Closing Keynote Address
Tourist and Transport Forum – Global Cities 08 Conference
October 22 2008, Sydney
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government,
Leader of the House,
Federal Member for Grayndler
Australian cities are the pulse of our nation.
Our capital cities alone accounted for 78 per cent of Australia’s economic growth to the five years to 2006.
If Australia is to maintain our prosperity, our cities must become more productive, more competitive, more innovative.
At the same time they must be sustainable.
We must remember that all of the above is a means to an end – the end is to make our cities more liveable and to improve the quality of life and sense of community for all who live in them.
For this to happen we must have a long term vision for our cities.
Just as previous generations of Australians dared to think about building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we must dare to think about how our cities can best grow and prosper.
We have transitioned from horse drawn drays which rattled through Sydney’s narrow dockside streets to the railway boom of the 1880s, trams on street corners, the cult of the car, and more recently our fascination of budget air travel.
We must determine what we want our cities to look and feel like in 10, 20 or 50 years time.
This requires decision makers to come together today to debate, resolve, plan and above all to act.
It also requires public engagement in this process.
Meeting the climate change challenge requires a whole of government approach which must include the planning of our cities.
We must engage in the debate about the impact of alternative urban policy visions on climate change.
For example, this is an important context when we are debating the planning of higher density housing alongside better public transport corridors.
Or considering decentralised commercial centres which minimise the need for people to travel long distances to work, and provide community infrastructure where people live.
The retreat by the Commonwealth from engaging in urban policy over the last decade meant that upon coming into office last December there was little expertise in the Commonwealth bureaucracy on these issues.
The Rudd Government is determined to turn that around.
We know that as national and local priorities converge, we must work across all levels of government and in collaboration with the private sector.
And we know that it is the role of the Federal Government to provide the coordination and leadership needed to turn our vision into a reality.
Driving urban development is not new to Labor Governments – we understand the importance of better cities for our economy, for our environment, and for society.
My mentor Tom Uren led a shake up of thinking about managing Australia’s cities in the early 1970s.
The work to revive our cities continued under the Hawke-Keating Government’s Building Better Cities Program.
In Sydney, this translated into the development of Parramatta and Blacktown in Western Sydney and the revitalisation of Ultimo and Pyrmont – the very area where this conference takes place.
Conferences such as today will help to build the momentum that is needed in the development of urban policy.
In our first year the Rudd Government has taken decisive action to renew the Commonwealth’s commitment to urban Australia.
We have put nation building back on the agenda and backed that up with a funding commitment of $76 billion.
In the May Budget we announced the $20 billion Building Australia Fund to modernise our infrastructure.
We’ve already allocated $12.6 billion to it and intend to make further commitments from future budget surpluses.
In addition to the Building Australia Fund we’re providing $11 billion for the Education Investment Fund and $10 billion for the Health and Hospitals Investment Fund.
And of course we have made a $26 billion investment in our roads and rail through the AusLink program.
The Government is also looking beyond public sector financing.
If we are to meet the infrastructure deficit we must mobilise private investment funding through public private partnerships, and maximise available capital such as in superannuation funds.
With the creation of an independent advisory body, Infrastructure Australia, made up of representatives from three levels of government as well as the private sector, we have put in place a structure that reflects the need to mobilise the Commonwealth, State and Local Government as well as industry.
I believe that with the reforms the Government has made, we have got the foundations in place to move forward in our cities and across the nation.
MAJOR CITIES UNIT
And move forward we will.
That’s why the Government has created the Major Cities Unit which is attached to Infrastructure Australia.
This initiative puts the Federal Government squarely back in the business of urban policy and planning.
The Major Cities Unit will provide advice to the Government on urban development, public transport improvements and other issues affecting the productivity, competitiveness, sustainability and liveability of Australia’s cities.
It will enable consideration of urban policies in their proper context. Consideration of transport, energy, water, communications and community infrastructure networks as a whole, rather than as unconnected issues.
Today I’m pleased to announce the appointment of Dorte Ekelund as head of the Major Cities Unit.
