Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Speeches"
Nov 8, 2014

Speech: Denis Murphy and the power of communities

SUNSHINE COAST

Fellow True Believers,

It was US President Barack Obama who, in 2008, said people should not sit around waiting for other people to deliver change.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,’’ Obama said.

“We are the change we seek.’’

This week the nation gathered to honour the father of modern Australia, Gough Whitlam.

A man who changed Labor, and then changed the nation.

His extraordinary send off at Sydney Town Hall was a tribute not just to him, but to our movement which seeks to advance opportunity, equality, social justice regardless of gender, race or background.

Tonight, we gather to remember another man whose courage in fighting for change in the Australian Labor Party is the reason why many good judges name him one of the fathers of modern Labor in Queensland.

Denis Murphy was an academic, a teacher, a leader, a thinker, and sadly only briefly a Member of Parliament.

But above all, Denis Murphy was a visionary.

In the 1970s and 1980s Denis applied his intellect and work ethic to make the Queensland Branch of the Labor Party more professional, more dynamic, more representative and more electable.

As a historian and author, Denis scoured Labor’s history in this state to look for lessons to apply to the task of reform.

His efforts positioned the Australian Labor Party to put an end to the corruption and discord of the Bjelke-Petersen era.

Although his name is not nearly as widely known south of the Tweed, Denis was one of Queensland Labor’s greatest leaders.

We must remember our heroes, particularly those cut down too early in their careers.

But there’s another reason we should remember Denis.

His example reminds us that the great Australian Labor Party works best when it wrests power from the hands of power elites and positions itself squarely within the community mainstream.

That’s as important a lesson today as it was at the height of the Bjelke-Petersen era.

MURPHY THE MAN

Denis Joseph Patrick Murphy was born in 1936.

I haven’t been able to confirm this, but with a name like that I reckon he came from an Irish Catholic background.

His birthplace was Nambour and he was the youngest of nine children.

His father was a railway worker.

Nambour.

There must be something in the water there other than pineapple juice, because it was also the birthplace of my friends Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan.

Denis studied at Nudgee College and after school qualified as a physical education teacher, teaching at Redcliffe State High School between 1961 and 1965.

He was a sportsman who played A Grade cricket for Toombul.

Before long, books called him again.

Working night jobs including as a furniture removalist and a railway clerk, Denis completed a Bachelor of Arts and later a PhD at the University of Queensland.

By 1966 he was working full-time as a lecturer at the same university.

He continued that important work for the rest of his professional life.

In that capacity, Denis influenced the intellectual development of thousands of Queensland’s best young minds.

His courses in Australian history were extremely popular.

I’ve no doubt that his former students are now themselves prominent Queenslanders in teaching, academia, the law, journalism and a range of other disciplines.

Denis published widely, with his work on former Queensland Premier TJ Ryan still lauded as the best biography of any Queensland state politician.

He joined the Labor Party in 1964.

His study of Queensland Labor gave him insight into how the party had worked over the decades, from its glory days between 1915 and 1957 to its decades out of power.

1970s QUEENSLAND

These insights led Denis to the reform of Queensland Labor in the 1970s and 1980s.

Let’s cast our mind back to the 1970s in Queensland.

It was run by a right-wing populist.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a reactionary who wanted to run an ignorant state.

Bjelke-Petersen derided education and refused to introduce a prep year for Queensland schools, meaning Queenslanders were a year behind children in southern states when they finished school.

It was a corrupt state.

Police were on the take. Conservative politicians collected donations in brown paper bags.

It was a police state.

Protests were met with truncheons, as Denis experienced first-hand with a night in the clink for daring to protest against the Vietnam War.

It was a morally bankrupt state.

A South African rugby union team chosen on racial grounds was welcome while anti-apartheid protestors were jailed.

But despite the Queensland Government being a moral and ethical basket case, Labor couldn’t win an election.

Something was wrong.

It had to be more than a gerrymander that was keeping Labour out of power.

That’s where Denis came in.

He could imagine a better future.

And he had the capacity to help create one.

REFORM PUSH

In the late 1970s, the Labor Party was ruled by a small group of union leaders.

There’s nothing wrong with union leaders.

Unions are the soul of the Labor Party.

But the problem was that grassroots party members had no say.

The Queensland Central Executive, as it was called, was a closed shop.

At a reform meeting on March 5, 1978, at the Bardon RSL, a young activist named Peter Beattie declared:

We are not anti-union. We are simply asking for a more responsive and efficient QCE.

We are ordinary members of the Labor Party and we are sick and tired of an unresponsive, dictatorial inner executive.

Denis was not present at that meeting, but later threw in his lot with the fledgling reform group.

He became the calming force over the young and sometimes headstrong Beattie, providing the experience and intellectual grunt to balance his young friend’s brash energy and ambition.

Denis understood that unless Labor opened itself to its rank-and-file members, it would struggle to be relevant to the broader community.

Together, he and Beattie travelled relentlessly to sell their message of the need for party reform.

Denis even obtained a pilot’s licence so he could travel right across the state.

After two federal interventions, Labor appointed an interim committee including Denis as president, Beattie, the great Tom Burns and Federal MP Manfred Cross.

Reforms including affirmative action followed, along with a new pre-selection procedure providing for branch pre-selection reviewed by a 40 person electoral college.

The battle was often nasty.

With his new authority as Queensland Labor President, Denis and others set about recruiting candidates.

He drafted a talented young lawyer named Wayne Goss, Rhodes Scholar David Hamill, former cricketer Tom Veivers, Wendy Edmond, Anne Warner and Keith de Lacy.

With the sudden arrival of community-based candidates of broad electoral appeal, branch members across the state felt liberated.

They became more active.

More engaged.

Over time, the new parliamentary recruits formed the nucleus of the revitalised Labor team.

Labor was on the right path at last.

It returned to office in 1989, after decades in the political wilderness.

Sadly though, despite being seen by many as a future Labor Premier, Denis did not survive to see the fruits of his labours.

After being elected to the state seat of Staffordin 1983, Dennis died in 1984, aged 47.

Tragically, he did not have the opportunity to deliver his maiden speech.

When Bill Hayden heard of his passing, he said the nation had lost “potentially one of the greatest Labor leaders of this country.’’

LESSONS FOR TODAY

Despite his loss, the legacy of Denis Murphy remains.

Even today, it calls out to us about the need for community engagement and openness.

The proof is in the pudding.

After being out of office for 32 years before reform, Labor has ruled for a total of 21 years after reform.

The importance of Labor winning multiple terms in office cannot be overstated.

Labor is a party of activism. We deliver change.

That means entrenched interests will always fight back.

We need to aspire to multiple terms so we can entrench our reforms before the Tories return and try to undo our good work.

Denis showed us how to do it.

The formula is pretty simple: We must be a community based party.

Our internal processes must reflect our values.

Just as we value democratic participation, mutual respect, innovative ideas and equality in society, our structures should reflect this.

We must engage our branch membership as a precondition of engaging the broader community.

People join the Labor Party because they care about their local community and their nation.

They want the generations to come to enjoy a better quality of life than they had.

Better education, improved healthcare, a safer community, fairer workplaces and an enhanced natural and built environment.

Labor’s vision is a compelling one.

Standing for the many, not the few, should make Labor the natural political party of government in a country that prides itself on the concept of the fair go.

Even the great Australian greeting of “how you going?” reflects a caring beyond oneself, that is replicated every time Australians respond to natural disasters, in the cities or in the bush.

The way Labor treats our membership must also be guided by this egalitarian spirit.

Kevin Rudd’s historic move to provide for a party wide ballot for the Federal Leader was the most significant reform in a generation.

It signalled trust and respect from Labor’s leadership to our own members.

It was an honour to participate in the historic 1st members ballot.

Its success gave Labor momentum.

Importantly, not only did ALP Members respond with enthusiasm, the broader public did too.

Remarkably, a Morgan Poll in October showed Labor outpolling the Abbott Government while the Leadership Ballot was still being conducted, and we have been in the strongest position of any 1st term Opposition ever since.

The ballot also set a powerful democratic precedent.

The expansion of direct participation in the processes of our Party should be the central theme of reform proposals.

If rank and file members are competent to have a direct say in electing our Federal Leader, there is no reason why this principle should not be extended to other positions.

The introduction of a rank and file component of 50% for Queensland Senate preselection and the enhancement of the rank and file component for Lower House candidates to up to 70% are significant reforms here in Queensland.

Empowering the membership will lead to a larger membership and strengthen our capacity to campaign.

It will also loosen factional control.

That requires people who have exercised factional power, myself included, to give up some of that influence.

By definition you can’t increase the influence of the many, without reducing influence of the few.

Many opponents of direct participation say, without irony, that this will mean uncertain outcomes.

To them I say that is the point.

Predetermined outcomes discourage genuine participation and means that patronage can be more important than capacity.

To that end factional caucusing for positions within Parliamentary parties should stop.

The malign power of Eddie Obeid in the former NSW Labor Government was based upon having the numbers in a sub-faction, that became a majority in a faction, that became a majority within a caucus.

Restoring faith in our processes means that the Babushka Doll model of political power exhibited in the former NSW Labor Government must give way to transparency.

The role of union affiliates in our Party structures is also critical.

A consequence of union amalgamations in recent decades has been fewer affiliated unions and a concentration of power in the hands of fewer union secretaries.

I’m less concerned by the proportion of influence exercised by unions in party structures than I am about the engagement with rank and file members.

If the link with union members, rather than just union secretaries, is harnessed, our affiliation with unions allow for the input of hundreds of thousands of working Australians.

Before this year’s NSW Labor Conference in Sydney, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union held a meeting in which its officials talked to union members about the issues that were to be put to the conference.

That meant that the views put by that union on the floor of that conference were directly informed by people out there in workplaces.

Working people represent the heart of Labor’s support base and our Party aspires to represent their interests.

We should seek greater input from them.

In many cases, rank and file unionists are better placed to guide us into the political mainstream than full time union officials or political professionals.

This is not to criticise union leaders or political professionals.

I’ve been a political professional for more than two decades.

But as we can see from events in NSW, concentration of power in too few hands, means those who exercise it tend to make decisions based on complex networks of deals about candidacies and party positions, rather than on the merits of the issues at hand.

We should embrace a direct election component of National Conference Delegates.

This is a structural means to achieve the end result of engaging the membership in debate about our Platform, which should represent our plan for action in government.

We should also ensure that there are serious policy debates at National Conference rather than over-managing outcomes.

