Browsing articles in "Opinion Pieces"
Dec 16, 2016

The Government must do more than just talk about infrastructure – Opinion Piece – Huffington Post Australia

When governments are seeking to lift economic growth, one means at their disposal is to invest in infrastructure. If they choose the right projects, they can have an immediate impact on job creation and economic activity. In the longer term, the right railways, roads and port projects boost productivity, reducing costs for business and setting the scene for future waves of economic growth.

That’s why there is increasing public pressure on the Turnbull Government to increase its investment in Nation Building – pressure that has increased since last week’s National Accounts showed that the economy contracted in the September quarter and warned that: “Public capital expenditure detracted 0.5 percentage points from growth as it declined from elevated levels in the June quarter”.

Experts such as Reserve Bank chairman Philip Lowe and his predecessor Glenn Stevens, as well as state premiers, business people and senior economists, have all suggested the Government lift its infrastructure investment to boost economic activity. Yet last week at the Council of Australian Governments meeting, Malcolm Turnbull swept away such appeals.

This follows an election campaign where the Turnbull Government failed to commit to any major new infrastructure projects but preferred local road projects which would normally be delivered by state governments or even local government.

Mr Turnbull should think again.

To lift infrastructure investment, Mr Turnbull could start to make a real difference if he simply delivered his own Budget.

In its 2014 Budget, the Coalition committed to an infrastructure program that it said would include $8 billion in investment in 2015-16. But the Treasury’s Final Budget Outcome document for 2015-16 shows the Turnbull Government invested only $5.5 billion in that period. That’s an underspend of $2.5 billion.

Indeed, the underspend was more like $3 billion, because the Government included in its figures a $490 million payment to the Western Australian Government as GST compensation. So that is $3 billion promised which, had it been actually delivered, would be driving economic activity right now, right around the nation.

It would be supporting jobs in construction and engineering. It would be providing business for suppliers of concrete, steel and other products. It would be facilitating the training of apprentices. And remember, this is not new money. It is money that has already been budgeted.

This underspending is not a function of the rephasing of projects from one financial year to another due to incidental delays. The 2015-16 underspend followed a $1 billion underspend the previous year.

What is happening here is that, for a range of reasons, the Government has been unable to actually invest the money it has already put aside. Those reasons include the Government’s 2013 decision to scrap billions of dollars of investment in public transport projects that were ready to go and divert the money to toll road projects that were not ready to go. Had the government proceeded with those projects they would be underway now, supporting jobs and growth.

Instead, most of the Coalition’s favoured toll road projects have failed to get off the drawing board and it has fallen far short of its budget on investment in ongoing major projects such as the Bruce and Pacific Highway upgrades.Reduced activity equals reduced economic growth.

Major projects such as the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, Melbourne’s M80 project, Adelaide’s light rail and Perth’s public transport network are ready for more investment.

The work of Infrastructure Australia has meant that there are projects which have been recommended and positively assessed that are ready to go. But there is also some low-hanging fruit that it is incomprehensible has not been funded by the Government.

For example, a $13 million investment on the Glendale Interchange in the Hunter region, which I visited last week, would be the catalyst for 10,000 jobs and more than $1 billion of private sector investment. It has been identified as the Hunter region’s most important project driving investment in the residential, commercial and retail sectors.

And yet the Government has failed to grasp this opportunity.

Mr Turnbull should immediately task his various ministers responsible for infrastructure investment with initiating talks with the states over how it can deliver its budgeted investment in the national interest. And if anyone worries that the money might go to the wrong projects, they shouldn’t.

The former Labor Government created Infrastructure Australia to examine and assess the value for money of major infrastructure proposals. The Coalition has supported the Infrastructure Australia model.

Governments don’t create jobs and growth simply by talking about infrastructure. They have to actually invest.

Oct 25, 2016

Plan to end restrictions on parallel book imports does not stack up – Opinion – Sydney Morning Herald

When governments consider big changes, they owe it to the community to carefully weigh the costs of those changes against the expected benefits.

The proposal to abolish parallel import restrictions in the book publishing industry does not stack up when the impact on jobs and culture are taken into account.

Current restrictions mean that if a book has been published in Australia and overseas, it is illegal to import overseas-produced copies of that book for sale in Australia.

The arrangements protect the Australian book publishing industry. They ensure Australian authors can make a decent living and continue to bring Australian stories to the world of literature, both here and globally.