Dorte is no stranger to the challenges of land, transport and infrastructure planning.
She has over 25 years of experience in the urban development sector, most recently as Deputy Director-General of the Department for Planning and Infrastructure in Western Australia, and Deputy Chief Planning Executive in the Australian Capital Territory.
She has been involved extensively in the implementation of urban frameworks which have sustainability at their core.
She has also developed strategies to manage urban congestion, making greater use of rail to transport freight, and addressing the challenges of climate change, coastal vulnerability and demographic changes.
Dorte’s experience in major project coordination across several jurisdictions will be of immense value to the Unit.
I look forward to Dorte Ekelund and the Major Cities Unit making a significant contribution to urban policy.
The first objective of the Major Cities Unit is to improve productivity through action to reduce urban congestion and ensure people and goods move efficiently across our cities – key drivers of the national economy
Sustainability is the second objective.
Projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the population of Sydney could grow to 7.6 million by 2056.
Already 4 out of 5 Australians live in urban areas making Australia one of the most urbanised societies in the world.
The way our major cities evolve and grow will play a major role in addressing the significant national challenges of carbon pollution, urban congestion and water security.
The Major Cities Unit will help to avoid “growing pains” by supporting integrated policies for sustainable land-use planning, building and infrastructure investment.
The third objective, liveability, will ensure communities are better planned around jobs, families, public transport options, schools, services, shops and parks.
We can’t re-write the genetic code of Australia’s cities, but we can work together on how they evolve.
I do not want a top-down Canberra imposed solution. The Unit will consult closely with, and assist governments, Infrastructure Australia, urban councils, business and the community to develop better policies for our major cities.
To be successful, the Major Cities Unit must lead a coordinated “whole of government” response by the Commonwealth.
A NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENT
In particular, we know that to really make a difference we need reform and action on the ground, in our neighbourhoods and our local communities.
That’s why the Rudd Government’s nation-building agenda includes local government – the level of government closest to the people.
We are committed to a new cooperative engagement with local government – the third arm of the Australian Federation.
Next month, Australian mayors, shire presidents, chairpersons and local government peak bodies will attend the first meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government at Parliament House.
This is an unprecedented event.
With most of the nation’s mayors already having confirmed their attendance, the event represents an opportunity to forge a new, nation-building partnership with local communities.
It is the most significant step forward for local government since the 1970s when the then Labor Government introduced Financial Assistance Grants to support services at the local government level.
The meeting will address the challenges in building national and local infrastructure to boost our economic capacity and improve the quality of life in our communities.
We know local government plays an important role in the national economy – their activities were worth $22.1 billion in 2006-07 and 168,000 jobs.
And the services they provide make a difference to the life of many Australians.
That’s why the Rudd Government will establish a new community infrastructure fund from next year to support projects that improve quality of life and economic opportunities in local communities.
MAJOR CITIES FEASIBILITY STUDIES
As I said earlier coordination and action across all levels of government is critical.
We have provided $75 million for state governments to undertake a series of extensive studies on projects that have the potential to unclog city roads.
In Sydney, studies include the proposed Western Metro, or Green Line, between Parramatta and the CBD; and improvements to the M5 transport corridor from Port Botany and the airport to south west Sydney.
In Melbourne, solutions to the congestion on the Western Ring Road will be explored and scoped; and a study will assess the east-west projects identified by Sir Rod Eddington in his report to the Victorian Government.
In Perth, a study will identify key transport needs and routes, including public transport, servicing Perth Airport.
And in Brisbane, planning is being accelerated to upgrade the Gateway Motorway missing links. In addition, work has already begun on planning studies to upgrade the Bruce Highway to improve traffic flow in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Gladstone.
I recognise that we face similar urban challenges to other global cities.
This conference has provided a valuable opportunity to tap into a global knowledge source and share our collective experiences.
If we can take inspiration from ideas from around the world, while recognising the individual character and diversity of our cities, I am confident we will leave a worthwhile legacy for future generations.
We must think globally and act locally.
So we can make our great cities even greater.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.