No serious political party is homogenous in its views and we shouldn’t be concerned as long as disagreements are about ideas and debate is conducted with respect.

THE COMMUNITY IS THE KEY

Community engagement is the key.

The older I become the more impressed I am with the human desire to be part of a vibrant community.

People love their communities.

They like to care for their neighbours.

They see their local community as an embodiment of their way of life, their values and their desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

I fear that many people, including political parties, have lost sight of the power of communities to drive change.

Here’s an example that rugby league mad Queenslanders will understand.

Last month my team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs ended a 43-year drought by winning the premiership.

It was a great game.

But the victory was sweeter because it represented the vindication of a community that refused to be pushed around by corporate interests which, in 1999, attempted to throw us out of the competition.

When 100,000 South Sydney fans marched on the Sydney Town Hall in 2000 they were expressing their faith in their community.

And when we won the premiership, the sense of community success was everywhere.

In 2014, Labor needs to connect with this sense of community.

As much as we focus on the possibilities of the Internet for political campaigning, we must never forget that the human-to-human relationships within communities are far more powerful.

When Labor harnesses the equivalent to the spirit of the Rabbitohs in defence of universal health care, or equity of access to education, we are unbeatable.

I’m not saying that community engagement via Labor Party branches will turn everybody in the world into a social democrat.

But I am saying that any political party that wants to engage people can do it best from within the community mainstream.

That’s why Bill Shorten’s campaign to lift party membership is not inward looking, it’s about our broader success.

It means making Labor activists visible in their communities, not just talking about politics, but by supporting communities and their broader activities.

Our aim must be for Australians to see the Labor Party as something more than a vehicle for protecting industrial rights, as important as that is.

We must position Labor as a community based organisation that understands mainstream aspirations across the board and can deliver policies outcomes that improve people’s lives.

Here’s another example of what I am talking about.

NSW Premier Mike Baird is selling off 300 public housing units at Millers Point, in Sydney.

When Mr Baird sees Millers Point he sees dollar signs.

When I look at Millers Point I see a community with social connections that goes back generations.

Strong communities are not disconnected enclaves of wealth and disadvantage. They are vibrant and diverse. Their people come from a mix of backgrounds.

The Tories know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Out in the real community, most people live their lives according to their values.

Not every decision that people make is related to their bank balance.

People are interested in more than that and will open their minds to political parties that deliver strong economic policy but driven by social values.

Communities are the repositories of vast power.

The political party that can plug into that power will find the community a willing partner.

The political party that wins acceptance for its policies based on engaging with communities will be seen to be as an integral part of the community – a protector of its values.

So I am with Barack Obama.

We are the change we are looking for.

Whether we are Members of Parliament, trade unionists, factional hardheads, unionists or rank and filers, it’s time to create a more dynamic and vibrant political party.

CONCLUSION

Denis Murphy understood the need for such connections.

He worked hard to establish community links that enabled Labor to take power in Queensland and deliver on our mission of equality of opportunity and fairness for all.

Which brings me back to Gough Whitlam and the celebration of his life this week.

Before Denis, Gough was prepared to take on entrenched interests and modernised Labor so it not only deserved election, but almost demanded it with the declaration “It’s Time”.

At one point, he was nearly expelled for his troubles, probably saved by the Dawson by-election here in Queensland.

Had Gough lacked that courage and conviction, Australia would be a very different nation today.

Gough changed Labor and changed our nation.

Despite leaving parliamentary politics decades ago, Gough was an active participant in the Labor Party until his passing.

He cast his vote in the leadership ballot last year.

My friend John Faulkner reminded us in his eulogy of the importance Gough placed on our Party as the driver of progressive change in Australia.

Of the importance of connection with community.

Of the importance of policy development.

Above all, of the importance of courage and conviction.

This speech was delivered on the Sunshine Coast on 8 November 2014.

Oct 30, 2014

Response to Prime Minister’s Statement on Infrastructure – Speech

I welcome the relatively brief statement by the Prime Minister on his record of infrastructure delivery in his first year in office.

 I suspect that in delivering his account, the Prime Minister was thinking of former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who once said:

 You don’t tell deliberate lies, but sometimes you have to be evasive.

 In infrastructure, talk means nothing. Only results matter.

 

Despite going to the election giving Australians the impression it would maintain Labor’s six-year focus on nation building, the government is struggling to deliver results. It continues to present old Labor projects as though they are new. It continues to treat its election promises as though their delivery was somehow optional.

 The government has also run up the white flag on traffic congestion by scrapping all Commonwealth investment in the best remedy to solve the problem—better public transport.

 Just a few days before the election, Tony Abbott told that National Press Club a line that he has repeated today, that there will be cranes and bulldozers at work on major new infrastructure projects within one year of the election.

 As recently as last week, a Senate estimates committee heard there were no cranes at work, no bulldozers either—just clouds of bulldust. Today’s statement by the Prime Minister is more of the same.

 Before addressing the statement, let me remind the House of the infrastructure record of the former Labor government.

 We inherited an infrastructure deficit. The Howard government had squandered the windfall receipts from the mining boom on middle-class welfare and electoral bribes.

 That money should have been used to build roads, railway lines and ports. Over the following six years, and despite the global financial crisis, Labor rolled out an infrastructure investment program which yielded results that can best be illustrated by a single statistic. When Labor took office, Australia was 20th amongst OECD nations in terms of infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP. When Labor left office Australia was first.

 Looking at it another way, Labor lifted total infrastructure spending from $132 per person to $225 per person.

 While others talk about infrastructure, Labor delivers. We are nation builders. We realise that, as John F Kennedy once said:

 Things do not happen. They are made to happen.

 Over six years Labor: established Infrastructure Australia to provide, for the first time, a system for evidence based decision making on infrastructure; doubled the roads budget and upgraded 7500 kilometres of road; rebuilt or built anew 4,000 kilometres of railways. About a third of the national railway network was rebuilt.

 As a result of that investment, we reduced the freight rail journey from Brisbane to Melbourne by seven hours and the journey from the east to west coast by nine hours.

 We committed more to urban passenger rail than all previous Commonwealth governments combined from Federation right up to 2007. We created the nation’s first aviation strategy, the nation’s first port strategy, the nation’s first national freight strategy.

We initiated planning for the second Sydney airport. We focused on cities by establishing the Major Cities Unit and the Urban Policy Forum, including experts from government, planning and development sectors to advise government in better long-term planning—a proud record of achievement.

We did not just throw money at building new toll roads and pretend we were meeting our nation’s infrastructure needs. We established a process for evidence-based decision making on infrastructure and collaborated with states and local government to make sure that we got it right. Then we delivered in spades.

During last year’s election campaign, the then opposition leader made infrastructure a central plank of his platform. A year later, his promises are undelivered and his platform is tottering.

I know why.

 During the period of the Labor Government, the then opposition leaders never had a positive idea and took no time for serious policy consideration. The now Prime Minister was too busy being negative. He turned, indeed, the Coalition of yesterday into the Noalition.

 As election time approached, the most negative opposition leader in Australian history realised he needed to find a positive narrative, so he turned to infrastructure. The problem was that his ideas were too narrow, not thought out and came with with no proper planning.

 That is why these plans are now crumbling and why this first year has been dominated by broken promises.

 Let’s look at a few.

 The then opposition leader promised to retain the independence of Infrastructure Australia. He also promised to reappoint its chairman, Sir Rod Eddington. He failed to do so. And one of the government’s first actions was to launch an assault on Infrastructure Australia’s independence.

 It proposed legislation that would have given the Minister for Infrastructure the power to dictate its research agenda and to censor publication of its findings. The proposal went so far as to suggest that the minister should have exclusive power to exclude entire classes of infrastructure from Infrastructure Australia’s consideration.

 This was a sneaky, backdoor attempt to warn Infrastructure Australia off the government’s ideological no-go area of public transport.

 Fortunately, the government ultimately backed down on this ridiculous plan due to pressure not just from the Parliament but also from outside—from the Business Council of Australia, from Infrastructure Australia itself, from the Property Council and from the Urban Development Institute of Australia. It folded as a result of this pressure.

 Another key coalition promise was to require all Commonwealth infrastructure spending worth more than $100 million to undergo a proper cost-benefit analysis. That analysis was to be ticked off by the experts at Infrastructure Australia. The government has treated this promise with contempt from day one.

 In its first budget, it handed $1.5 billion as an advance payment for Melbourne’s East-West Link project. Indeed, $1 billion of this is for Stage II, which not only did not commence last financial year when the payment was made; it will not commence this financial year and not even next financial year. Yet a billion dollars has already been paid for this project.

 We can only conclude that the payment was designed to pad Premier Napthine’s budget bottom line in advance of the Victorian state election. We should also never forget that this favour to a political mate came at a time when the government claimed it was facing a budget emergency.

 So much for the budget emergency—making advance payments years in advance of any construction.

 That compares with what the assistant minister told the Civil Contractors Federation—and the minister may well remember this. On 6 June he said:

   So we are driving the state governments very hard to give us timetables to ensure that we’re meeting the expected time of delivery of these projects.

  …that we’re hitting milestones, that we’re only making payments to states when they actually deliver the milestones, that they’re not getting money in their bank account prior to milestones being delivered …

 But that same $1.5 billion dollars arrived in the Victorian Government’s bank account, years in advance of anything actually happening.

 The government also provided a concessional loan for Sydney’s WestConnex project—another project without a cost-benefit analysis.

 For anyone who knows anything about Sydney, Stage I of the WestConnex project goes to Haberfield and Stage II goes to St Peters—to the west of the airport. I am a supporter of the concept of taking people to the city and freight to the port, but the road needs to do both of those things if it is to stack up—yet the money has already been paid.

 If you thought East-West and WestConnex were bad, have a look at the so-called Perth Freight Link. It used to be known as Roe 8. This project seems to have been pulled out of a Weet-Bix packet – no cost-benefit analysis and no clarity on details.

 Even the Western Australian Liberal government is in the dark. In June, the WA government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Jim Chown, told a parliamentary committee:

   … at this stage we have not actually got plans that are worthy of public scrutiny.

 He said that a month after the budget announcement. This is the Liberal Party person in government responsible for this project—an extraordinary proposition.

 The government currently has legislation to institutionalise cost-benefit analysis on projects funded to the tune of more than $100 million. There is a fundamental problem here, though: the analysis would come after the projects have been funded.

 So you determine what projects will have a cost-benefit analysis after you have determined that they will receive more than $100 million of government funding.