But the Harper Competition Policy Review and a subsequent Productivity Commission review of intellectual property law have proposed to abolish parallel import restrictions.

The Turnbull government has indicated it is likely to adopt the recommendation.

The Productivity Commission position comes as no surprise given its consistent advocacy of open market positions.

But it is up to elected representatives to stand up for the national interest.

Booker Prize winner Peter Carey has warned that these changes would lead to job losses, profits going overseas and a “brutal reduction” in the range of books that are published in Australia.

“Australia will become, as it was in the 1960s, a dumping ground for American and English books and we will risk becoming, as we once were, a colony in the minds of others,” Carey has said.

Fellow Booker Prize winner Thomas Keneally said recently that when he was starting out as a writer in the 1960s, Australian novelists were a novelty.

“When I began writing, the idea of an Australian writing a novel was like a goanna riding a bicycle,” he told The Australian.

“Australia was under-examined … The national life was very skimpily covered.”

The message of Carey and Keneally is that a change in parallel import restrictions would reduce artistic activity in this country and thereby affect the depth and richness of Australian culture.

They are correct.

Out in the real world, millions of Australians place high value on the arts.

They buy books, attend concerts and watch Australia-made movies and television programs.

Australians want to read, hear and see our vibrant culture reflected in the books they read.

Beyond that, they want the best Australian writers to project our nation and our culture around the globe.

The economic costs resulting from a contraction in the printing industry must also be considered.

At least 4000 people work in the publishing industry. That figure reaches 20,000 when you add the book sellers and printers.

Their jobs are important.

For all these reasons, the former Labor federal government rejected a call to abolish parallel importing restrictions.

In the 21st century it is in Australia’s economic, cultural and social interests to nurture artistic endeavour as a critical descriptor of our national identity.

It should not only be protected, but cherished.

The application of the national interest test requires that we be proud and supportive of the authors and others who enrich our lives, not undermine them.

This piece was first published  in The Sydney Morning Herald on the 25th of October 2016 http://bit.ly/2dEB94r

Sep 23, 2016

Bill cart tracks are not the roads of the future – Opinion – The Huffington Post Australia

When Australians vote they expect that, whoever wins, their community will receive a fair share of government expenditure regardless of how it voted. That’s why in speeches claiming election victories, most Australian political leaders pledge to govern fairly for all, not just for their supporters.

However, when it comes to infrastructure funding in the campaign for the July 2 election, Malcolm Turnbull broke the fairness rule, succumbing to crude pork barrelling.

Mr Turnbull promised to spend $858 million on 78 road projects around the country. An incredible 76 of those projects were in Coalition-held electorates. There was also a severe interstate bias with, for example, 46 road projects in NSW seats and none in Victoria.

These are not Labor figures. They come from the Coalition’s formal election costing documents and the skewed nature of the allocations has been highlighted in analysis by media outlets including The Guardian and The Australian.

Mr Turnbull’s approach is unfair. However people vote, all Australian communities contribute taxes and deserve something back in return.

But unfairness is only half the story. The Government’s approach is also bad for the Australian economy and its potential to create jobs for the future. It ignores one of the most significant economic problems facing our nation — traffic congestion.

Earlier this year, the independent Infrastructure Australia warned that without action now, traffic congestion would cost the nation $53 billion a year in lost economic productivity by 2031.

Action on traffic congestion is therefore an economic necessity even before you consider the critical issue of quality of life of commuters.

Labor’s election campaign response was to propose to invest in public transport as well as roads to create fully integrated transport systems across our cities.

Mr Turnbull offered no new funding for public transport. And because his 78 road projects are small and largely based within his favoured Coalition electorates, they will do little to enhance traffic networks.

For example, the Coalition will spend $1 million upgrading a road in the Hunter Valley community of Gresford which is used for an annual billy cart race.

Projects of this size are normally funded by state or local governments. The Commonwealth should focus on the big picture.

In transport, the big picture is capacity building — delivering the big projects that produce productivity gains and facilitate economic growth. It’s about seeing the transport system in terms of how railways, freeways and smaller roads fit together to create a more efficient whole.

During the election, Labor’s funding pledges included support for transformative projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link, a Sydney Western Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, the Perth Metronet, Adelaide’s AdeLINK light rail network and light rail in Hobart.

We also pledged money for roads — eliminating bottlenecks on major roads like the M1-Gateway Motorway merge south of Brisbane, upgrading arterial road networks like Melbourne’s M80 ring road and building the Wanneroo Rd and Roe Highway overpasses in Perth.

