Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
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 

Feb 6, 2018

National Rail Plan would Boost Hunter growth – Opinion – Newcastle Herald 

Great challenges always bring greater opportunities. In the next few decades, Australia has a golden opportunity to use a planned increase in rail industry investment to reinvent our advanced manufacturing sector. At least $49 billion in rail investment is planned in the next decade, with state governments moving forward with projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and Perth METRONET. Then there are projects under development, like Western Sydney Rail, the Inland Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne and, in the longer term, High Speed Rail between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

Australia must position itself to not only supply the steel for these railways, but to produce the rolling stock, rather than sourcing it offshore.

If we get the industry policy approach right, we can create jobs while lifting economic growth. We can also boost apprenticeships and improve the skills base that will propel Australian manufacturing forward for decades. This approach would be of particular benefit for regional Australia, with companies like Downer Rail and Lovell Springs both operating in the Hunter.

To take advantage of the potential to increase opportunities in rail, Australia needs intense collaboration between industry, governments, training providers and trade unions.

Australia needs a National Rail Industry Plan – a framework to ensure we extract maximum national dividends from growth in the rail sector. States must co-ordinate procurement strategies and all levels of government must invest in research and innovation.

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.

Too often, debates about training become bogged down in arguments about whether it is the public sector or the private sector that is best placed to deliver skills. The more important question is whether training meets the needs of industry.

In places such as the Hunter, it is crucial that our training providers deliver exactly what is required by industry to ensure the jobs created in the region are filled by locals.  Developing advanced manufacturing also requires genuine bipartisan political commitment over the long term.

The easy option for governments expanding rail is to buy the rolling stock overseas, particularly if it is cheaper than building it here. But we need to understand that investing time and money to build the capacity of local manufacturing will not only produce trains, but is an investment in our nation, in our people and in our future.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has reported that traffic congestion in our cities cost the Australian economy $16.5 billion in 2015. Freight rail takes trucks off the road. Passenger rail takes cars off the road. As the Australasian Railway Association notes, every passenger train service reduces the cost of congestion to the economy by up to $8500.

Australia needs a National Rail Plan – one that not only addresses manufacturing industry policy, but promotes rail investment in the full context of all of its economic benefits.

 

This piece was first published in the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday, 6 February 2018: http://bit.ly/2E4XaCA 

Feb 5, 2018

Progress needed on National Rail Plan – Opinion – Track and Signal Magazine

Great challenges always bring greater opportunities.

In the next few decades, Australia has a golden opportunity to use a planned increase in rail industry investment to reinvent our advanced manufacturing sector.

At least $49 billion in new rail investment is planned in the next decade, with state governments moving forward with projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and Perth METRONET.

Then there are projects under development, like Western Sydney Rail, the Inland Rail Link between Brisbane and Melbourne and, in the longer term, High Speed Rail between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

Australia must put itself in a position to not only supply the steel for these railways, but to produce the rolling stock, rather than sourcing it offshore.

If we get the industry policy approach right, we can create new jobs while lifting economic growth.

We can also boost apprenticeships and improve the skills base which will propel Australian manufacturing forward for decades across a range of sectors.

To make this happen, we need intense collaboration between industry, governments, training providers and trade unions.

Australia needs a National Rail Industry Plan – a framework to ensure we extract maximum national dividends from growth in the rail sector.

States must co-ordinate procurement strategies and all levels of government must invest in research and innovation.

In the 21st century, there are two sure-fired 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.

It should specifically identify what industry requires in the training sector and set a path for governments to work together to deliver on those requirements.

Too often, debates about training become bogged down in arguments about whether it is the public sector or the private sector that is best placed to deliver skills to young people. The more important question is whether training meets the needs of industry.

Developing advanced manufacturing also requires genuine bipartisan political commitment over the long term.
The easy option for governments building new railways is to buy the rolling stock overseas, particularly if it is cheaper than building it here.

However, we need to understand that investing time and money to build the capacity of local manufacturing will not only produce trains, but is an investment in our nation, in our people and in our future.

A National Rail Plan should also harmonise industry regulations in areas like safety and advance ongoing work being led by Victoria toward harmonizing standards relating to bogies and glazing, which will make it easier to develop a national manufacturing network.

Recently the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee recommended the creation of a National Rail Manufacturing Plan, including a specific procurement policy.

While that was a positive development, it is truly heartening that the rail industry is also on the front foot.

The Australasian Railways Association recently produced an excellent document A National Rail Industry Plan for the Benefit of Australia, which points the way forward.

As well as addressing procurement issues like the Senate report, the ARA report also called for the advantage of rail to be seen in its full context.