 News flash: do the cost-benefit analysis prior to determining where the funding will go. That is a fundamental principle of what should happen.

 This explains why there are problems. Just ask one of my constituents. Vince Crowe received two letters from a representative of the WestConnex Delivery Authority on 26 June 2014—on the same day.

 The first letter said, ‘We’re going to buy your property,’ and the second letter said, ‘We don’t need to buy your property’—on the same day. That is what happens when you do not get planning right.

 Such misadventures are bad enough, but the government’s biggest mistake is its refusal to spend a cent on public transport.

 You cannot deliver solutions to urban congestion without dealing with both road and rail and without having strategies for transport. If you are going to have the infrastructure of the 21st century—as the rhetoric goes—you need to deliver on urban public transport, you need to deliver on high-speed rail and you also need to deliver on the National Broadband Network.

 And one of those infrastructure challenges is just that. The 21st century is the information age. All Australians deserve fibre to the home. All Australians deserve best practice. When we talk about analysis paralysis, an example is that, over the last 12 months, there have been eight separate inquiries into the National Broadband Network—eight separate inquiries. So we need to be serious about that.

 The government’s infrastructure strategy has been to take money off projects that had cost-benefit analysis, like the Cross-River Rail project and Melbourne Metro—to take money from urban public transport—and give it to roads.

 The government does deserve credit for the work that has been done on Badgerys Creek.

 But Badgerys Creek needs to have not just roads, but rail. It needs to preserve the corridor, but it would be logical—when you have the rail line being built to Leppington funded by the former state Labor government—to extend it further and to connect with the main western line. That would be the smart thing to do.

 When the Prime Minister was attempting to spin the 2014 budget he claimed he had delivered significant infrastructure investment. The truth is that his statement today repeated a range of projects, many of which are just about ready to open.

 Gateway WA and the projects on the Bruce Highway that he mentioned, like Calliope Crossroads, are projects that have been underway for years.

 The so-called asset recycling plan has been spoken about by those opposite in the form of interjections. The truth is that the only thing that was recycled there was the money. They took money from the Building Australia Fund, called it the Asset Recycling Fund, and pretended that there was new investment where there was not.

 The truth is that the former government lifted infrastructure investment from 20th in the OECD to first.

 This current government needs to give a commitment that it will maintain that investment at first place. It is simply that.

 I commend to the government the advice of Henry Ford, who once said:

 Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

 The government should get infrastructure investment right. If they do that the nation will benefit.

Oct 29, 2014

Speech-Tourism Summit

Today we gather amidst new challenges and opportunities for your sector and for Australia. 

Right now, new versions of age-old problems – disease and war – are dominating the world’s attention.

In our region, the rise of the middle class in the Asia-Pacific presents unparalleled opportunities in tourism and trade.

At home, we’ve been kicking goals.

Canberra has been named the world’s most-liveable city by the OECD.

Lonely Planet has named Tasmania as one of the world’s top 10 travel destinations in 2015.

And the latest International Visitor Survey shows record arrivals from China in the year ending June, 2014.

That’s good news for all of us in this room.

That’s great news for Australia’s $107 billion tourism sector, and the 280,000 tourism businesses who rely on the visitor trade.

It’s also good news for the more than one million Australians who are employed in the sector.

But as the TTF reminded us just a few weeks ago, we can, and must, do more.

Domestic visitor figures in Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT all dropped last year, coinciding with the abandonment of the Abbott Government’s domestic tourism marketing. 

The cancellation of billions of dollars of public transport projects is pushing our cities further behind London, Paris and New York in terms of ease of movement for citizens and visitors alike.

And the absence of both urban policy and tourism from the Abbott Government’s list of policy priorities is cause for concern.

LABOR IN OPPOSITION

Labor is and will continue to be a constructive Opposition.

We don’t believe in opposing good ideas for the sake of it.

Already, we’ve worked with the Government on two key issues.

Firstly, we have provided bipartisan support for the Government’s efforts to build Sydney’s Second Airport at Badgerys Creek.

We do believe that a passenger rail link to the airport must be part of the deal.

We want locals and visitors alike to have efficient and convenient access to the airport from the city and the suburbs. 

Secondly, we worked with the Government to help Qantas access more foreign capital while retaining it as our national carrier.

Indeed, it was Labor’s legislation that was carried through the Parliament.

Both of these are important steps forward.

And there will be more issues we will work on together with TTF and the Government to increase the competitiveness of our tourism industry.

TOURISM HAS ALWAYS MATTERED

Until now, Australian Governments of both persuasions have long recognised the importance of tourism to our national economy.

2014 marks 85 years since a group of businessmen approached the Federal Government with the idea to promote Australia as a tourism destination overseas.

The year was 1929.

The conservative Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Bruce, agreed to provide some funding.

With that, Australia’s first international marketing body – the Australian National Travel Association – was formed.

Fast forward seven years and tourism had helped lug Australia out of our nation’s darkest economic days of the Great Depression.

From modest beginnings, by 1936 the Association was running impressively large marketing operations around the world.

Customs officers distributed booklets entitled Talking Points on Australia at the border to departing Australians and visitors heading home. 

Colourful hand drawn posters of Australia’s natural beauty and Indigenous culture were displayed in 3000 locations around the world.

Journalists in Europe and the UK received weekly briefings from the London office of the Association, packed full with articles and photographs ready for syndication in newspapers and magazines across the Continent.

At home, the first domestic marketing campaign saw 60,000 picture books distributed encouraging Australians to see their own backyard.

In just the five years preceding 1936, more than 100,000 visitors had arrived spending more than five million pounds, giving rise to new industries and jobs. 

The story of the birth of the Australian tourism industry is relevant today.

If a conservative Prime Minister in 1929 can see the value of prioritising tourism as part of a national economic strategy, why can’t a conservative Prime Minister in 2014?

TOURISM DESERVES PRIORITY

The Commonwealth Government should be the Australian tourism industry’s best friend.

But lately, it has been slipping further and further down the Government’s list of priorities.

We should be maintaining funding for the Survey of Tourist Accommodation, which has been running for more than 40 years.

That information is crucial for investors, government and business. It’s a no brainer; fund the survey, reap the benefits economy-wide.

Tourism should also be one of the Government’s priorities in its competitiveness agenda. 

Many communities in this country rely on tourism as their main industry and provider of jobs.

Deloitte knows it. PricewaterhouseCoopers knows it. McKinsey knows it. Outlook Economics knows it.

All of them have backed tourism as one of the key sectors driving jobs and prosperity over the next 20 years.

I note that the TTF’s National Tourism Business Count & Employment Atlas shows every electorate has at least 2400 people employed directly in tourism.

In many places, particularly in Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, that figure is much higher.

I hope that’s a message you’re driving home to other parliamentarians you are speaking with while you are here in Canberra.

There are few industries with the geographic reach or enormous potential of tourism. 

Support for the tourism industry is an investment, not a cost.

A recent study commissioned by the Tourism Accommodation Australia showed a return of $16 for every $1 spent on international marketing.

Even back in 1936 the Australian National Travel Association, precursor to Tourism Australia, was lobbying hard for the value of tourism.

In an issues paper from 1936, it argued: 

There are official figures to show that visitors to Australia bring us new wealth, which is circulated through all channels of community trade, through every industry, primary and secondary.

The whole community shares in the travel industry in a similar manner to the benefits which accrue from a national industry such as wool and wheat, and the visitors’ spendings constitute part of that national income which determines the general welfare of the nation.

That is still true today.

As Australia’s largest services export, your sector contributes more to the economy than agriculture, forestry and fishery combined.

Imagine the outcry if there was no agriculture minister.

But that is exactly the situation we are in.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no one advocating effectively for tourism around the Cabinet table.

As I have noted before, this is the first Government in more than 40 years that Australia has not had a Minister for Tourism.

Across the pond, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key is also the tourism minister.

I mentioned a little earlier that urban policy is also a focus for Labor at the moment.

LABOR’S CITIES AGENDA

Last month I addressed the National Press Club outlining a detailed agenda for productive, sustainable and liveable cities.

There I launched a 10 point plan which Labor will use to guide its approach to policy going into the next election.

On the same day, Bill Shorten added Shadow Minister for Cities to my responsibilities to ensure this important area is given priority.  

Cites matter.

They 80 per cent of GDP and are home to 4 out of 5 Australians.

They are also the main entry point for our visitors.

Our cities are the first impressions of Australia for millions of visitors coming to our shores every year.

I want them to step off planes and cruise ships and be greeted by fast and efficient public transport, world-class food and wine and well managed natural environments. 

I’d be less thrilled if they stepped off into congested streets, polluted air, poor infrastructure and a sick or dying Great Barrier Reef.

Yet that could well be the direction we go in without improved attention from the Commonwealth Government to urban policy.

That’s why I have recently created the Urban Policy Forum – a dialogue to provide meaningful engagement with experts on our cities.

The Forum will help us form urban policy that delivers better cities – not just for those who live in them, but also for those drawn to our shores for holidays, conferences and events. 

HIGH SPEED RAIL

One of the other things I’m focussing on is how we can help our regional cities reach their full potential.

Already 46 cents of every dollar spent in tourism already go to regional economies.

Just this week the Australasian Railways Association highlighted the benefits of this visionary project along the corridor.

High Speed Rail has huge implications for tourism.

You just have to look to Spain, and France, Italy, Germany, the UK, China and Japan to see that.

Each day that Australia does not progress with High Speed Rail, we fall further behind our competitors.

That’s why I have moved a Private Members Bill in the House of Representatives for the creation of the High Speed Rail Planning Authority.

Such an authority could drive development, including the preservation of the corridor — the first step in making it a reality.

CONCLUSION

It is these kind of ideas that Labor brings to the table.

We don’t shy away from the big challenges of today – we embrace them.

And if we get it right, we will be rewarded.

As the National Travel Association said at the very beginning,

By acquainting the people of other lands with the general attractiveness and wholesomeness of Australia, with the friendliness and hospitality of our people, we are enabled to obtain a larger share of one of the world’s great industries, that of travel.

Labor is ready to work with you on the policies which will make that happen.     

Thank you.

Oct 27, 2014

Bring it on- Address to Australasian Railways Association High Speed Rail Forum

Ladies and gentleman,

Over the past six days the nation has seen an outpouring of tributes to the late, great Gough Whitlam.

If there has been a theme, it was Whitlam’s imagination for a better future for Australia and his courage in making his vision a reality.

Former US President John F Kennedy put the task of reformers this way: “Things do not happen. They are made to happen.’’