These projects would make a real difference to traffic congestion — much more of a difference than Mr Turnbull’s billy cart track.

One of the roles of Infrastructure Australia, which the former Labor Government created in 2008, is to advise the government on the costs and benefits of proposed infrastructure projects.

IA’s advice is impartial. It was created to take the politics out of nation building. But since taking office in 2013, the Coalition Government has sidelined IA, ignoring public transport and funding projects not examined by IA.

The best example of the folly of this approach is the Government’s support for Melbourne’s ill-fated East-West Link. At the time the project was funded in 2014, it had not been reviewed by IA. Later, evidence emerged showing the East-West Link would have produced a miserable 45 cents in public benefit for every dollar invested.

It was a dud.

Given the decline in the investment stage of the mining boom, Australia must support policies that boost economic growth. Making our national transport networks more productive must be one of them.

That’s why infrastructure provision should be seen as a central element of economic policy. It should be above day to day politics.

The Coalition’s political approach works against the nation’s economic interests.

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

This Opinion Piece was first published in The Huffington Post on Friday, 23 September, 2016.

Aug 22, 2016

Australia needs to go to town on Cities policy – Opinion – Huffington Post Australia

One of the first rules in effective political campaigning is that you don’t make up policy on the run. If you haven’t planned it, if you can’t fund it and if you can’t implement it, then don’t announce it.

During the recent election campaign, Malcolm Turnbull broke this rule when it came to his announcement of three so-called “City Deals”. City Deals originated in the UK, where they are strengthening the bonds between the national and local government and leading to genuine improvements in economic growth and urban planning.

But in Australia, when Mr Turnbull talks of City Deals, it is unclear exactly what he is talking about.

The deals he announced in Townsville and Launceston during the campaign merely applied the City Deals label to Coalition announcements that mirrored Labor infrastructure commitments earlier in the campaign relating to the Townsville Stadium and the University of Tasmania.

In Western Sydney, the supposed City Deal was a vague statement to provide cover for the Coalition’s failure to fund a public transport link to Badgerys Creek airport.

When done properly, City Deals have something to offer.

But their implementation is certainly more complex than the Coalition’s last-minute announcements would indicate.

UK City Deals are bespoke packages negotiated by local authorities with the national government predicated on the notion of a mutually beneficial transaction. Typically, these deals focus on investment in infrastructure or transport, employment and skills training, housing and support for local business.

But these City Deals don’t just emerge from nowhere. In many areas where deals have been signed, pre-existing relationships between local authorities and businesses have formed a strong foundation for success. Greater Manchester, for example, has benefited from a well-established Local Enterprise Partnership, which has smoothed the path for the introduction of new financial powers.

As part of this, the Combined Authority can “earn back” a portion of additional tax revenue from the growth that is generated by local investment in infrastructure. Other places such as Newcastle and Sheffield have implemented tax increment financing in areas that have been identified as “key development”.

It’s a move away from a centrally determined, one-size-fits-all to the decentralisation of power through this devolution.

In Australia, our dilemma rests in our system of governance and constitutional arrangements. We have three tiers of government that require consideration and consultation, one more than in the UK.

Yet this need not be a spanner in the works. If anything, the Glasgow and Clyde Valley City Deal in Scotland shows us that an agreement can be formed between three tiers of government. This City Deal, signed in 2014, is made up of eight local authorities, and supported by both the Scottish Government and UK Government, which will kick in £500 million each. The eight local authorities are required to stump up £130 million between them. It’s too soon to know how well this will work, but one thing is clear. If you get the process right, it provides the best chance of success.

Here in Australia, we should be wary of any proposal that puts the Federal Government front and centre. If we’re to learn anything from the UK experience, it’s that City Deals work better when local authorities create and own them.

In Australia, there is an opportunity to use City Deals to incentivise collaboration across local government and also with the states and territories to maximise the economic potential of our cities. This would also ensure City Deals were adding growth to an area, not simply shifting it from somewhere else.

There is also an opportunity here for government to move from a silo approach to a cross-departmental framework that is more holistic. Labor understands this is a key element when it comes to ensuring our cities function. When in Government, I released the first ever National Urban Policy. It looked at cities as a whole, drawing in portfolios such as Communications, Environment, Transport and Regional Development, to name a few, and assessed what we needed to do to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.