It argued that rail not only moves people and freight, but can also address some of the broader economic and human challenges of our time.

For example, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has reported that traffic congestion in our cities cost the Australian economy $16.5 billion in 2015.

Freight rail takes trucks off the road.

Passenger rail takes cars off the road.

As the ARA report notes, every passenger train service reduces the cost of congestion to the economy by up to $8500.

Rail is also considerably safer than road travel. It produces lower levels of carbon emissions.

It can also be a catalyst for regional economic development through projects like High Speed Rail.

Rail also allows people who do not own cars to access jobs and educational opportunities. While that is an equity measure, it has a huge economic benefit by lifting workforce participation.

Unfortunately, many policy makers addressing transport challenges ignore the full range of rail’s potential benefits.

In Sydney at the moment there is a proposal to extend the F6 to the city’s south via construction of a toll road.

Recent media reporting has established that when planners within the State Government were told to develop the toll road proposal, they were ordered not to test it against the option of rail.

This was in spite of the fact that completing the Maldon-Dombarton rail freight project, along with relatively minor upgrades to the Illawarra passenger line, would be cheaper and produce greater travel time reductions.

That is an absurd approach.

It is clear the NSW Government wants a toll road because it can produce a commercial investment return and could therefore be sold to the private sector.

But by taking this doctrinaire approach, the Government ignores the wider economic benefits of rail.

This is a great illustration of why Australia needs a National Rail Plan – one that not only addresses manufacturing industry policy, but also promotes rail investment in the full context of all of its economic benefits.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
This piece was first published in February-April edition of Track and Signal magazine on Monday, 5 February, 2018. 

Feb 4, 2018

Transcript of Television Interview – Speers on Sunday, SKY News

Subjects: Adani coal mine, Batman by-election, the Greens Political Party, Labor Party, Mark Butler, health insurance, citizenship, Labor Party leadership.

DAVID SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, welcome. Thank you for joining us this morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you David.

SPEERS:  Let’s start with the Batman by-election. What is Labor’s position on the proposed Adani coal mine?

ALBANESE: Well, of course Adani is a proposition that was approved by the former Government – by the Coalition – and approved by the former Coalition Government in Queensland. It went through its EPBC Act approvals under Federal legislation. Indeed, then, by consent, it was agreed by all the parties that that be set aside so there could be another examination through the EPBC Act, the Federal environmental legislation, giving consideration to the impact on the Great Barrier Reef and it again was given approval.

The fact is though that there are ongoing concerns about this mine and I’ve never thought that it was automatically going to go ahead because it hasn’t been able to get its finances in order. This is a project that has set deadlines for itself and been unable to achieve them and they still don’t have finances and that is because the economics of it don’t stack up.

If you look at what is happening to the global thermal coal market, what is happening is that it is in decline and India itself, for example, is saying that they want to stop imports of thermal coal. So it is hard to see how the economics of this project stack up, let alone ongoing concerns over water and over other issues.

SPEERS: All right. But the financials, whether it stacks up, is really a matter for the private company Adani, not a matter for the Government. As you have listed there, all the approvals have been given, haven’t they? There’s not much a government, be it Labor or Coalition, can do at this point.

ALBANESE: Well the approvals have been given and that happened some time ago and of course those approvals have also been subject to legal argument. The question is whether there is new information that allows for another consideration of these matters and that is something that no doubt the conservation groups are continuing to look at. It is something that we have looked at as well and will continue to examine. But the finances of this project are pretty fundamental David because it hasn’t ….

SPEERS:  They are, they are. I’m just talking about what government can do. There is a report as you’ve seen no doubt the other day from The Guardian that Adani may have falsified something that it put to a judgement. It denies that, but barring that any new information as you say that comes along that could unwind the environmental approvals, what is Bill Shorten talking about when he says Labor is becoming increasingly skeptical? Is there a prospect Labor actually might reverse any of these approvals?

ALBANESE: Well we are skeptical about the project. We have been skeptical from the beginning. I for a long time have had this as an issue, you won’t be surprised David, that’s been raised with me in my electorate. I have said very clearly, you won’t find statements from me supporting the project, saying it is going to go ahead because I have never seen the economics of this as going ahead.

We’ve got to put this in context David. Last year the Government was arguing that it was going to use public finances to build a new coal-fired power station in Queensland. That seems to have dropped off the agenda, that rather odd proposal. What is happening throughout the world …

SPEERS: We’ll it is still under consideration apparently. But is Labor talking here about actually reversing an approval that has been given even without seeing some damning new evidence come to light? Would Labor do that, or does that create a sovereign risk issue?