If ever there was an infrastructure project that required vision, if ever there was a project that required determined action to make it happen, it is High Speed Rail.

I’m pleased you are holding this forum today.

Its title – Bring it on – could not be more pertinent.

It’s a great opportunity to remind Australia that High Speed Rail is an economic game-changer for our nation.

A reminder that it will allow for travel between interstate capitals in as little as three hours.

A reminder that High Speed Rail would also turbo charge the economies of regional communities along its path.

High Speed Rail isn’t something we can leave to our children or our grandchildren to build.

We must begin now.

We must act to preserve the corridor and finalise the planning needed prior to construction.

VIABILITY

Nation builders anticipate and create the future.

We know some of what the future will bring.

Recent projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest our population will be about 50 million by 2060, including eight million people each in the cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

This of course will be reflected in the size of our cities, both in their footprints but also in terms of their density.

Sydney-to-Melbourne and Sydney-to-Brisbane are already in the top 10 busiest aviation routes in the world.

Given increasing aviation use, they will become even busier in the future.

Change is powerful and its effects can never be underestimated.

Bill Gates had this in mind a few years ago when he said: (and I quote):

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.

Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.

In that spirit I think we can assume that by 2060 Australians will on average fly much more frequently than they do today.

When I was a boy, airline travel was very expensive.

I was in my 20s before I took my first aircraft journey.

But in recent decades increasing disposable incomes and the emergence of low-cost carriers have boosted air travel.

Air travel is five times cheaper than it was 20 years ago.

A Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development research paper forecasting aviation movements to 2030 noted that continued passenger growth at major airports was already testing the capacity of airport infrastructure.

It said international air travel would grow strongly to 2030, with both domestic and international passenger movements through capital cities almost doubling.

And that’s just by 2030, not 2060.

A 2010 report by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics which examined movement through the nation’s capital city airports forecast growth of 4.2 per cent a year to 235 million by 2029-30.

These are facts that need to be seriously considered in the context of the viability of High Speed Rail.

We should also consider the possibility that in coming decades, growing incomes will open interstate travel to more Australians, which could lead to even more demand on our aviation sector.

Unless we want to build more airports all over the country, there’s a limit to the capacity of existing aviation infrastructure to cope.

Looking forward again to 2060, it’s unlikely that governments of the time will, like the current government, refuse to act on reducing carbon emissions.

I predict that by 2060, all governments will have established market-based mechanisms that will provide clear cost signals in favour of low-emissions technologies.

That puts High Speed Rail in the box seat.

It is far cleaner than aircraft travel.

It is more convenient.

And it is a better experience.

No-one who has ever been on the Eurostar fast train from London to Paris arrives wishing that they had travelled by air.

LABOR’S URBAN FOCUS

I’ve been pleased to address the Australasian Railways Association and other groups about my support for High Speed Rail on several occasions.

But since I last addressed you, Labor has sharpened our focus on High Speed Rail in terms of its contribution to cities policy.

Labor wants to put the productivity, sustainability and liveability of cities near the top of the national political agenda.

One of our aims is to ease the burden of traffic congestion in our capital cities, which has become so bad that many Australians live in drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they live but where there are no jobs.

This is leading to increasingly long daily trips to and from work.

One way to address this problem is to invest in urban rail to improve public transport.

Unfortunately, under the current Government, that won’t happen.

But another is to strengthen the economies of regional Australian cities and towns so they can take some of the development pressure off state capitals.

That’s where High Speed Rail comes in.

The line for this project would travel through the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

There’s also Canberra, Australia’s largest inland city.

Connecting these great regional cities to a high speed mass transit system would connect them to massive opportunities for economic development.

Think of the tourism potential.

Imagine the possibilities of being able to live in regional Australia and commute to a capital city on a daily basis.

Or imagine the potential for city-based businesses to establish themselves or divisions of their operations in these regional cities, taking advantage of lower costs in regional Australia while still being a short ride away from the nearest state capital.

Of course, our capital cities are always going to keep growing.

As the High Speed Rail Feasibility Stage II study produced last year noted, employment growth in the central business districts of our east coast capitals will double over the next 30 years.

It also noted there were limits to the capacity of public transport to cater to the extra demand.

The report continued (and I quote):

In that case, regional locations within two hours’ travel by HSR that have capacity for increases in business growth could assist in making the metropolitan centres more globally competitive by providing less-congested future growth options.

This could allow regional centres to serve as secondary locations for lower-cost back office functions and new start-up businesses requiring less frequent access to the major centres.’’

If we add to this factor the rising importance of digital communications and the possibilities it offers for working from home, it becomes clear High Speed Rail has a real value as a driver of regional economic development with beneficial spinoffs for capital cities.

High Speed Rail can help provide options for Australians who want more out of life than sitting in their cars for hours a day.

It can provide more options for businesspeople who understand the link between productivity and contented workers who live near their workplaces.

I notice that the ARA has today released a new report into the potential for High Speed Rail to boost regional development.

I’m pleased with this new contribution to the debate.

It’s an important contribution in the context of the pressure on Australian cities I discussed a moment ago.

The Aurecon report says experience across the world is that regional cities that have been linked to High Speed Rail have experienced accelerated economic development as a result.

It also notes that while the $114 billion cost estimate of this project in Australia was based on a delivery cost of $65 million per kilometre, similar projects in Europe, for example, have come in at less than half that cost.

Those figures certainly bear further investigation.

I’ve had a chance to read this report and I commend it to you.

I hope also that the current Government will take heed of its contents and act.

THE FAILURE OF IMAGINATION

Regrettably, under the current government, High Speed Rail is stalled.

In this year’s Budget, the Government scrapped $52 million in funding that was included in the 2013 Labor Government Budget to create a High Speed Rail Authority to progress the project and begin the process of securing the corridor.

The Authority was to bring together representatives of the state and territory jurisdictions with a stake in High Speed Rail along with experts including a representative of the ARA.

Participants were to work together to progress planning.

Critically, the authority was to start to acquire the corridor for the line before it is built out by urban sprawl.

Not only did the Government dump this plan, but it also sacked the High-Speed Rail Advisory Group, the committee which recommended the establishment of the authority.

That committee included former National Party leader Tim Fisher, Business Council of Australia head Jennifer Westacott, the chief executive of the Australasian Railway Association Brian Nye, as well as senior bureaucrats and independent experts.

This was a poor decision.

The group was in no way aligned with the former Labor Government.

It was made up of accomplished people who looked at the facts and recommended a way forward.

It did not advocate the immediate construction of High Speed Rail.

It simply proposed that we start planning and purchasing the corridor.

Now, even as I stand here speaking, people who own land that would be required for High Speed Rail could be planning, as is their right, to develop that land.

As we speak the states and territories along the route, as well as the many local councils involved, are not engaged in the co-operation that would be needed to deliver this project.

At the same time, international experts with experience in building High Speed Rail continue to visit our shores.

I know that the current Government says it supports High Speed Rail and I am grateful for that.

But you have to be disappointed with the lack of concrete progress.

I must say however, that I was pleased to see an article in today’s edition of The Australian in which businessman Maurice Newman, who chairs the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, acknowledged the potential regional development impacts of High Speed Rail.

I can only say to Mr Newman that I strongly agree and I urge him to use the influence he has with the Government to secure genuine bi-partisan support for the project.

In August last year, the High Speed Rail Advisory Group I mentioned earlier warned that the greatest immediate threat to High Speed Rail in Australia was not cost, timing or technology.

It was inertia brought about by inaction.

Regrettably, the current Government is sitting on its hands as ill-informed critics tell the community the project is too expensive, too hard, too ambitious and too far off to warrant serious consideration.

Just like the conservatives who, in 1946, voted against the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, our current decision makers seem unwilling to build for our nation’s future.

As the advisory group’s report warned (and I quote):

If we don’t take action to progress the project now, we may not get another chance.

This brings me back to the comment by John F Kennedy which I mentioned at the start of this speech.

“Things do not happen,’’ Kennedy said. “They are made to happen.’’

More specifically, Nation Building does not just happen. National Building is made to happen.

Today, we have a choice.

We can take modest steps now that begin the necessary planning for High Speed Rail, reducing future construction costs.

Or we can do nothing.

I’m for acting.

That is why nearly a year ago I proposed a Private Member’s Bill – the High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2013 – designed to create the planning authority proposed by the High Speed Rail Advisory Group.

It was the first Private Member’s Bill moved in this Parliament.

It would create an 11 person high-speed rail authority to bring together all affected jurisdictions as well as rail and engineering experts to progress planning and, critically, focus on the corridor.

The 11 members of the board are outlined in the bill.

They would include:

  • One member from each of the states or territory affected—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory;
  • One member representing the Local Government Association;
  • One member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association; and
  • Five members appointed by the minister for infrastructure on the basis of qualifications or expertise.

The Bill proposes that the Authority’s roles would include consideration of land use planning relating to the corridor, safety, public consultation and measures to minimize environmental impact.

It was my hope that the Bill would provide an opportunity for the new Government to embrace High Speed Rail and put it beyond the reach of party politics.

That’s critical, because this is a project so big it will span the lives of many parliaments and, presumably, several prime ministers.

Regrettably, the Government has chosen not to bring this Bill on for debate.

So it’s just sitting on the notice paper, waiting.

The best thing that could happen on High Speed Rail is for a bi-partisan commitment, not just to support High Speed Rail, but to act now in concrete ways.

We need to legislate to create an authority to put the issue beyond party politics and beyond the life of one parliament or one government.

I’ve often said that my aim in creating Infrastructure Australia in 2008 was to disconnect the infrastructure delivery process, which is necessarily long-term, from the short-term political cycle.

That’s important for projects than take 10 years or so to conceive, plan, assess, fund and deliver.

It’s even more important for a project like High Speed Rail, which is similar in its scope to the Snowy River Scheme, which took 23 years to build.

The way forward is for all Australian political parties to embrace High Speed Rail and agree to act on the four key recommendations of the High Speed Rail Advisory Group.

Those recommendations were:

 Formally commit to high speed rail and settle arrangements with state and territory governments;

 Protect the corridor;

 Refer High Speed Rail to Infrastructure Australia for initial assessment;

 Establish a High Speed Rail Authority

Like any big project there will be naysayers.

There always are.

In 1949, the Minister for Public Works and Housing, Nelson Lemmon, faced critics of the Snowy River Scheme.

Lemmon said:

… those critics, in the main, will be people who have little faith.

This Government has faith in its engineers, its people and the future of Australia.”