However, the current Government has already made this task harder for itself than need be. It has isolated and divided portfolios to cater for its own political need. For instance, Urban Infrastructure, Regional Development, and Cities all sit separate from each other.

It’s clear that the Turnbull Government has used the term “City Deals” as cover for a lack of a comprehensive urban policy plan.

Urban policy requires both the right policy framework and investment.

The Government’s track record in this area is poor. Between the September quarters of 2013 and 2015, public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 percent.

During the election campaign, the Government failed to support important public transport projects such as the Brisbane Cross River Rail, Perth Metronet, Adelink light rail, Western Sydney Rail and the Melbourne Metro.

Funding for public transport remains an essential component of addressing the challenge of congestion in our cities.

This, coupled with policies which create jobs closer to where people live, must be at the core of government economic policy objectives.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Cities.

 
This piece was first published in the Huffington Post Australia on 22 August 2016: http://huff.to/2bnY5me

Jun 14, 2016

Better transport links build jobs – Opinion – The Australian

If there is one thing in the election campaign that attracts broad agreement, it is that Australia needs to diversify its economic base to secure future jobs growth.

With the decline in the investment boom in the mining sector, Australia needs to fill the gap by creating new, 21st century industries as well expanding traditional industries such as food production.

That’s why research and innovation, education and high-end manufacturing are essential components of a future agenda.

Infrastructure is central to this debate.

If we are to create new industries that produce new exports, or if our agricultural producers are to expand their exports to meet the growing food needs of Asia, we must ensure our transport infrastructure has the capacity to support those industries.

We need efficient roads, rail freight, ports and intermodal connections. And they all need to fit together seamlessly. An efficient transport network boosts productivity, creates jobs and, by its success, continues to drive further economic growth.

Innovation is a great thing. But it means little if we can’t back up our great ideas with the means to turn them into great export industries.

That’s where the government has failed over the past three years.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, public sector infrastructure investment fell 20 per cent between the September quarter of 2013 and the September quarter of last year.

At the very time when capital investment was dropping off in mining, we needed to lift infrastructure investment to generate ongoing economic activity and to prepare for the diversification of industry we all agree needs to occur.

That we failed is a mistake.

A great example is the proposed inland rail project, which would link Brisbane and Melbourne and expedite movement of goods, particularly agricultural exports, up and down the nation’s eastern coastal hinterland.

It’s an essential piece of infrastructure if we are serious about boosting agricultural exports. That’s why the former Labor government engaged in the necessary planning and allocated $300 million to get the project going — money that was in the budget at the change of government in 2013.

The former Labor government also spent $600m upgrading part of the existing rail network that would be part of inland rail.

In the 2013 election campaign, the Coalition vowed it would fast-track this important project. But in its first two budgets, the ­Coalition did not allocate any new money to the project beyond the $300m provided in the former Labor government’s budget.

It finally allocated some funding in last month’s budget. But it has yet to nominate a starting date.

Inland rail should be under construction right now. The planning has been done. It’s ready to go.

The Coalition’s failure to act on this project over the past three years is completely out of kilter with its claimed support for economic diversification.

We also need to ensure our ports have the capacity to handle our exports, which is why, for example, a Labor government would invest $175m to complete the duplication of the Port Botany rail freight line.

It’s also why the former Labor government created the nation’s first National Freight Strategy and National Ports Strategy, both of which were designed to guide the integration of different modes of transport and eliminate bottlenecks.

In the same spirit, we invested more than $1bn in Sydney’s Moorebank Intermodal terminal which will allow for rapid movement of containers between trucks and trains.

It’s also why Labor built or rebuilt 7500km of roads and 4000km of rail lines when we were in office.

That work will reduce the freight rail journey from the nation’s east coast to the west coast by nine hours and the Brisbane to Melbourne journey by six hours.

This investment took Australia from 20th among advanced economies for investment in infrastructure when we came to government, to first when we left office.

New industries also need top-class communications. They need Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network.

It is absurd to pretend that a forward-looking, innovative ­nation can prosper with the ­Coalition’s copper-based fraudband project, which will offer half the speeds promised at twice the price.

While infrastructure and logistics seldom make front page news, this type of investment will underwrite our nation’s attempt to build new industries based on the fruits of our research and innovation.

That’s a process that needs to continue. At this time in our history, a 20 per cent reduction in public sector infrastructure investment is the last thing we need.

There’s one other critical ­element in economic diversification.

