Jan 20, 2012

Building More Liveable Cities – An Urban Policy Forum


I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the country and pay my respect to their elders past and present.

We need to acknowledge that there were people here for many years; thousands of years; tens of thousands of years who actually understood the relationship between country and their communities or their nations in terms of sustainability and in terms of ensuring that respect was given to the land.

It is great to have you here in Sydney. I’m a proud Sydney resident and to see all these great people committed to turning your minds to our new Urban Design Protocol, which I’ll speak about shortly.

I must say that I am greatly encouraged at the level of public backing for our engagement with cities. When I became the Federal Minister I asked about what planning took place in the department and essentially over a period of time it had disappeared because there was a view that the Commonwealth wasn’t in the business of cities; that that was someone else’s responsibility in State and Local Government.

I’m firmly of the view that any national Government that seeks to truly represent the nation must be engaged with our cities, not against our regional communities but together because at the end of day there is an important relationship between our cities urban policy and regional development and I’m sure that those of you who are here by your presence in this room are certainly a part of that.

Today’s workshop is yet more evidence that there is great goodwill across all levels of Government and industry for this work. I’d like to take the opportunity this morning to announce that I am setting up the Urban Policy Forum that was foreshadowed in our urban policy that we released last year.

The forum will be chaired by the Secretary of my Department, Mike Mrdak, and will include a range of Government and industry experts. I’m very pleased that former Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, has agreed to participate in the forum as his first commitment in post-Parliamentary life. Those of you who know – well all of you would know that there’s been no state leader of any political party of any State or Territory in modern times who has been more engaged with urban policy, urban design and development and our cities than Mike Rann. And I’m very pleased that he will be participating in that.

The other former politician is of course Brian Howe who played such a critical role in terms of the Better Cities Program. In addition to that there are a range of peak organisations represented on the forum. Everyone from the Business Council of Australia, Property Council, planners, the Australian Architects – different people, different organisations. We’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible whilst not making it a forum that needs to be held in an auditorium; one that can be held in a room.

But of course for those of you who aren’t directly on that body, certainly you will know someone who is. If not, you shouldn’t be in this room. The forum will meet at least twice a year. Its agenda is broad and certainly will continue to have, as I have, and through the Major Cities Unit through [indistinct] leadership, access and participation on a broader level as well.

So, certainly I think that you’ll be pleased when you see the list. Apologies for the inevitable error in leaving someone off who should be on there. Those things inevitably do occur.

Let me briefly recap on our achievements last year which was indeed a milestone for urban policy. We toured the nation; we visited all 18 major cities to hear views on the development of the National Urban Policy. That followed the release in 2010, of our research and discussion paper. Last May, we released the much anticipated National Urban Policy: Our Cities Our Future that set the framework for future policy and investment in our cities.

We also announced in the Federal Budget the $20 million Liveable Cities Program. Applications for that program closed in December and my department is currently assessing 170 applications for projects all designed to improve the liveability of our cities.

In October we launched the second State of Australian Cities report. I believe the interest that greeted this report has astonished even the keenest cities experts. I launched it in Brisbane before an audience of Commonwealth planners during CHOGM. Before they had even left the city early in the afternoon, it had been downloaded 70,000 times leading to the near crash of my Department’s server. We’ve actually had to upgrade it as a result of our engagement with cities policy. Within a few days it had reach 150,000 full downloads and is now approaching the 400,000 mark.

Then in October we announced $58 million to fund two Cooperative Research Centres, both highly relevant to the urban agenda. They are the CRC for Low Carbon Living and the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities. Both vitally important areas of research for the future sustainability of our cities.

And just prior to Christmas the COAG Reform Council finalised its evaluation of capital city planning systems. These plans are critical. I’ve said publicly that future Federal Government infrastructure funding will be linked to these plans. I know that not all states were initially excited at the work that we ask of them but I think we all now agree that getting clear plans in place for the future – doing the hard thinking, the rigorous future planning – has been an invaluable exercise.

The results of the COAG evaluations will be released shortly. I’m sure the final report will paint a fascinating picture of how the States and Territories compare with each other and how they measure up to the nine criteria agreed by COAG to make our cities more productive, more sustainable, and more liveable.

In November I launched, at the University of Melbourne, Creating Places for People – an Urban Design Protocol for Australian Cities and its accompanying website. Today you are here to consider the longer term opportunities associated with that protocol. It has been a remarkable and a continuing collaboration first initiated by the Planning Officials Group and the Planning Institute of Australia then quickly backed by the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors.

There were significant contribution from Melbourne City Council and I’d like to acknowledge that Rob Adams is here today.

In the seven weeks since I launched the protocol, the website has been viewed some 65,000 times. Each day more organisations come forward to be champions of the protocol – 35 at last count representing all levels of Government, peak bodies, and the private sector. Thank you to all of you for your part in the creation of this protocol. The editorial board had input from more than 50 experts from their respective fields – a great effort indeed.

I understand that your task today is to work out how to take the Urban Design Protocol that step further; how it can encourage the finest urban design and architecture; how it can be incorporated into the daily processes of built environment professionals and local councils and how it will feed into sustainability ratings tools such as Green Star Communities and the Green Infrastructure rating tool.

I’ve been told that one of the exercises will be to think forward 15 years and try to predict what the protocol will have achieved; what you aspire to be its legacy. Looking back nearly 20 years the Hawke and Keating Governments launched a Building Better Cities Program which funded significant projects such as the clean up and redevelopment that we see across the road here in Ultimo/Pyrmont; the Honeysuckle Project in Newcastle that revitalised industrial land around the waterfront; the developments around East Perth and Subiaco that revitalised that part of the city.

Can I add that the Government is not just putting in place policies in terms of a policy framework; we’re also delivering in terms of projects.

A project that I’m particularly proud of that I think will make more of a difference than any single project that I can think of to a city is the Perth project in terms of sinking the railway line. People who know Perth will know that it’s a divided city. It’s absurd that you have this railway line through the middle of it dividing Northbridge from the CBD. This will make, I think, more of a difference than any other single project that I can think of because it’s the worst example of urban design that exists around the country.

Perth is a magical city. It was on show for CHOGM. The next time there’s a major event there it will be that much better and I know that there’s construction; certainly I’ve inspected the construction that’s underway there.

Prime Minister Keating also established an Urban Design Taskforce and the Prime Minister’s Award for Urban Design. That award is still current today and is given annually at Built Environment Meets Parliament. Prestigious award winners are featured as case studies on the Urban Design Protocol website.

The Gillard Government is picking up the threads of this legacy left by our Labor forebears. We’re doing it because it’s necessary. Our cities are simply too important to ignore; our future prosperity depends on them. It is something that takes a conscious decision. Development just allowed to take place without proper planning and without proper protocols in place is bad development that has an impact for generations to come to undo those bad decisions.

The great thing about the positive response to this Urban Design Protocol is the fact that there is a national recognition of the significance of this and the fact that the national Government, your Government, is now back in the business of cities.

I wish all of you the best of luck today. We certainly still have a big task ahead of us. Thank you again to each and every one of you for playing your part in this vital work. You’re part of our determination to make our cities more productive, more sustainable, and more liveable for all Australians and to do it in partnership – the three levels of Government, the private sector and community based organisations, many of which are represented here today.

I thank you for your attendance and your participation.