So do I.

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.

Sep 24, 2014

Address to The National Press Club, Canberra

A National Agenda for More Productive, Sustainable and Liveable Cities

Members of the National Press Club, Parliamentary colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Forty-two years ago at Sydney’s Blacktown Civic Centre, a great Australian made some important observations about whether the Commonwealth Government should have any involvement in urban policy in this country.

He said:

A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future.

Gough Whitlam was launching his successful 1972 election campaign.

Whitlam vowed that after 23 years of conservative inaction on cities, a Labor Government would prioritise urban policy, working with states and local government to improve productivity, sustainability and liveability of urban Australia in the national interest.

Whitlam’s assessment of the importance of cities to life in this country is even more relevant today than it was in 1972.

Cities matter. They produce 80 percent of our GDP and are home to four out of five Australians.

Indeed, in the Asian Century they matter even more than they did in 1972.

The opportunity is clear: by 2030, the Asia Pacific region will have a middle class of 3.2 billion people, almost twice as many as Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East combined.

By 2025, this region will produce over half of global output. Australia is fortunate to be at the world’s economic epicentre.

We must compete with our innovation, our skills and ability to deliver high value outcomes.

In the 21st century, productivity is the main weapon we have to grow national wealth, lift living standards and stay in front in the battle for international competitiveness.

Creative cities policy which boosts productivity will be critical to our success.

It’s often said that change is the only constant in life.

Change is putting Australian cities under real pressure – pressure that will become more intense in coming decades.

Our population is expected to double by 2050.

By then, the populations of Sydney and Melbourne will be approaching eight million people.

In the interim, the ongoing rise of the digital age will trigger huge changes in the way we live and work – shifts that will have dramatic consequences for the way our cities function and the ways in which they need to adapt to be successful in the future.

If we do not address these shifts productivity growth will slow.

The next Labor Government must follow its predecessors in implementing urban policy which drives productivity, sustainability and liveability in our cities.

That’s why today Labor Leader Bill Shorten has announced that I will have Shadow Minister for Cities formally added to my title to emphasise Labor’s priority in policy development before the election and implementation after it.

A GREAT DIVIDE

The approach to cities is one of the great divides in Australian politics.

The division is not over the nature of urban policy, but whether the national government has any role in cities at all.

The current Government has followed its conservative predecessors and declared that urban policy is a matter for the states, dismantling the Major Cities Unit on literally its first day, abandoning the Urban Policy Forum and withdrawing from all public transport funding.

This is backward looking.

As I’ve said before, the problem isn’t that Tony Abbott is stuck in the past, it’s that he wants the rest of Australia to go back there and keep him company.

Labor must do more than oppose this rewind, although oppose it we must.

We should use this period of Opposition to develop a constructive and positive agenda for the future.

THE CHALLENGES

Urban policy is too complex to be left to a single level of government.

Today I want to illustrate that complexity with a very specific example of a key challenge facing today’s urban planners – the mismatch between areas of population growth and areas of employment growth.

The 2013 State of Australian Cities Report identified that population growth in Australia was strong on in the middle and outer rings of our cities where housing was more affordable.

But it also noted that the decline of manufacturing and the rise of knowledge-intensive industries meant jobs growth was concentrated in and near central business districts.

For the first time in decades, population and jobs growth are not geographically aligned.

The report said:

This can create spatial polarisation and pockets of social disadvantage.

State of the Cities 2013

We are witnessing the rise of a new phenomenon – drive-in-drive out suburbs where people cannot afford to live near their workplace.

We hear a lot about the policy implications of Fly in Fly out communities, but far less about the much greater number who live in Drive in Drive out suburbs.

This trend is changing lives in ways that cause real concern.

Allowing this trend to continue is a recipe for entrenched inequity and economic stagnation.

There are many policy issues at play here.

There’s housing affordability, land supply, jobs shortages in the suburbs, inadequate public transport and access to education and training.

It requires a considered and national response.

It requires policy leadership and involvement of all levels of government working with the private sector.

I’m particularly attracted to consideration of the 30 minute City concept promoted by some policy thinkers in this area including the Bus Industry Confederation. I am aware that some argue for the 20 minute City, but better to underpromise and overdeliver.

This is the simple concept that most of peoples day to day work, educational, shopping or recreational activities should be located within 30 minutes walking, cycling or public commuting from their homes.

The national Government can provide leadership in urban policy in cooperation with other levels of Government, with industry and with the community.

Here’s 10 ways.

  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.

A comprehensive approach is about building on success to make our cities more and more productive.

An Infrastructure Australia report produced in 2013 neatly summarized the potential productivity gains to be extracted from policies that bring workers and their workplaces closer together.

It said:

… higher density residential areas can offer more affordable housing options with better access to services and employment and support more liveable, vibrant communities.

 Success in our cities is also a virtuous cycle, where higher living standards draw global talent, attract global business and investment and boost trade opportunities.

In short, this agglomeration of activity results in “bigger effects than the sum of their parts”.

LABOR’S RECORD

A future Labor Government will pick up where of its Labor predecessors left off.

When Labor took office in 2007 we inherited a government that had no urban policy, no planning expertise and no structure through which to deliver policy.

So we built one from the ground up.

We started by establishing the Major Cities Unit to re-establish a planning skills base.

We created Infrastructure Australia.

Our aim was to break the nexus between the infrastructure planning cycle, which by its nature is long-term, from the short term political cycle.

We invested more in urban public transport than all our predecessors since Federation combined. Projects such as Noarlunga to Seaford rail extension, Gold Coast Light Rail, Perth Citylink, Victorian Regional Rail Link, and Moreton Bay Rail were promised, funded, built,  opened or at least well underway.

We produced the national urban policy, Our Cities, our Future blueprint to guide future Government action.

We appointed the Urban Policy Forum, tasked with overseeing the implementation of this policy.

We worked with the States and Territories through COAG, which appointed Brian Howe and Lucy Turnbull to oversee the development of Capital City plans.

We created the Australian Council of Local Government as the nations’ first forum for direct engagement between the commonwealth and local government.

We introduced the Liveable Cities program, offering councils financial support for projects that contributed to improving life within their local community.

We initiated the suburban jobs plan to support states and territories plan the development of employment precincts, manufacturing hubs and multi-function developments near residential areas.

We didn’t just talk the talk. We invested. Australia was ranked 20th in the OECD for infrastructure investment when we came to office and 1st when we left.

20th to 1st.

In summary, we established the means to identify problems, built capacity within the commonwealth bureaucracy and worked with other levels of government to deliver better outcomes.

That’s Labor’s approach.

And it stands in stark contrast to our successors.

ABBOTT’S APPROACH

The current Government has raced away from urban policy at light speed.

In 12 months the government has:

  • Abolished the Major Cities Unit;
  • Attempted to water down the independence of Infrastructure Australia;
  • Cancelled all Commonwealth investment in urban public transport, including the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail project, which had been prioritised by Infrastructure Australia;
  • Handed out $3.5 billion in advance payments for East West and Westconnex, making a mockery of their commitment cost benefit analysis and milestone payments.

The current Government has no minister with responsibility for cities, no policy and no engagement.

The Government has insisted that its roads-only approach will leave space for states to invest more in urban rail.

This argument has already collapsed in the face of reality.

Given a choice between building a road with a Commonwealth funding contribution or a rail project without a funding contribution, States are opting for the former.

As the Productivity Commission said they would do. As does common sense.

Labor does not oppose building roads. In Government we doubled the roads Budget and built or rebuilt 7500 km of roads.

But Labor believes in building both roads and rail.

We support an integrated transport system – something you can’t deliver unless governments work together across transport modes.

PREJUDICE AGAINST PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Let’s look briefly at the context of the Tony Abbott’s exclusive support for road funding over public transport, as outlined in Battlelines.

In that book Mr Abbott described public transport as:

… generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and still a hideous drain on the public purse.

He went on:

…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.

Whilst it’s absurd that Joe Hockey thinks poor people don’t drive cars, it’s even more absurd that Tony Abbott thinks nobody wants to take public transport.

From the sublime, to the ridiculous.

There is no issue too big for Mr Abbott to show just how small his world view is.

He enjoys what John F Kennedy once called “the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought’’.

 

ENGAGEMENT

While I am convinced the former Labor Government was on the right track on urban policy, winding back the policy clock to 2013 will not be enough.

We need new ideas.

In Government Labor created the Urban Policy Forum as the vehicle for engagement with stakeholders.

But the current Government has yet to convene that forum after more than a year in office.
Its disinterest in cities and proper process has not been missed.

In July, in an important speech in Sydney, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said urban development should be elevated, “to the top of our social, economic and political discourse.”

Ms Westacott is spot on.

Coming from a business perspective, she can see that effective urban policy is a key to unlocking productivity gains.

Mr Abbott stands isolated amongst western leaders, with his disinterest in cities. Rather than mimic the UK with appointing Knights and Dames, he could do worse than mimic David Cameron’s engagement with cities policy.

If Mr Abbott doesn’t want to listen, Labor does.

Today I announce the Opposition will create a new National Urban Policy Dialogue to contribute to the urban debate.

I am pleased that key stakeholders in business, industry, other levels of government and academia have agreed to participate.

The Dialogue’s deliberations with Bill Shorten, myself and key Shadow Ministers such as Chris Bowen and Mark Butler will help guide Labor’s thinking as we finalise our policy for Productive, Sustainable and Liveable Cities going forward.

REGIONS AND HIGH SPEED RAIL

For example, I’m keen to engage business on the opportunities for greater development of regional cities as well as our capitals.

Beyond our Capitals, we have 10 major regional communities with more than 100,000 residents – the Gold Coast/Tweed, Newcastle, Wollongong, the Sunshine Coast, Geelong, Townsville, Cairns, Toowoomba, Albury-Wodonga and Launceston.

Ballarat and Bendigo are not far behind.

Each of these cities has untapped potential for growth in economic activity – potential enhanced by the NBN and the opportunities it provides for decentralisation.

Prosperous regional cities will take pressure off the capital cities and boost national productivity.

One way to drive that prosperity is to proceed with planning for a High Speed Rail line between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

Completion of this project would revolutionise interstate travel, allowing people to travel between capitals in as little as three hours.

But it would also be a shot in the arm for regional centres along its route.

High-speed rail could provide genuine opportunities for companies to relocate from a capital city to a regional city.

In Government Labor allocated funding to establish a planning authority for high-speed rail and to begin to secure the corridor.