Australia’s greatest national asset is our people. To prosper in the 21st century, the Australian people need the education and skills required in the 21st century.

That’s why Labor wants to invest in needs-based education, including vocational training through a revitalised TAFE sector.

Education benefits the individual. But it also benefits our entire nation.

 

This Opinion Piece was first published in The Australian on Tuesday,14 June 2016.

May 19, 2016

Walking and cycling tracks should be part of all new road and rail projects – Opinion – The Guardian

Stuck in traffic in my Sydney electorate last week, I couldn’t help but notice that cyclists were moving much more quickly than I was in my car.

Watching cyclists moving though the traffic gridlock, I was reminded that if governments are smart, they do everything within their power to encourage people to cycle.

Cycling improves people’s health. But just as importantly, it reduces traffic congestion by taking cars off the road.

In February Infrastructure Australia warned that without action, traffic congestion will cost Australia $53bn a year in lost productivity by 2031.

Reduced productivity means fewer jobs are created. So we must act.

The most obvious point of attack is to invest in better public transport, knowing that one packed commuter train takes literally hundreds of cars off our roads.

But encouraging people to walk or cycle also reduces congestion, while also promoting better health outcomes for walkers and cyclists.

That’s why we need to address the barriers which discourage people from cycling in our cities.

In 2011, the former Labor government funded the Australian Bicycle Council to prepare a five-year national cycling strategy – a blueprint for the promotion of greater use of bicycles and greater safety for cyclists.

Since then the council has worked with state and local governments and interest groups to deliver road safety improvements, integrated government planning and investment in cycling paths, consistency in design guidance for bicycle infrastructure and the publication of research on cycling to inform policymakers.

The Turnbull government has failed to continue the funding, which runs out this year.

Labor will support a new five-year national cycling strategy from 2017 to 2022 and fund the Australian Bicycle Council to continue its work.

We’ll also use Infrastructure Australia to work with other levels of government to increase investment in cycling infrastructure.

Under existing arrangements, when states seek commonwealth funding for new roads and railway lines, the federal government requires Infrastructure Australia to review proposals to ensure they represent value for public money.

If elected on 2 July, I will ask Infrastructure Australia to add another criterion to its assessments – whether it makes sense to incorporate active transport infrastructure like cycling and walking tracks as part of new road and rail projects.

If, for example, we are building a new road, it makes sense to consider whether we might include an adjacent bikeway at the same time. That would begin to address safety concerns of some potential cyclists who worry about sharing the road with cars.

In the same way, when we build a new railway line, we should ensure new train stations are accessible via safe walking and cycling tracks and that they offer space for people to safely store their bicycles.

We should be aiming for a situation where networks of well-lit, secure walking and cycling tracks connect communities to schools, shopping and recreational facilities and, above all, to bus and train stations.

Adding the active travel mandate to Infrastructure Australia’s review process will help achieve this vision.

When last in government, Labor worked with other levels of government to establish the first-ever National Cycling Infrastructure Fund as part of our broad push to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities.

Consistent with that approach, Labor is today announcing we would be prepared to jointly fund the Greenway project in Sydney’s Inner West – a 5.8km corridor of cycling and walking tracks along the area’s existing light rail route.

Another issue that effects people’s willingness to ride to work is the provision of end-of-trip facilities like showers, lockers and bicycle parking in workplaces.

Developers of big office buildings are already responding to tenants’ demands for end-of-trip facilities, with the International Towers building in Sydney’s Barangaroo development to include 1,000 bike racks and an on-site bike repair shop, but only 600 car parking spaces.

Cycling to and from work is not for everyone.

But I am convinced that sensible government policy can encourage many more Australians to leave their car at home.

It’s good for their health, good for the climate and also great for the economy.

This Opinion Piece was first published on the The Guardian website on Thursday, 19 May 2016.

 

 

May 17, 2016

No time to waste on public transport – Opinion – SBS

One of the best ways to improve your performance in any endeavour is to improve your time management.

The less time you waste mucking around, the more time you have to focus on being productive – whether it is at work or study – or spending time with family and friends.

A similar dynamic applies to Australian cities, which are under such pressure from traffic congestion that they are becoming less productive by the year.

Indeed, just a few months ago Infrastructure Australia warned that unless we take action to reduce traffic congestion now, the problem will cost our nation $53 billion a year in lost productivity.

We need to act to protect economic and jobs growth, but also to protect our quality of life.

The starting point is improved public transport.

