Sep 29, 2014

Speech to Australasian Bus and Coach Conference Dinner

Last week I gave an address at the National Press Club in Canberra.

On that day, Bill Shorten added to my responsibilities the designation of Shadow Minister for Cities.

I can’t think of a better organisation than the Bus Industry Confederation to give my first major speech since that announcement.

Cities matter.

They produce 80 per cent of national GDP and they are home to four out of five Australians.

If we want a strong economy, it’s vital that our cities are efficient.

We need them to drive the productivity gains that generate jobs growth.

The purpose of my speech was to highlight to Australians that the commonwealth needs to provide policy leadership and investment to ensure our cities are productive, sustainable and liveable.

As Gough Whitlam at his 1972 election campaign launch, a government that has no interest in urban policy has nothing to say about the life of our nation.

While that’s Labor’s approach, the current government, like its conservative predecessors, believes urban policy is best left to other levels of government.

Unfortunately, this means urban policy remains one of the great divides of Australian politics.

Labor wants a national conversation about what governments can do to make our cities more efficient.

Their efficiency is not just important for the sake of the Australian economy.

It’s also important for the well-being of the Australian people.

My message to you tonight is that you must be a part of that conversation.

I’m pleased the Bus Industry Confederation has agreed to join Labor’s new Urban Policy Dialogue which I announced last week.

I’m looking forward to your input into a genuine effort at framing a responsive and forward looking policy.

One of the big challenges the dialogue will consider concerns the growing mismatch between population and jobs growth in our cities.

For decades, population growth in our nation has been based in the suburbs where housing has been most affordable.

And until quite recently, growing suburban populations have found jobs near their homes in sectors like manufacturing and retailing.

But changes to our economy have changed the nature of our cities.

The rise of the digital age has seen jobs growth shift from the suburbs to the inner-city in knowledge-intensive sectors like financial services and information technology.

The fact that jobs and population growth are no longer geographically aligned has created a new phenomenon in this nation – the drive-in, drive-out suburb – the place where people live, but can’t find work.

People working in your industry see this every day.

Many of the commuters in the buses you operate are taking long, multiple-sector trips.

And many of the commuters who share your industry’s workplace – our nation’s roads – are driving increasingly long distances each day to work.

Commuting has always been part of suburban life.

But the demographic shifts at play here are making our trips longer and longer, making our roads increasingly congested.

Many parents spend more time in their cars than they spend at home with their children.

These changes also challenge social inclusion.

Social mobility is part of Australia’s heritage. You can grow up in public housing and rise to the office of Deputy Prime Minister.

But if low-income Australians are unable to access better-paid jobs in the city, we risk entrenching disadvantage.

That’s not what this country is about.

The world’s most successful cities are not isolated collections of privilege and disadvantage where a person’s income is defined by their postcode.

Diversity is the key to a successful city.

I like the idea of a 30-minute city, where people’s work, entertainment, schools and medical services are all located within 30 minutes’ walk, ride or public transport journey from their homes.

I know your organisation would like to see a 20-minute city.

I admire your ambition.

Whatever our vision, we won’t achieve it without hard work.

Doing nothing is not an option.

We need policy responses that address the health of our cities.

In the case of drive-in, drive-out suburbs, here’s ten ideas that will help.

  1. Investing in properly integrated transport systems involving public transport and roads;
  2. Investing in active transport solutions which connect up with public transport, education and employment hubs;
  3. Addressing housing affordability through the use of urban planning, land supply and use of incentives;
  4. Aligning greater housing density with public transport corridors;
  5. Promoting jobs growth in outer suburbs. This could be through direct investment such as Badgerys Creek Airport and Moorebank Intermodal project, or by giving consideration to incentives for 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;
  8. Supporting renewable energy including buildings and precincts that produce their own power in new developments;
  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;

10. Cooperation between Governments to promote the development of second or third CBD’s to decentralize jobs growth.

There are more good ideas out there.

But there’s one thing I know: The answers to the challenges facing cities are too complex to be solved just by building more toll roads.

I know roads are a critical part of the answer.

As Minister for Infrastructure and Transport in the Rudd and Gillard governments I doubled road funding.

But roads built for cars are not enough.

We need designated bus lanes on major roads and rules that give preference to buses which are the major form of public transportation across our vast nation.

We need an integrated transport system involving roads and rail – in whichever combination delivers the best productivity outcomes.

We need to tackle the full range of policy areas that bear upon cities.

They include housing affordability, public transport, land supply, city planning and public access to services.

If everyone with a stake in cities makes a contribution and if governments are prepared to work together to deliver outcomes that put people first, we can make our cities truly great.

Saying you can fix cities just by building more roads is about as useful as claiming you can address climate change simply by planting more trees.

We need to lift productivity, but we need to do it in a way that is in line with Australian values of equity and opportunity.

We need to preserve what is great about this country.

If you are a regular television viewer you might have noticed there’s a bit of an obsession in this country with programs about home renovation.

Australians are interested in working to improve their homes.

They also want to get the best out of their cities.

It’s time for a renovation rescue of urban Australia.

I look forward to working with you on this policy renovation.