While the current government dumped that plan, a returned Labor Government will continue to pursue high-speed rail for what it is – a game-changing nation building project.

Labor would also return to the promotion of sustainability in cities through more effective building design.

Our Australian Urban Design Protocol, Creating Places for People, together with the Rating Tool for Infrastructure Sustainability were examples of the Labor Government working with the sector to deliver practical outcomes.

LIVEABILITY – THE NEW FRONTIER

As Aristotle put it more than a few years ago, “men come together in order to live, but they remain there to live the good life”.

Quality of life, or liveability, matters.

If we want people to live in suburbs of increased density, we need to ensure cities are energetic, diverse and vibrant places rich in human experiences.

This doesn’t just mean improved design standards for new homes, apartment blocks and public buildings, but a more thoughtful approach to how we create and manage the spaces in between.

Our urban spaces need to put people first, so that they feel safe and comfortable about moving around our cities.

As Danish architect Jan Gehl puts it, “First life, then spaces, then buildings: the other way around never works”.

Rather than city buildings simply being offices or residential towers that exclude outsiders, greater use of mixed precincts should incorporate retail or entertainment options.

We should show more imagination so the spaces between their buildings include areas to gather and engage with others.

We should encourage more public art and green spaces in cities.

Greater diversity in urban design generally makes for more vibrant cities, particularly if we focus heavily on mixed use precincts.

We also need to make it easier to get around, so that more people want to walk, cycle or use public transport.

Another example of a way to encourage this trend is to provide more bicycle racks at train stations and end of trip facilities in workplaces.

On Perth’s new Citylink rail line funded by the former Labor Government, lock-up bike sheds have been built on the platforms so commuters can secure their bike with a swipe card before boarding their train.

That’s a small cost for an initiative that is making a real difference.

We should also have a national conversation about the role of motorcycles and scooters, which are the fastest growing form of motorised transport.

Recent European studies suggest truly extraordinary improvements in congestion through a greater reliance on motorcycles.

OUTER SUBURBS

As well as seeking new ways to encourage greater population density, a Labor government will renew its focus on stimulating jobs growth in outer suburbs of our cities.

One example is to focus on infrastructure projects that attract business, like the planned airport at Badgerys Creek.

An airport is the only piece of transport infrastructure that employs more people once completed than during construction.

It drives employment across a region in logistics, tourism and the supply of goods and services.

COMMUNITIES

The idea of liveability plugs directly into another area that will receive much more attention from the next Labor Government – support for communities.

In some parts of Australia with relatively high population density, people live within 50 metres of dozens of people they have never met.

People want to feel that they live in a community, not just in a collection of buildings that happen to be in the same vicinity.

We need not only to see a more efficient economy that produces jobs and prosperity.

We also want a richer society – one that takes full account of the human elements of city life.

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to belong.

It’s the reason we barrack for our favourite footy team.

This week, I am more than distracted by my beloved Souths being just one game away from our first Grand Final since 1971.

Those who said we should just follow another team when Souths got kicked out of the comp didn’t get it.

It’s tribal. It’s about our sense of identity. It’s about who we are.

This spirit of community is something people also want from their cities.

Governments that embrace and respond to this need will find the community a willing partner.

Earlier this month, I attended a community meeting at Millers Point. The Baird Government wants to sell about 300 public housing units to wealthy investors for a windfall profit.

I grew up in public housing myself and went to school with mates from Millers Point, so I understand the sense of pride and connection locals have with their community.

In this part of the world, people knock on doors to check up on the welfare of elderly neighbours.

They might be poor in financial terms, but they are rich in terms of their sense of belonging.

When Mike Baird looks at Millers Point, he sees dollar signs.

When I look I see people and a community. People who deserve respect.

We can and should do better.

Successful cities are not disconnected enclaves of wealth and disadvantage where people’s wealth determines their postcode.

Successful cities are inclusive cities.

Stronger communities, doesn’t necessarily mean more government, in some cases it will mean less.

In many forms civil society is taking its own action.

Just look at the growth in the share economy.

The extraordinary growth in car share schemes, UBER taxi schemes and Airbnb home stays are challenging traditional markets.

This internet enabled intimacy is driven by human imagination and ingenuity, that operates beyond the traditional State.

But it is Government policy that determines access to high speed broadband that is the facilitator of this initiative of individuals.

Those who argue for the Government’s second rate Fraudband scheme on the basis that, “it’s all we need today”, are behind the pace already being set by civil society and underestimate the capacity of human endeavor and the pace of change.

Like the computer executive who once argued there would never be a mass market for home computers, they will be embarrassed by history.

CONCLUSION

Today I have outlined a framework for where Labor is at two years out from the next election.

American author Mark Twain once noted that:

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

When it comes to our cities, legislators need imagination.

The imagination to envisage cities which are dynamic, productive, sustainable, connected and vibrant.

Cities which are centres of opportunity.

Beyond imagination, decision makers need commitment and capacity.

Commitment to deliver.

And capacity to bring local communities, business and Australians with them on the journey.

Our cities will grow in coming decades. Whether that happens in a planned way or by accident is up to us.

 

 

Sep 1, 2014

Address to United Voice National Council Dinner – Defending the Fair go

Crowne Plaza, Surfers Paradise

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak tonight.

I’m pleased to be here.

After a week of sitting opposite Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, tonight is a welcome opportunity to spend some time with people who understand the concerns of average Australian families.

Because of the nature of your workplaces, you understand better than most the chaos being visited upon this country by Mr Abbott and his nasty and incompetent government.

Of all of the trade unions that operate in Australia, United Voice is the best-connected to the needs and aspirations of low-income Australians.

Your union represents people who work hard in jobs that are in many cases are neither glamorous nor well-paid.

But this work is essential.

It deserves the respect of Australia’s leaders, not the derision of the out of touch snobs who occupy the ministerial benches.

Many of your members are among the 1.5 million Australians who live on the minimum wage.

You represent honest working people who are too busy just surviving and raising their children to have much time for the intricacies of political and policy debate.

These working Australians rely on United Voice to have their backs.

You do just that.

United Voice stands between low-income earners and a Government determined to abolish the idea of a Fair Go in this country.

A Fair Go for child-care workers;

A Fair Go for cleaners;

For aged-care workers;

For those who work in hospitality;

For security workers.

Indeed, United Voice and its work aspires to the concept that is, in my view, part of the cultural mindset of our nation.

A Fair Go for all.

That’s the Australian way.

THE STRUGGLE MATTERS

Your struggle matters.

You and the rest of the trade unions in this country are not just fighting for industrial justice.

You are fighting against an attempt by the hard right, backed by sectional interests, to redefine our culture, particularly in the way in which Australians treat each other.

The conservatives have always wanted to elevate individualism above collectivism in the workplace.

That’s why John Howard tried to destroy fairness in the workplace with Work Choices.

But Tony Abbott’s conservative ambitions go further.

He wants to extend the primacy of the individual right across Australian culture by breaking down what most people know as the Fair Go.

Through their policies and their rhetoric, Mr Abbott and his colleagues promote the view that the fortunes of the individual are more important than the fortunes of the many.

I’m cautious about politicians who are into flag-waving.

I believe it can be simplistic to ascribe to all Australians a common set of values.

But I do believe there is something very real in the concept of the Fair Go.

There is a generosity of spirit within Australian culture.

Australians respect and celebrate success at the individual level.

But the Fair Go holds that our society is only as good as the way it treats its least-advantaged members.

It holds that people deserve to be judged on the content of their character, not on their financial circumstances or connections.

It holds that if people are unfortunate enough to be disadvantaged, we should not punish them for their circumstances but should give every opportunity to create a better life, or if that is not possible, guarantee them dignity through a proper social safety net.

It is the Fair Go that explains why Australians demand universal health care and equity of access in education – policies made real over the decades by Labor Governments.

It’s also why we reject the culture of nations like the United States, which accords individualism such an elevated status that, for example, many Americans reject universal health care.

The Fair Go explains why United Voice members in the hospitality industry earn penalty rates, while their US counterparts are paid peanuts and need tips to earn a living wage.

But of course the ultimate manifestation of the Fair Go in recent history was the Australian people’s rejection of John Howard’s Work Choices laws.

By tossing Mr Howard out of office, Australians voted for a Fair Go.

They drew a line in the sand because they think fairness is important.

And they will vote to support the Fair Go again.

Despite all this, Mr Abbott is renewing the conservative quest to dilute Australian cultural values and push this nation closer toward a dog-eat-dog model.

His policies and his rhetoric undermine the generosity of spirit that I believe is a significant part of Australian culture.

Like most of us, I’ve seen that generosity of spirit up close.

Throughout my life I’ve also noted that those people who show the most generosity are those who can least afford to.

I went to high school in the city of Sydney and I worked as a paper boy every afternoon to help make ends meet.

I made $10 a week selling the papers on Market Street, in the retail precinct.

With my mates, we got an offer of $16 a week to move up to a Hunter Street corner in the middle of the financial sector and not surprisingly we took up the offer.

One of my observations has stuck with me my whole life.

Given that The Sun and The Mirror cost seven cents each, many papers were purchased with a 10 or 20 cent coin.

The pensioners visiting the city were far more likely to give you a 3 cent tip than the businessmen in suits.

Quite often, my high-flying customers would just pull over in their BMWs and gesture me over to their window.

We’d try to encourage their generosity by fumbling the old copper coins, while cars banked up behind them honking their horns.

These pillars of society showed no shame as they stopped city traffic to wait for their precious three cents.

As my late mum used to say, money doesn’t buy you class.

My real world experience of those times has stayed with me.

The 2014 Budget is characterised by a meanness of spirit and arrogance towards those less well off.

THE BUDGET

Joe Hockey’s first Budget stands as the perfect illustration of the differences between the Coalition and the Labor Party, backed by the broader labour movement.

Labor supports Medicare, the Tories hate universal health care.

Labor supports creating opportunity through education, the Tories want education to entrench existing privilege.

Labor supports proper indexation of pensions, the Tories want to cut pensions.

Labor supports investment in public transport, Tony Abbott said in Battlelines there is no need for any vehicle larger than a car.

Labor believes in supporting people into work through training, the Tories vilify the unemployed and expect people to live on nothing.

Labor believes in workers right to collectively bargain through their union, the Tories want to leave individuals on their own.

Wrapping all of this together, Labor believes in a compassionate approach to government in line with what we see as Australian values.

But Tony Abbott is trying to erode existing Australian values to discourage the compassionate spirit that has underpinned the development of egalitarianism in Australia.