ALBANESE: Well you’ve got to look at the law as it is. You’ve got to look at whether there is any new information comes to light. We will continue to do that David, but we will do it in a considered way, bearing in mind we need always to have a look at what the consequences are for any intervention. It’s got to be consistent. We do have environmental law in this county. That is pretty important that it be maintained in a consistent way. The issue of the impact on the Artesian Basin, on water, is something that is causing a great deal of concern to the agricultural sector. Those environmental issues we need to continue to keep our eye on.

But it is the economics of this project that is the big problem for this company, because it simply has been unable to finance the project. That’s why it went to the Government and said that we want you – the taxpayer – to help finance the rail line  and the infrastructure and Labor’s position on that has been very clear, which is no, we would not do that. The company itself said that the project would fall over unless that occurred. We’ll that isn’t occurring because the Queensland Government have said they won’t co-operate and their co-operation is necessary for that Federal loan to occur to a private company.

At a time where we have a lack of investment in public infrastructure, it is beyond belief that the current Government wants to give a loan to a private company for a for-profit operation.

SPEERS: I think it would be accessible by others as well, but predominantly Adani, I take your point. This will be a key issue in the Batman by-election. Labor has held that seat for nearly 50 years. In the previous 50 it lost the seat only twice. But the demographics are changing. It is becoming increasingly Green. What’s your view? Should Labor be able to hold this seat? Or is it becoming harder now?

ALBANESE: Well we should win the seat David. It is only Labor that can make a difference in government. The Greens of course are able to protest once decisions are made.

Labor must always put the case that we aspire to make decisions in government to improve peoples’ lives – to protect the environment, to lift living standards, to look after health and education, to fix the National Broadband Network, to make a difference.

SPEERS: OK. You’ve said Labor should hold the seat. Would you expect a swing against Labor?

ALBANESE: Well we will wait and see what occurs. At the moment, the margin of course is pretty tight. But I think David Feeney himself would recognise that he didn’t have the best campaign of any candidate I have seen in the last Federal election. It was a very controversial campaign. David also, I think in terms of his politics and where he comes from and his priorities; I think Ged Kearney is a very good fit for that seat.

SPEERS: So in that case Anthony Albanese, without David Feeney and without the problems he had in the last election campaign, Labor should, on that logic, increase its margin.

ALBANESE: Well I think Labor can do well in this by-election. We need to put our case to the people of Batman that the election of a Labor candidate will be an important step in Labor forming government either later this year or early next year. In Ged Kearney we are putting forward a candidate who is progressive on economic, social and environmental issues, who has an outstanding record of standing up for people, who came through the Nurses’ Federation and understands health issues. No-one understands Australians better than our nurses. That’s her background, of where she is coming from. She is an outstanding candidate.

SPEERS: I note, I’m not criticising here Ged Kearney herself, but she was actually held up by Bill Shorten on Friday as the candidate before nominations for preselection had closed as I understand it. I don’t think anyone else was going to take her on. But this actually gets to something you are pretty passionate about. How should Labor pre-select its candidates?

ALBANESE: Well Labor should, these are circumstances of a by-election where you don’t have a choice of a long lead-in. But I am firmly of the view that we need to have democracy in our party strengthened and extended. That it is one of the strengths of the movement, is the fact that we will hold our national conference in July; there will be delegates for the first time elected directly from the rank-and-file membership across the country representing different electorates.

We will have it played out, for better or worse, in front of the entire Australian public. I’m sure it will be live on Sky News, that policy process, putting in place what the platform that Labor seeks to take into government will be.

Now that contrasts with the Greens who don’t allow media anywhere near their conference, who had a leadership ballot a couple of years ago that people found out about almost a year after it had occurred. It’s a secret society. So I think the more open we are …

SPEERS: But how should you pre-select your candidates though? I take by-elections have to be done in a hurry, but how should it happen?

ALBANESE: I’m a strong supporter of rank and file pre-selections. It is how I’ve always been pre-selected. I was pre-selected again for Grayndler last December and that’s something I’m very proud of. I think we need to have a direct say in who our senators are, that people in the rank and file of the party should get input to that, rather than it being a delegated structure of being elected by state conferences.

SPEERS: And you mentioned the conference coming up, the national conference. Will you back Mark Butler for a second term as Party President?

ALBANESE: He hasn’t determined finally whether he will put himself forward yet, but I think he’s an outstanding person. He’s the elected National President of the Party. He stands up for the interests of party members. He has stood on a platform and will continue to argue for reform of the party and I think he’s done an outstanding job. And certainly, if he seeks to have a second term, he will have my support.