That’s why a Shorten Labor Government will invest heavily in public urban rail, including $500 million announced today for a light rail system in Adelaide.

We’ll have more to say on public transport as the campaign continues.

But the battle to lift productivity in our cities by attacking traffic congestion was well underway under the term of the previous Labor federal government.

In office, we worked with Infrastructure Australia to plan major public transport projects around the country including the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project and Adelaide’s Tonsley Park project.

We also allocated more than $4 billion in funding for these projects, including $500 million for light and heavy rail projects in Perth.

These projects should all be under construction now.

However, in 2013, the incoming Abbott Government cancelled the lot.

This bad decision was in line with former prime minister Tony Abbott’s bizarre view, outlined in his book Battle Lines, that Australians don’t want more public transport because they prefer to feel like “kings in their cars”.

The Coalition reallocated the investment into proposed toll roads including the discredited East-West Link in Melbourne, which has been scrapped, and the dud Perth Freight Link, which has been halted by the courts on environmental grounds.

The only Coalition toll road project still standing is Sydney’s Westconnex project, the budget for which has blown out from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.

So not only has the Coalition put the development of better public transport in the deep freeze for three years; it has also failed to achieve much progress on its preferred toll roads.

That goes part of the way to explaining why the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that infrastructure investment declined by 20 percent between the September quarters of 2013 and 2015.

While Mr Abbott’s successor Mr Turnbull says he wants to invest in public transport, the fact is he has retained all of Mr Abbott’s cuts to public transport.

Mr Turnbull likes to ride trains, buses and trams to get his picture in the paper, but he has not allocated a dollar of new funding.

Indeed, the only funding he has announced during the election campaign – $43 million for the Tonsley Park project in Adelaide – is not new money. It has been taken from cuts to that city’s Goodwood to Torrens freight rail project.

And, of course, the Coalition cut funding for the Tonsley Park project when it came to office.

If he wants to be taken seriously, Mr Turnbull must restore all of Mr Abbott’s public transport cuts and then outline his plans for the next wave of productivity-enhancing public transport projects.

Demographic changes facing our nation mean there is no time to waste.

There has been a clear shift the shift in the past decade in the location of jobs growth in Australia.

In previous decades, many Australians worked in the suburbs in industries like manufacturing and could afford to live near their workplaces.

But with manufacturing in decline, the strong growth in jobs is now in and around central business districts in service sectors like banking, insurance and information technology.

The problem is average income earners cannot afford homes close to their jobs in the city, meaning more and more people have to commute from the suburbs to our city centres.

It’s a tragedy that because of this problem many parents spend more time in their cars each day than they spend playing with their children.

Better roads are part of the solution, along with addressing housing affordability, encouraging people to use active transport like walking and cycling and promoting jobs growth in the suburbs.

But the central pillar in our nation’s attack on traffic congestion must be more public transport.

If we make the right choices now we will boost economic productivity in cities, which is essential to maintain economic and jobs growth.

 

This Opinion Piece was first published on the SBS website on Tuesday, 17 May 2016.

Apr 28, 2016

Beware of politicians who tell you they can deliver the world for free – Opinion – Huffington Post

When Malcolm Turnbull announces his long-awaited urban policy on Friday, only one question will matter: whether he is prepared to invest directly in public transport in our cities.

Turnbull must reverse more than $4bn in cuts to public transport projects around the nation made by the incoming Coalition government in 2013 and announce further public transport investment moving ahead.

The need to address the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our nation’s cities is urgent.

Late last year Infrastructure Australia warned that unless we act now, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53bn in lost productivity a year by 2031. Lower productivity means our economy will produce fewer jobs.

It’s that simple.

When he was campaigning to oust Tony Abbott throughout the first part of 2015, Turnbull sought to show support for public transport by incessantly tweeting pictures of himself riding buses, trains and trams.

But since he took office, Turnbull has failed to invest any new money in public transport.

The infrastructure plan sounds great. But what to build and how to fund it?

There has been no restoration of the funding cuts to critical public transport projects including the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, Adelaide’s Tonsley Park and Gawler Line electrification projects or $500m allocated to light and heavy rail in Perth.

At the same time, we have seen a series of leaks on urban policy about the concept of value capture as a means of funding infrastructure.

Value capture is based on the fact that when governments invest in new infrastructure, property values in the vicinity of the project increase and can be taxed to help pay for the project.