They genuinely believe that reduced government spending will drive economic growth and that the benefits will trickle down to the rest of us.

But they are wrong.

Australians know this because they have seen Labor Governments successfully govern using a model that balances individualism and collectivism.

Labor does this by using the values of the Fair Go as an ideological starting point for everything we do.

REAL ISSUES IN THE REAL WORLD

I can’t see how mainstream Australians will learn to embrace Mr Abbott’s hard-line dogma or forgive him for his blatant breaches of fundamental election promises.

I also can’t believe people will put much faith in the Government’s insistence that sky will fall unless we slash government spending to deal with an imagined budget crisis.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Labor Party has plenty of work ahead, just like United Voice.

I know your organisation has its hands full on a number of fronts, including defending your members against the Government’s obsessive hatred for penalty rates.

I agree with the need for flexibility in the workplace.

But as I explained earlier, in the country I grew up in, people who work deserve a living wage.

I will never accept a US-style situation where workers put in 40 hours a week but don’t have enough money to pay rent and buy food because of low pay rates or a lack of penalty rates.

People who rely on penalty rates in this country deserve a Fair Go.

Abolishing penalty rates would also send the worst-possible message to the community about the value we place on the dignity of labour.

To me, there is dignity in all work.

If we scrap weekend penalty rates, the message we send is that even though shop assistants or hospitality workers are prepared to work hard, they don’t deserve the living wage that we pay to people in other jobs.

If Tony Abbott and his colleagues think that’s fair, they really don’t understand their fellow Australians.

You can rely on me to resist Tony Abbott’s ideological over-reach.

You can rely on my ongoing support as United Voice represents the interests of workers with limited individual bargaining power.

You can rely on me to defend collective bargaining.

Some business people and conservative politicians speak as though collective bargaining is some kind of antiquated concept from the 19th century that has passed its use-by date.

It’s not.

Along with investment in health, education and a safety net, collective bargaining is a manifestation of the Fair go.

Labor will be side by side with you in this struggle to defend the fair go.

And we will win.

Thanks for your attention.

 

Aug 20, 2014

Speech to the Future of Infrastructure Conference – Infrastructure can shape the future

Melbourne

Thanks for the invitation to speak to you today.

I’m pleased that the infrastructure community is taking this opportunity to reflect on the past, but, more importantly, to also imagine a better future.

That’s because imagining the future sits at the heart of infrastructure planning.

Every person in this room wants a prosperous future – for themselves and those who follow us.

While many factors that influence prosperity and happiness are well beyond the control of governments, one of the things we can control is whether our infrastructure development keeps up with growth.

If we do not invest in infrastructure today, we will bequeath future generations an infrastructure deficit.

And they will have less capacity to deal with that deficit, because growth will be slower because of our failure to keep up with infrastructure needs.

At the very least, today’s leaders must see it as their responsibility to ensure that the world we hand our children comes with infrastructure that is fit for purpose.

If we are on the ball, we can do a lot more.

The real challenge of contemporary infrastructure policy is not just to meet existing and projected needs, but to use effective planning to shape a better future.

For an example that is close to my heart, consider public transport in cities.

Governments of today face a choice.

They can do nothing on public transport and watch worsening traffic congestion erode amenity and productivity.

Or they can act now and invest in public transport solutions that will not only deal with today’s transport challenges, but also help guide future development.

By being proactive, governments can actually make communities more liveable, sustainable and more productive.

Productivity is critical, because without it, we won’t create jobs for the future.

That’s what I would like to focus on today.

 

THE FUTURE IS THE RECENT PAST

The theme of your conference is the Future of Infrastructure.

As Albert Einstein once said, the only source of knowledge is experience.

My experience as Minister for Infrastructure between 2007 and 2013 convinced me that some of the key principles that should underlie infrastructure provision in the future can in fact be found in the recent past.

I’m talking about proper processes.

If we want to make the right decisions about roads, railways and ports of the future, we need a proper, evidence-based process to help guide decision-making.

Without evidence-based decision-making, politicians in charge of huge infrastructure budgets will always be tempted to spend them in their own electorates, or in the electorates held by their parties.

That has happened in Australia in the past.

The most-famous pork-barrelling allegation I ever heard comes from Queensland in 1980s.

Former Queensland Roads Minister Russ Hinze had his department design a new highway with an off-ramp that would efficiently take traffic into the drive-in bottle department of a pub he owned near the Gold Coast.

While such blatant events are hopefully rare today, you don’t have to look far to find pork-barrelling.

It is not that long since the so-called regional rorts scandal of the latter part of the Howard era.

And right now the current Abbott Government is directing billions of public dollars to road projects around the nation that have not been the subject of cost-benefit analysis.

That’s a direct breach of its election promises.

It’s a throwback to an unfortunate and wasteful past.

Whatever disagreements different political parties have on infrastructure policy, surely we can at least agree on a system that directs scarce public dollars into the projects that can do the best for our nation.

When Labor took office in 2007, we took our lead from former US President Bill Clinton, who said in a radio appearance in 2000 it was “time to turn off the pork barrel spigot and deliver for our children’s future’’.

We believed that the best way to turn off the pork barrel was to craft a better process for deciding how to invest.

  • A process that made it easier for politicians to resist the temptation to make decisions based on political considerations.
  • A process based on hard evidence, not the electoral map;
  • A process that could drive gains in economic productivity gains for the national benefit.

So we created Infrastructure Australia and staffed it with experts to carefully examine proposals for major projects and rank them in terms of their potential to contribute to growth in national economic productivity.

While we reserved the absolute right of elected representatives to make decisions, we asked the experts to strip the politics from the issue.

Our aim was to entrench Infrastructure Australia so both sides of politics would embrace its advice, creating a pipeline of projects which would be the subject of bi-partisan agreement.

This is the single most-important reform in the history of infrastructure policy since Gough Whitlam created the Department of Urban and Regional Development in 1972.

It ended a system which had been too open to pork barrelling and political games.

And it provided the opportunity for a more proactive approach to infrastructure delivery – one that would not just solve the problems of the day, but would also shape a better future.

Infrastructure Australia has since made a valuable contribution to advancing the infrastructure debate.

It created the nation’s first national ports strategy, national land freight strategy and urban transport strategy.

It also produced an Infrastructure Priority list – a pipeline of projects that, in the opinion of independent experts, would deliver the projects with the most capacity to boost national productivity.

In office, Labor funded all 15 of Infrastructure Australia’s priority projects.

When Labor took government we inherited an infrastructure deficit which we addressed by boosting investment on roads, ports, railways and other infrastructure.

We doubled the roads Budget, building or upgrading 7500km of roads.

We built or rebuilt 4200 km of railway track.

We allocated more investment to urban public transport than all previous Commonwealth governments since Federation put together.

When Labor took office Australia was 20th among OECD nations in terms of infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP.

When we left we were ranked 1st.

PROTECTING THE PROCESS

There are big differences between the approach of Labor and the Coalition on infrastructure.

They go to the heart of the ability of government to be proactive, rather than reactive.

The immediate problem after the election of the Abbott Government was its attack on Infrastructure Australia’s independence.

One of the Government’s first pieces of legislation was the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill.

This transformed the Infrastructure Australia advisory council to a board and renamed the Infrastructure Co-ordinator the CEO.

These procedural changes caused me no great concern.

But, I was shocked to see that the Bill also proposed reducing Infrastructure Australia’s independence.

The changes would have allowed the Minister for Infrastructure to issue orders to IA about what it could and could not investigate.

The Minister would have also had the power to prohibit the publication of IA’s research.

I am pleased to report that Labor, with the backing of groups including Infrastructure Partnership Australia, the Business Council of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia, successfully resisted these changes.

Last month the Government agreed to amendments to retain IA’s independence and transparency surrounding its advice.

It also agreed to codify its election promise to subject all infrastructure proposals worth more than $100 million to cost-benefit analysis ticked off by Infrastructure Australia.

The future of infrastructure provision in this country requires the maintenance of the Infrastructure Australia model.

Whereas the Government agreed to the amended Bill on Infrastructure Australia, they have been intransigent on their proposed Asset Recycling Fund.

While at one level, the fund presents as a plausible means to encourage greater infrastructure investment from state governments, I make the point that a true Nation Building government actually invests in infrastructure.

There was not a single extra dollar in this proposed fund, just money recycled from the existing Building Australia Fund and the Education Investment Fund.

Both of these had proper accountability measures and rigour over the purposes to which money was invested.

Last month in the Senate, Labor won support for amendments to the legislation to ensure accountability.

However, Treasurer Joe Hockey rejected the amendments when they came back to the House of Representatives.

He said he would instead create the fund by use of an appropriation bill which could not be amended by the Senate.

Unfortunately for Mr Hockey, Labor obtained advice last week from the Parliamentary Library, backed up by the Clerk of the Senate, to the effect that Mr Hockey’s plan would fail.

It’s one thing to be enthusiastic about building new roads, but there is nothing to be gained by rushing at projects like at a bull at a gate without subjecting proposals to proper checks.

Process matters.

Mr Hockey is trying to avoid scrutiny.

My fear is that Mr Hockey’s reason for creating the asset recycling is his desire to take funds out of the BAF and the EIF and to place it in a new funding pot without proper accountability requirements.

I’m also convinced Infrastructure Australia must work hard to retain its independence.

Recently Infrastructure Australia produced a report arguing that Australian governments were too quick to build roads.

The report said they should think harder about whether they were achieving value for money.

When The Melbourne Age got its hands on a leaked draft of the report, the Acting Infrastructure Co-ordinator released a statement disowning the report.

But the full report is clearly labelled as an Infrastructure Australia document.

The Acting Infrastructure Co-ordinator seemed to be shying away from a debate about the value of investing in roads in contrast to the value in investing in urban rail.

Tony Abbott has placed the construction of new roads at the centre of his infrastructure narrative and ruled out funding for urban rail.

But Infrastructure Australia must not be cowered from engaging in a debate that questions the roads-only approach.

MOVING AHEAD

Creativity in infrastructure policy is becoming more important with each passing year.

Our nation is in a state of demographic transition that is placing real stress on our cities and towns and the roads, railways and other infrastructure that serve them.

One of our big problems at present is the mismatch between the locations of jobs growth and population growth.

Research from the 2013 State of the Cities report highlighted how most major Australian cities were experiencing good growth in employment in knowledge-heavy industries setting up close to central business districts.

But the research also shows that property prices and other factors mean the areas of population growth are on the urban fringes.