SPEERS: Can I turn to some policy matters? Private health insurance; the Sunday Telegraph reporting today that Shadow Cabinet has decided to cap premium rises at two percent to save families around $340 on average over a couple of years. Is that the party’s position? Is that Labor’s position? Doesn’t this amount to price fixing?

ALBANESE: What we’re having is a Productivity Commission review. There hasn’t been a review of private health insurance for a considerable period of time and the fact is that what we’ve seen is an increasing concern out there from families that private health insurance is serving the interests of profits rather than patients. And that’s why we’ll have this review. We’ll consult with the sector. We think that they will have ideas as well about how to drive down costs of healthcare …

SPEERSSo not necessarily cap prices as reported? Cap increases?

ALBANESE: Well while that review is occurring, for the first two years of the first term of the Labor Government, you’d expect that there would be three of those annual price reviews. For the first two there would be a two percent cap put on. We think that is a reasonable position whilst the review is taking place. But what we’re seeing is a return on equity …

SPEERS: Just on that, if a Government can do that on private health insurance, why can’t it do that on private school fees, why can’t it do that on electricity prices, other cost of living problems we’re facing?

ALBANESE: Well what we know is that private health insurance is very dependent upon Federal Government subsidies essentially, above $6 billion this year is the cost to the bottom line of the mechanisms that are in place to encourage private health insurance. We support private health insurance. Some 54 percent of Australians have it and it’s an important component of the health care system. But the fact is that at the moment we have the major companies having returns on equity of above 25 percent. Now the average Australian company, owned company here, operates at around about eight percent.

So there’s significant profits being made. There’s significant returns being banked by those big funds at the same time many of the smaller funds are actually having to delve into those ongoing savings in order to provide those services. So it is important to have that examination. It is important to consult with the sector as well and, as I said, we’ll be doing that consultation to set the terms of reference for that Productivity Commission inquiry, which we’ll do before the next Federal election. So everyone will know exactly what the plan is, what we’re looking at with that Productivity Commission inquiry.

SPEERS: A couple of others to finish on citizenship. Parliament is back tomorrow. This debate will resume. Is Susan Lamb a dual citizen?

ALBANESE: Well the fact is that Susan Lamb’s circumstances are very different from others. Susan Lamb, there’s no question and no one argues that she didn’t apply for the renunciation of her citizenship and what she got back from the UK …

SPEERS: But the question is; is she a dual citizen?

ALBANESE: Well what she got back from the UK was a statement saying that they couldn’t determine whether she was a citizen or not. That’s from the UK. So it’s one thing for you and I to discuss in somewhat academic circumstances …

SPEERS: They needed more documents, which she couldn’t produce.

ALBANESE: Well that’s what they said themselves. The fact is, last year we attempted to put anyone who there was any doubt over including Jason Falinski who I notice there is more concern about his circumstances in the papers today, to say …

SPEERS: Labor thinks he is in more trouble, is that right?

ALBANESE: Well that’s absolutely correct. But what we say is that the Australian public are pretty sick of this, David. They want this resolved, that’s why we tried to refer everyone for whom there was any doubt to the High Court last year so that this would be resolved. It was the Coalition Government that chose not to support that resolution. It was supported by all the crossbenchers and by Labor.

SPEERS: So you’ll stick to that demand for a joint referral. Can I just finish, Anthony Albanese, the next few months are going to be challenging for Labor and for Bill Shorten. We’ve got the Batman by-election and who knows whether there will be more. Can I ask you directly, what would it take for you to challenge Bill Shorten this year?

ALBANESE: Look, my challenge is doing the right thing by the Australian people as part of Bill Shorten’s team. The challenges that I’m interested in are the challenges that working Australians are facing on the cost of living; the challenge of fixing up the National Broadband Network; the challenge of dealing with infrastructure, which is set to decline from 0.4 percent of GDP to 0.2 percent over the next decade – halved under this Government.

SPEERS: But Anthony Albanese, is your duty and loyalty to Bill Shorten or to the best interests of the Labor Party?

ALBANESE: My loyalty is always to the cause of Labor and the people we represent. And that’s what I’m interested in and I think that’s what Australians are interested in as well. They want a Government, and indeed an Opposition, that’s concerned about them, rather than about ourselves. That is what I will be doing this year as I have done, loyally, under a whole range of leaders over a long period of time. I’ll be doing my best in the job that I’ve got, which is substantial as Labor’s spokesperson for infrastructure, transport, cities, regional development and tourism. I reckon that will keep me busy David.
 
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time this morning, thank you.

ALBANESE: Good to be with you.