A government might, for example, sell the space above a railway station to the developer of a new shopping centre and use the proceeds to help pay for the railway line.

Value capture can be a useful means of assisting governments to meet the burden of delivering infrastructure.

But let’s be clear. Value capture augments government investment; it does not replace it.

If the government is suggesting that existing property owners whose property values are potentially enhanced by new projects should be hit with a new tax, it should come out and say so.

Beware of politicians who tell you they can deliver the world for free, particularly when it comes to building roads and railway lines.

In a recent leak to one newspaper, Turnbull seemed to suggest that he believed that value capture could fund the construction of a high speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Melbourne.

That is absurd unless he proposes a new tax on existing property owners.

Value capture is not a new concept. It has been used around the world for decades.

The former Labor federal government incorporated value capture into plans to build the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link – the projects halted by Abbott and Turnbull in 2013.

In March of 2015, I announced with NSW Labor leader Luke Foley support for a Western Sydney rail link through Badgerys Creek Airport to be funded in part through value capture.

It was rejected by the federal Coalition government.

Since then the Labor government in Victoria has produced a new proposal for the Melbourne Metro which also include elements of value capture.

But Turnbull has refused to commit to fund the Metro, instead continuing to quarantine $3 billion to spend on Melbourne’s discredited East West Link – a dud toll road project that would produce only 45 cents public benefit for every dollar invested.

The bottom line is that value capture to fund public transport projects means little unless it is backed up by direct investment.

Labor has already outlined plans to focus on public transport if elected to government later this year.

We’ll invest directly and create a $10 billion infrastructure financing facility to be administered by Infrastructure Australia, which will work with the private sector, to get projects up and running, including through value capture.

Australia has unfortunately wasted three years when it comes to addressing the need for better public transport in cities, which are home to four out of five Australians.

It’s time to get cracking.

This piece was first published in the Huffington Post on Thursday 28 April 2016: http://bit.ly/1WqJruK

Apr 14, 2016

Traffic congestion in southeast a driving concern – Opinion – The Courier Mail

As legendary American author Mark Twain noted, action speaks much louder than words, just not nearly as often.

In the past six months Australians have heard many words about the importance of Commonwealth involvement in improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities.

Those words are a refreshing change from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s insistence that the Federal Government had no business involving itself in urban Australia.

If cities are not efficient, they inhibit economic and jobs growth and compromise the quality of life of the four out of five Australians who call them home.

However, before we get too excited about the new policy bipartisanship, there is unfinished business – undoing Abbott’s ill-considered cuts to Commonwealth investment in public transport.

Late last year Infrastructure Australia pointed out that traffic congestion will cost this nation more than $53 billion a year in lost productivity by 2031 unless we take action to tackle the problem now.

For anyone who is serious about improving Australian cities, public transport is the only possible starting point.

And for anyone who understands the social and economic challenges of southeast Queensland, the long-proposed Cross River Rail project must surely be the most-urgent public transport project in the country.

Brisbane’s CBD has only one bridge crossing the Brisbane River that is capable of carrying trains – the Merivale Bridge.

That bridge is running out of capacity. It can take a maximum of 24 trains an hour. But within five years, demand will reach 28 trains an hour.

Failure to provide a second crossing by that time will reduce the state’s productivity and economic growth.

Declining economic growth equals fewer jobs for Queenslanders. It’s that simple.

The former Labor government proposed a new rail crossing including a 10km tunnel between Yeerongpilly and the CBD, as well as four new underground railway stations at Woolloongabba, Boggo Road, Albert Street and Roma Street.

In 2013, we allocated funding for the project on the advice of the independent experts at Infrastructure Australia who in 2012 listed CRR at the very top of the organisation’s national priority list, classifying it as “ready to proceed’’.

However, the incoming Mr Abbott withdrew funding, forcing the Newman state government to set about designing a cheaper alternative – a second-rate solution for a first-rate city.

The incoming Labor State Government has since gone back to the drawing board, last week producing plans for a new incarnation of the project and promising to produce a business case by the middle of the year for consideration by Infrastructure Australia.

While the new design must go through the proper process of Infrastructure Australia assessment to ensure it represents value for public money, the Commonwealth must work with the state to deliver action on public transport in southeast Queensland.

Time is running out.

That’s why the project is on federal Labor’s list of 10 major infrastructure priorities, announced by Bill Shorten at the Brisbane Media Club late last year.

Investment in public transport in Brisbane is not just an economic necessity. It’s also a quality-of-life issue.

