Oct 20, 2016

Bills – Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:54): I want to take the opportunity to raise the issue of cities. Of course, I am somewhat concerned that whilst the new Prime Minister has said that he is concerned about the urban agenda and cities, he has in fact downgraded the role to the role of a parliamentary secretary and has not reversed any of the significant changes that were made by the Abbott government. Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, explicitly said there was no role for the Commonwealth in our cities. The Major Cities Unit remains disbanded, as does the Urban Policy Forum. Infrastructure Australia has been marginalised, and the State of Australian Cities reports have failed to be produced under this government.

Indeed, when you look at cities policy, urban congestion and support for public transport needs to be at the forefront. The budget papers show that in 2019-20—that is, the last year of the forward estimates—public transport funding and funding for rail transport will fall to a very round number that the assistant minister should be able to remember, because it is zero. Not a single dollar is allocated in 2019-20 for public transport by this government. That is because the public transport projects that were funded by the previous government—like the Redcliffe rail line, Gold Coast Light Rail, and the Regional Rail Link in Victoria—have of course all been opened, same as the Noarlunga to Seaford line in Adelaide and the Perth City Link. That is of considerable concern.

I am also concerned about the government’s support for what it calls City Deals, which really look to me as though they are just matching Labor government commitments. Certainly, in Townsville and in Launceston, that is all it did, including the former member for Herbert—it might explain why he is the former member for Herbert. It held out and opposed the funding of the Townsville stadium, which would be a part of revitalising Townsville as a city. The government belatedly matched that, missed out on the euphoria of the Cowboys’ win in last year’s grand final and could not even pick up on the importance of that for that city.

In Tasmania it simply matched the funding for the University of Tasmania that had been announced many months before by Labor. I would be interested in which councils will be involved in the proposed City Deal for Western Sydney. A City Deal is supposed to encourage economic growth across a region. What is the actual budget for City Deals beyond that which have been announced in the guise of City Deals by this government across the forward estimates? If it is going to be real—certainly, I think there is some prospect of some success here—it needs to be more than a political exercise, matching Labor’s funding commitments.

Finally, I would ask: why is it that the Australian government is not participating in Habitat III, which is taking place as we speak in Quito in Ecuador? This is a once-in-20-years conference that is as significant as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or other major conferences. The UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development is critical. The new urban agenda was proposed as part of the Paris conference that the Australian government participated in. This is a very significant conference indeed. There are 50,000 participants in this conference—governments from all around the world acknowledging that how cities function will be critical to sustainability and dealing with the challenge of climate change. The Australian government has chosen not to be represented at this conference. I just wonder if there is a reason?