Dec 19, 2017

Good design can help all of Sydney beat the heat – Opinion – The Daily Telegraph

The mercury has spoken — 2017 is set to become one of the hottest years on record. According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, parts of NSW will experience tops of 41C this week, and this is just the beginning. The heat will worsen bushfire risks and cause widespread discomfort.

While there is little we can do to stop bushfires, we can mitigate the effects of extreme heat on our cities and towns if we think harder about town planning and building design.

Take a look around you next time you walk down a city street this summer. Too often you’ll probably find little vegetation, shade and many hard, dark-coloured surfaces that absorb, rather than reflect, heat.

Overseas research has shown that the temperature in the dense parts of cities can be more than 5.6C higher than nearby areas that have breezes, vegetation and fewer buildings.

The experts call these urban hotspots “heat islands”.

During heatwaves, people who live in heat islands, particularly the elderly, are at genuine risk. We need to do what we can to reduce that risk.

Many councils are already on the case, having accepted that the situation can only become worse because of the effects of climate change.

They know cooler cities are not only more comfortable but — with heat-related lost productivity costing Australia approximately $7 billion each year — they are more efficient.

Research has suggested that greater use of heat-reflecting light colours can help to mitigate the heat island effect. Accordingly, one of the solutions currently being trialled for some Sydney roads is the use of lighter colour paving.

Sydney councils are also working toward increasing the urban forest coverage by 50 per cent, aiming for more than 23.5 per cent canopy coverage of all private land, roads and parks within the council boundaries by 2030.

Covering my own electorate of Grayndler, the Inner West Council has collected data that shows land surface temperatures in the bays precinct — White Bay, Rozelle and Lilyfield — are up to 15C warmer than on streets nearby.

In the meantime, the state government is proposing to transform the area with more intense development. I am not against the development of the under-utilised Bays Precinct. But we must get the planning right and ensure that we consider heat mitigation in design of new development.

Regrettably, the current government is not active in this area, or in any other area of urban policy. It talks about cities policy, but needs to work harder with councils and state governments, providing leadership on practical measures such as urban and building design.

Cities are too often seen by federal legislators as little more than part of the machinery of our economy.

Cities are drivers of our economy, but cities are also places where people live. We need to make sure that cities not only serve our economy, but also serve the people who call them home.

 

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, 19 December 2017: http://bit.ly/2CC2f4l

Dec 6, 2017

The people have spoken, now it’s time to deliver Cross River Rail – Opinion – The Brisbane Times

Wise politicians know that voters are always right.

Whatever we think, election results provide the ultimate reality check about the will of the people.

We ignore them at our peril.

One of the realities that is clear after the Queensland election is that south-east Queenslanders want efficient public transport.

The Palaszczuk Labor government was re-elected promising to build the Cross River Rail project, which will provide a second rail crossing of the Brisbane River in the city’s CBD to add to the Merivale Bridge, which is approaching full capacity.
Cross River Rail is not just about Brisbane.

It will increase the capacity of the rail network throughout south-east Queensland, including the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast.

It is the game changer that allowed the Palaszczuk government to commit to new stations at Pimpama, Helensvale North and Worongary-Merrimac.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to back Cross River Rail, but needs to reconsider his position, which is based on politics, rather than looking at the project on its merits.

In capital cities and high-growth areas across the nation, traffic congestion is eroding Australians’ quality of life and acting as a handbrake on economic growth.

The Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has reported that in 2015, traffic congestion cost the national economy $16.5 billion in lost economic activity.

Governments must work together to tackle congestion, which would boost productivity and set a platform for stronger economic and employment growth.

Cross River Rail is a no-brainer. It was approved by the independent Infrastructure Australia in 2012.

On the basis of that assessment, the former federal Labor government and the former LNP Queensland government, led by Campbell Newman, reached a deal in 2013 to deliver the project.

Then along came the greatest political wrecker of our times, Tony Abbott, who cancelled all Commonwealth investment in passenger rail and transferred the money to the construction of toll roads.

Mr Abbott had outlined his distaste for public transport in his 2009 book Battlelines, in which he wrote: “Mostly there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car and cars need roads.”

This was a bizarre position – so absurd it hardly bears serious scrutiny.

Since ousting Mr Abbott, Mr Turnbull has refused to reinstate Commonwealth funding for Cross River Rail. As a result, the Palaszczuk government has commenced the project alone.

Its re-election demonstrates that Queenslanders support the project and understand the link between infrastructure investment, quality of life and economic prosperity.

Mr Turnbull should listen to the message and get on board with a funding contribution.

