put in place policies which expand participation in sport at the grassroots.

 

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Friday, 9 February, 2018: http://bit.ly/2nNqur8 

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