Too many hardworking Queenslanders are spending increasing periods of time driving to and from work on clogged roads – a situation worsened by the fact that jobs growth is increasingly concentrated in and around Australia’s central business districts, where many average income-earners cannot afford to buy homes.

Instead, they live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they can afford a home but where jobs are scarce. The daily commute is getting longer.

Every weekday morning and evening too, many Queenslanders are literally watching their quality of life passing away from them like the white line in their rear vision mirror. Addressing this problem through better public transport, in conjunction with better city planning and design, will not only help secure a prosperous economic future, but also make real improvements in the way average Australians experience their lives.

 

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

This piece appears today in The Courier-Mail http://bit.ly/1VqA1AJ

Apr 13, 2016

We must untangle our approach to urban policy in Australian citites – Opinion – Huffington Post Australia

Talking is easy, but concrete action is always a challenge.

We’ve heard much lately from the Turnbull Government about its determination to involve itself in policies to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities.

This move to bipartisanship on urban policy is a welcome change from the Government’s former rejection of a Commonwealth role in cities, despite the fact that they are home to four out of five Australians.

But one of the problems is defining exactly what the Commonwealth can do in this complex policy space. Labor has a 10-point plan that provides the perfect starting point.

I released it at the National Press Club in September 2014.

Its key principle is that the Commonwealth should work with state governments and councils to invest directly in integrated urban transport systems that include both roads and public transport.

The idea that Canberra can only fund roads and that only states can fund rail projects belongs in a museum.

Worsening traffic congestion is a threat to the national economy and that is everybody’s business.

Indeed, late last year, Infrastructure Australia produced a report warning that without action now, traffic congestion will cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031.

We need the right mixture of roads and rail, investing scarce taxpayers’ money on whichever mode of transport best meets the community’s needs.

The best way to get that mix right is to follow the independent advice of Infrastructure Australia, created by the former Labor Federal Government in 2008, to take the politics out of infrastructure by promoting evidence-based decision-making.

Another weapon in the fight against traffic congestion is investment in active transport solutions such as walking and cycling as a means to make it easier for people to choose to leave their cars at home.

More walking and cycling tracks, as well as more bicycle racks and storage areas around bus and train stops would be a good start.

Housing affordability is another critical urban-policy issue.

One of the greatest problems facing urban planners in 2016 is the fact jobs growth is shifting from the suburbs in industries such as manufacturing into inner-city areas in service industries such as finance, insurance and information technology.

While those new jobs are welcome, the problem is that in most capital cities, average income earners cannot afford to buy homes near CBDs. They live in the drive-in, drive-out suburbs, where housing is affordable but jobs are scarce.

This worsening problem requires a range of responses, including measures to make housing more affordable such as reform of negative gearing and promotion of greater housing densities along established public transport corridors. However, not everyone wants to live in an inner-city unit.

Governments must also promote more jobs growth in suburban areas, closer to where people live.

One way is to support the ongoing development of second and third CBDs such as Parramatta and Chatswood in Sydney, Box Hill in Melbourne, Chermside in Brisbane and Woden and Belconnen in Canberra.

We can also take pressure off our capital cities by supporting growth in regional capital cities such as Townsville, Newcastle, Wollongong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

We need to ensure that development of such centres is not held back by inadequate infrastructure.

We should also invest in research at hospitals and universities to create diverse research precincts and optimise the job-creating potential of major projects such as Sydney’s Badgerys Creek Airport.

If Badgerys Creek is connected to the city’s existing rail network, we will encourage the establishment of more aviation-related businesses in its vicinity.

Development of a National Broadband Network that connects fibre cable to homes and businesses, rather than to a box on a street corner, will also help.

State-of-the-art broadband will make it easier for some businesses to establish themselves in suburban areas — away from high rents in metropolitan CBDs and closer to where workers can afford to live.

A top class NBN will also allow more people to work from home.

Labor’s 10-Point Plan for Better Cities also includes rejuvenation of urban waterways, more sustainable building design and use of renewable energy and greater attention to liveability through more and better parks and an increase in tree cover.

Putting this all together, there is no doubt that governments have it within their power to make real improvements to urban Australia — changes that will not only boost their economic productivity but also enhance the quality of life of millions of Australians.

All it requires is the political will to work together.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Cities.

This piece was first published in the Huffington Post on 13 April 2016: http://huff.to/1Sejmzm

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