It appears his reluctance to provide funding is linked to his desire to enlist more private investment into the project using  mechanisms such as value capture, under which governments would help pay for the project by selling space above new train stations for high-rise development.

Value capture is not a new concept but it has a legitimate place in funding projects. Indeed, it was part of the 2013 deal to deliver Cross River Rail, which the federal coalition scrapped.

But value capture will never replace actual government investment.

And according to federal budget papers, actual investment will fall off a cliff over the next four years, from the $9.2 billion promised in the 2016 budget to $4.2 billion by 2020-21.

Another lesson from the Queensland election is that voters will punish political parties that put political tactics ahead of the public interest.

It is somewhat ironic that the Shadow Treasurer, Scott Emerson, was the Transport Minister in the Newman Government who agreed to a joint proposal with the former Federal Labor Government to advance Cross River Rail.

The more recent cynical opposition to the project hurt the LNP’s economic credibility and no doubt contributed to Mr Emerson’s failure to hold his seat.

Efficient states need efficient capital cities and regions.

Increasing rail capacity through Brisbane will reduce rail congestion right throughout the state’s south-east.

Queenslanders got it right on Cross River Rail.

It is now time for governments to work together and build it.

This piece was first published in The Brisbane Times on Wednesday, 6 December, 2017: http://bit.ly/2jZRscG 

Nov 13, 2017

Marriage equality: justice to win again in march of progress – Opinion – The Australian

It was Martin Luther King who once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends toward justice”.

The arc of history will once again bend toward justice on Wednesday when it is confirmed that Australians have returned a Yes vote in favour of marriage equality.

My confidence about the result is not only based on polling. It’s based on history.

Progress on human rights is always moving forward. Of course, it doesn’t advance in a straight line.

People have to make it happen.

Conservative forces will always oppose progress, and reactionaries will campaign to turn back the clock.

But progressives will always keep advancing reform against those who would maintain the comfortable status quo.

And history tells us that the progressives usually win.

The suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Eddie Mabo and Gough Whitlam — they all faced pushback.

But time and again, the weight of justice has won out and people have come to accept and even champion ideas they once regarded as uncomfortable, or even heretical.

Australians once supported the White Australia Policy. Now most of us celebrate multiculturalism.

We once refused to count indigenous people in the census or recognise indigenous land rights. Now land rights are real and our nation is moving toward recognising our first peoples in the Constitution.

In the 20th century, Australians who wanted a divorce had to hire private investigators to obtain photographic evidence of their spouses’ infidelity before the courts would dissolve their tragically unhappy marriages. Today no-fault divorce is taken for granted.

In my lifetime, working people could not afford to see a doctor if they fell ill because there was no Medicare or bulk-billing.

Progress has wiped out such injustices.

When change is about extending human rights, as is the case with marriage equality, it builds a momentum of its own.

The mistake that many conservatives make is to believe the world as it is today is the final, fully formed version of society — the culmination of centuries of human progress. Wary of anything that challenges the ­established order, they behave as though human progress stopped with the Enlightenment. It didn’t. Humanity keeps moving forward. People demand greater rights. And, over time, those who seek to deny them those rights run out of reasons to say no.

Two of the loudest voices in the marriage equality debate have experience of being overtaken by progress.

In early 1970s, John Howard was part of the Fraser government that abolished the Medibank universal health care system put in place by Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam.

By the time Howard became prime minister in 1996, he claimed he was a supporter of universal health care, which had been reinstated by the Hawke Labor government through Medicare.

Likewise, in the 1990s, when the Keating Labor government proposed compulsory superannuation to allow working people to retire in dignity, Tony Abbott ridiculed the idea as a con job.

Thirteen years later, as prime minister, compulsory superannuation had such broad acceptance that Abbott would have been unable to muster more than a few votes for its abolition.

Abbott was swamped by progress, just as history will sideline him over his continuing rejection of genuine action on climate change, which reached absurd levels with his claim in London recently that it is a force for good.

Over recent years the parliament has passed laws removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality for health care, superannuation, immigration, social security and more. All of these measures came as a result of progressive activism which met initial resistance.

Even earlier, the brave leaders of the gay and lesbian community such as Lex Watson, Craig Johnston, Julie McCrossin, Paul O’Grady and the Mardi Gras 78ers were vilified for their commitment to even more basic rights.

I respect the views of those who don’t agree with me on marriage equality, particularly where their opposition is based upon sincerely held spiritual views. But marriage equality is a basic human right.

Even in the unlikely event that the postal ballot returns a No vote, marriage equality will still happen.

It is inevitable.

I’m yet to meet anyone who has said, “I used to support marriage equality, but I’ve changed my mind and now I don’t.” The ­opposite, however, is commonplace.

After it becomes law, people will look back at the controversy of recent months and wonder why we didn’t act sooner.

On that great day, spare a thought for those courageous gay and lesbian activists who fought for law reform in past decades at great risk to themselves.

They led the way for this generation to argue for full equality.

And in doing so, they made Australia a better and more inclusive place for every Australian.

 

This piece was first published in The Australian on Monday, 13 November, 2017: http://bit.ly/2ABRqz7

Oct 18, 2017

Sydney’s population can continue to grow and thrive – Opinion – The Daily Telegraph

One issue guaranteed to spark animated discussion at a barbecue or pub in Sydney is whether our city can accommodate more people and, if it can, exactly where they will live.

Depending on who you talk to, Sydney is too spread out, or too dense, with increasing numbers in apartments without the backyards familiar to children of the 20th century.

The truth is that by international standards, Sydney has a relatively low population density.

International think-tank the City Mayors Foundation rates Sydney’s population density 113th among major global cities, with about 2100 people per square kilometre.

London has 5100 people per square kilometre and Tokyo/Yokohama 4750.

But whatever the international comparisons, there’s no doubt Sydney, which was initially designed around low-density housing, is ­experiencing growing pains.

Now is the time for governments of all levels to think more seriously about how we can manage those growth pressures over coming ­decades in ways that will allow us to maintain and improve our quality of life.

As an optimist, I say that is possible — if we get it right.

Getting it right means putting ­livability at the centre of policy ­development.

It also means accepting that ­successful cities are inclusive cities.

The process itself must engage with people and communities, rather than impose change on them.

We must ensure that jobs growth occurs closer to where people live.

As it stands, too many people who work in the burgeoning services ­sector in and around the Sydney CBD can’t afford inner-Sydney property prices.

They have to commute long distances to work from their homes in the suburbs.

Indeed, it is a tragedy that many Sydney parents spend more time on the road travelling to and from work than they spend playing with their children.

Shadow Minister for Transport & Infrastructure Anthony Albanese.

To address this, governments at all levels, along with the business sector, must work together to promote job growth closer to where people live, particularly in Western Sydney.

There is no doubt the Western Sydney Airport provides an opportunity as an employment catalyst.

But if its benefits are to be maximised, we must get the planning right.

That includes ensuring rail access from day one, including on the north-south corridor so that people from Rouse Hill, St Marys and Campbelltown have access to the high-value jobs that will be generated.

To this point in Sydney’s history, our transport corridors have been ­developed from the CBD outwards, like spokes on a wheel.

The next stage of Sydney’s infrastructure development will require better links within the Western Sydney region to enhance its ability to ­deliver economic growth as a ­discreet entity.

As residents of Australia’s biggest and most dynamic city, Sydneysiders have every reason to feel positive about our economic prospects.

But our other great challenge in coming decades will be to manage growth and increased density without surrendering the human values that have served us so well in the past two centuries.

While markets drive ongoing economic development, the fact is that unregulated markets have no conscience.

Allowing a free-for-all will produce bad outcomes.

Communities will accept increases in density if developments are of good quality.

Mistakes continue to be made with the spread of new suburbs with insufficient consideration of ­transport access and social infrastructure such as schools, health facilities and recreational areas.

Developments which increase density without any consideration about where kids will play or go to school are a prelude to future social problems.

The issue of housing affordability just has to be addressed.

It is time to accept that absurdly high property prices have given property investors an economic advantage over first-home buyers.

That’s not in the public interest.

We must give young people the fair go they deserve by addressing housing affordability through modest changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements.

Governments should also put an end to their obsession with selling off public housing in inner-city areas like Millers Point to pad their own coffers, thereby pushing residents away from their community links.

One of Sydney’s greatest assets is its diversity. Great cities are not isolated enclaves of advantage and disadvantage. They are diverse, vibrant and above all inclusive.

The Sydney of the future shouldn’t be one in which you can automatically tell a person’s wealth from their postcode.

 

This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, October 18, 2017: http://bit.ly/2x3MPUa

Oct 17, 2017

Better cities need greater vision – Opinion – Planning News

It was Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren who first argued for the need for Commonwealth engagement in the proper planning of Australian cities.

Launching his successful 1972 election campaign, Whitlam highlighted the absurdity of the view that urban policy could be fenced off as the province of local and state governments.

Whitlam said: “A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future’’.

Whitlam was right then, but his comments are even more relevant now.

Our cities are growing quickly but their economic productivity is being held back by traffic congestion which, according to the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics, cost Australia $16.5 billion in lost productivity in 2015.

Urban Australia is also suffering from the fact that high housing prices make it very difficult for average income earners to live close their workplaces.

This is because jobs growth is strongest in and around the central business districts of our capital cities.

As a result, many Australians spend long periods commuting to and from work from drive-in, drive-out suburbs, robbing them of time in their local communities and with their families.

Indeed, it is a tragedy that many Australian parents spend more time travelling to and from work than they spend playing with their children.

Australia needs a plan to improve urban planning to confront this and a range of other challenges.

It’s not just about the economy, as important as the economy is.

It’s also about our quality of life and the extent to which we ensure that at least some of the proceeds of national economic growth are ploughed back into community infrastructure and initiatives that enhance that quality of life.

An ad-hoc approach won’t work.

We need a plan that not only boosts productivity, but also recognizes that cities are home to 80 per cent of the national population.

The former Labor Federal Government was a serious player in urban policy.

We created the Major Cities Unit within the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and worked with state and local government to create integrated transport plans for our state capitals under a process chaired by Brian Howe.

We also created Infrastructure Australia to assess proposals for major projects and allow the Government to invest in infrastructure on the basis of evidence, not political considerations.

Our aim was to improve quality of life through infrastructure provision as part of our ambition to realise the concept of the 30-Minute City concept  – the idea promoted by some planners that most of people’s day to day work, educational, shopping or recreational activities should be located within 30 minutes’ walking, cycling or public commuting from their homes.

The dream of a 30-Minute City is a tall order in the 21st century in cities with populations that run into the millions.

But the following 10 ideas provide the blueprint for the actions of the next Labor Federal Government.

  1. Investing in properly integrated transport systems involving public transport and roads. State governments are taking up the fight against traffic congestion by investing in major projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail. However these mega-projects need Commonwealth financial support along with public transport projects in other capital cities.
  2. Investing in active transport solutions which connect up with public transport, education and employment hubs. This will involve, for example, expanding Infrastructure Australia’s assessment of road and rail proposals to include consideration of whether it would make sense to construct bikeways or walking paths as part of these projects.
  3. Addressing housing affordability through urban planning, land supply, the use of incentives and modest changes to the tax treatment of negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax.
  4. Aligning greater housing density with existing public transport corridors. This will require closer collaboration with state and local governments as well as the development community to ensure the delivery of quality developments that also improve liveability.
  5. Promoting jobs growth in outer suburbs. This would take place through direct investment in projects such as the Western Sydney Airport and intermodal facilities, or by giving consideration to incentives for re-location of business.
  6. Promoting jobs growth in middle rings around cities by investing in research precincts around universities and hospitals.
  7. Supporting connectivity and productivity through fibre-to-the-premise National Broadband Network. It is clear that the rollout of the fibre-to-the-node technology is failing to meet public expectations or requirements, even as the new network is under construction. We need to accept this as a fact and embrace the 21st century fibre-based technology contemplated by the previous Labor Government when it commenced this important project.
  8. Supporting renewable energy including buildings and precincts that produce their own power in new developments. This is particularly important given that cities consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy use and produce more than 76 per cent of all carbon.
  9. Enhancing sustainability and resilience of household and industrial water supply and rehabilitating our urban waterways which for too long were used for industrial waste. Improving water quality in urban waterways is not only good for the environment, but will also offer enhanced recreation opportunities for city residents.
  10.  Co-operation between Governments to promote the development of second or third CBDs to decentralize jobs growth. In Melbourne, for example, centres such as Box Hill offer great potential for urban renewal. Improved public transport and roads to such areas would spark business investment and lead to jobs growth, creating the potential for more people to work much closer to where they live.

When it comes to our cities, legislators need vision.

It’s not enough simply to respond to the pressures of development and population growth as they arise.

A wiser approach is to imagine better cities in consultation with experts, build community support for your vision and then take the concrete steps that are necessary to make that vision real.

Our cities will grow in coming decades. It’s up to us to work collaboratively to guide development in the public interest.

In 1972, Gough Whitlam’s decision to involve the Commonwealth in the affairs of Australian cities was seen as bold and unprecedented.

Whitlam delivered genuine change, particularly when it came to preservation of heritage.

But if you ask older Australians, many will tell you that the biggest outcome for Australian cities was that fact that Commonwealth investment allowed councils across our cities to fully sewer their communities.

This made a material difference to the daily quality of life of millions of Australians.

In the 21st century, our goals will be very different.

But if we get it right, the effects of our work can be just as profound.

This piece was first published in October 2017 edition of Planning News – the journal of the Victorian Division of the Planning Institute of Australia. 

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