So clearly we have a complex problem – one that involves the quality of roads and public transport, housing affordability, urban planning and a range of other policy areas.

We need to take a multi-faceted approach to address such issues, rather than kidding ourselves that the market has all the answers.

The current Government’s answer is solely to build more roads.

But the changes heading our way are too complex to be solved simply by building a new toll road.

If we are really smart, we can implement policy that turns the demographic changes our cities are experiencing into virtues that can be harnessed to drive future economic growth.

Here’s how.

For a start, we need to encourage greater urban density closer to city centres, particularly along existing public transport corridors.

Second, we need to improve public transport, which requires working with state governments.

If we improve the quality of our train, bus and light rail services, then moving closer to the city will become an attractive proposition to current commuters.

Third, we need to think about ways to stimulate jobs growth in the outer suburbs.

Putting all this together, I’m really talking about governments utilising a range of policies responses to deal with society’s infrastructure challenges.

I use the term governments on purpose here.

Central to the future of infrastructure delivery in this country is a realisation that all levels of government need to work together to meet our infrastructure challenges.

And in doing so, they must employ a wide range of policy responses – not all of them involving concrete and steel.

Infrastructure policy needs to be completely integrated with other areas of government policy that bear upon it – like town planning, housing affordability, urban design and reduction of carbon emissions.

Infrastructure must also be smart infrastructure, so we get more value out of assets.

The NBN, for example, has the potential to transform the way our economy functions and reduce pressure on infrastructure by reducing travel demands.

The Abbott Government, like other conservative governments in our nation’s history, can’t seem to get over a silo approach to delivery of infrastructure.

It refuses to invest in urban rail, insisting that this is up to state governments.

That won’t work.

Australia is one of the most urbanised nations in the world.

Any Commonwealth Government which refuses to show policy leadership in urban infrastructure is ignoring the needs of up to 80 per cent of the population.

The urban infrastructure challenge is only one part of the broad infrastructure scene.

But the example I just gave you about the mismatch between where people live and work is a signpost to where infrastructure provision in our nation is headed.

It is moving toward greater integration of different strands of policy that affect demand for infrastructure, as distinct from reactive policies that deliver on infrastructure problems that are already apparent.

SNEAK PEAK

I’ve made clear today that my concern about the future of infrastructure policy is to ensure we retain the accountability processes of the past.

But I’ve been using my time in Opposition to think about new policies and fresh approaches should I be privileged enough to have a second chance to serve as Minister for Infrastructure.

Let me give you sneak peek into my priority areas.

Firstly and unsurprisingly, a returned Labor Government invest in urban rail to ensure that our cities have better public transport.

This will improve amenity and drive productivity gains that will benefit the entire economy.

Since taking office Mr Abbott has scrapped billions of dollars of investment in urban rail projects including the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail project.

His preference for roads is also causing states to think less about rail.

If the Commonwealth is offering grants for roads but not rail, there’s a direct incentive to take the money for roads.

Premiers with the good sense to want to invest in rail will get no help from Canberra.

Labor believes in investing in roads and rail.

We need an integrated system that serves our community and our economy, not a poll-driven approach that serves the electoral interests of the government of the day.

Once again, an integrated approach requires co-operation between all levels of government.

Secondly, I’m more convinced than ever that the Commonwealth must provide leadership to the other levels of government in urban policy.

Cities are under pressure now but the pressure will increase in coming years due to inter-related technological, demographic and workplace changes.

These changes will affect where people live, where they work, how they get to work and where businesses choose to site their workplaces.

If our cities are to become more productive, more sustainable and more liveable despite these changes, all levels of government need to get involved.

We need to look at planning, housing affordability, population density, utilities, social mobility, public housing, recreation and a range of other issues that bear upon the health of our cities.

We need the full resources of all levels of government and we need commonwealth involvement to drive the policy process and ensure that all parties are running in the same direction.

On the issue of co-ordination, our governments need to involve stakeholders in the process of infrastructure planning to harness all available intellectual capacity.

Regrettably, the Abbott Government sees consultation as talking to big business only.

Big businessmen have useful contributions to make about infrastructure, but in many cases they also have financial stakes in the outcome of deliberations.

Labor also wants input from experts in planning and design, financing and other areas.

We are particularly interested in the views of people who have no financial stake in the outcome of planning decisions.

We will provide opportunities for such input.

Finally, Australian governments need to do more to build communities.

Part of that bears upon the choices we make about infrastructure.

Human beings are naturally interested in the spaces around them and the people around them.

People are born with a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.

That’s why we barrack for our local sporting teams, attend community events and check up on our elderly neighbours.

Of course, governments are not social convenors.

But when delivering infrastructure we need to think more about the way that our built environment supports communities.

In particular, we need to consider how changes bearing down upon us, including the effects of an ageing population, will affect the way our communities work.

For instance, we have to guard against social isolation of the elderly.

We need to ensure our changing communities have public space and recreational areas; safe and effective links for pedestrians and cyclists and mixed-use precincts that include a range of uses that contribute to the way people experience their lives.

CONCLUSION

Those are a few basic ideas about where I’m headed in a policy sense in addition to retaining proper the processes of accountability and value-for-money that I outlined earlier.

You should expect to hear me talking more about public transport, urban policy and community engagement in coming months.

Above all, expect Labor to frame infrastructure policy that does more than simply respond to the issues of today.

We are activists. Nation builders.

We seek to utilise policy to create a better future.

Expect us to be thinking ahead and building for the future; developing new ways to carefully apply the limited resources of government in ways that leave our children with the future they deserve.

Once again, I want to thank you again for inviting me to speak today.

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to address you and I wish you well with your conference.

 

 

Jun 29, 2014

Labor protects Qantas

Labor believes Qantas must remain in majority Australian hands and will move in the Senate to ensure that remains the case in the national interest.

The Opposition will propose changes to the Qantas Sale Act which would remove the so-called 25-35 provisions limits on Qantas foreign ownership.

The changes were first proposed in the 2009 Aviation White Paper and are in line with long-standing Labor policy. At that time this proposed change was rejected by the Coalition and the Greens.

The existing Qantas Sale Act guarantees majority Australian ownership and the retention of the majority of the airline’s 30,000 jobs in Australia.

It also limits ownership in Qantas by an individual investor to 25 per cent and by a foreign-owned airline to 35 percent.

Labor’s amendments would scrap these two provisions.

The Opposition will not support Tony Abbott’s proposal to eliminate the 49 per cent limit on foreign investors.

Nor will we support any elimination of requirements including that:

  • At least two-thirds of the Qantas board be Australians, including the chairperson;
  • Its head office must be in Australia and;
  • The majority of its international maintenance must be conducted in Australia.

Removing the 25/35 provisions is long-standing Labor policy and was proposed in the Rudd Government’s 2009 Aviation White Paper.

When the 2009 Aviation White Paper proposed removing the 25-35 provisions, this was opposed by the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Shadow Transport Minister Warren Truss.

Mr Hockey and Mr Truss have since back-flipped on this position, having suddenly decided there is no national interest in majority local ownership of the national carrier.

If they are that serious about the need for greater foreign investment in Qantas, they should back Labor’s modest proposal to lift restrictions consistent with Labor’s view that Qantas must remain majority-Australian owned.

 

 

Jun 13, 2014

Address to the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association – Adelaide

ALRTA president Liz Schmidt, executive director Mathew Munro, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Thanks for the invitation to speak to you today.

One of the great joys of public life is the opportunity it provides to meet people from across the spectrum of society and industry.

I’ve had a long association with your organisation over the years and I’m really enjoying the chance to meet your members again tonight.

Whether you are running a national trucking company or a smaller trucking outfit focused on your local community, all of you represent the critical first link in a global supply chain that in central to this nation’s economy.

For most of its history Australia has been a key player in global food production.

But its role will expand further in coming years as the economic growth in our region lifts millions of people out of poverty.

Once people are lifted out of poverty, their income allows for a broadening of their taste in foods, which inevitably sees them increase their intake of protein.

The Department of Agriculture predicts that the global middle class is expected to increase from 1.3 billion people in 2010 to 3.2 billion in 2020 and 4.9 billion in 2030.

Eighty-five percent of this growth expected to happen in Asia.

The Department expects the value of world food consumption to be 75 per cent higher in 2050 than it was in 2007.

And it notes that the food products expected to be most sought-after by 2050 will be beef, wheat, dairy products, sheep meat and sugar.

So strap yourselves in.

The next few decades will be a time of opportunity for Australian farmers, particularly meat producers, and the associated service industries like yours.

That means your organisation will be central to ongoing national prosperity.

At the moment there are at least 600,000 registered trucks in Australia.

They carry 70 per cent of domestic freight and the industry provided more than 200,000 jobs.

Given the opportunities that lie ahead, it is fascinating to speculate how big your industry will be in say, 30 years’ time.

But these figures are also sobering for governments.

They highlight the scale of the challenge our nation faces in ensuring that our roads, railways and ports will be able to handle the increased export volumes.

When many people think about infrastructure in this country, they think about big-ticket items like tunnels under cities, ports or major new railway lines.

But I suppose that when members of this organisation think about infrastructure, they think about safe and efficient freeways and, just as importantly, safe and efficient roads in rural and regional areas.

We can and should always pay attention to the efficiency of our ports because they are gateways for our exports.

But we should never forget that every piece of food we export to our hungry and growing world originates from a farm.

We can’t get our food exports on the water and headed for overseas markets unless we can first get them from the farm gate to the port.

In government, Labor will always take seriously the responsibility to do what we can to make your job easier through investment in roads and proper attention to the regulatory regimes that affect your industry.

I worked closely with your organisation as a Minister and appreciated your constructive input. I ensured you had access at the highest levels including giving you the right to participate at Transport Ministerial Council meetings.

I even brought log books into Question Time to demonstrate how absurd the bureaucracy of multiple contradictory regulations had become.

LABOR’S RECORD ON ROADS

I’m proud of what we achieved over the six years I worked with you as Infrastructure and Transport Minister.

And while no government gets everything right, I am particularly proud of our investment in the national road network.

When Labor took office, Australia was 20th among OECD nations in terms of infrastructure spending as a proportion of GDP.

We are now ranked 1st.

Our doubling of road funding allowed for the building or upgrading of 7500km of road.

This investment saw the completion of the duplication of the Hume Highway, funding in place for full duplication of Pacific Highway and ongoing repair of Bruce Highway.

While in office, we completed 137 major projects.

Sixty-seven were under way when we left office.

We fixed 1944 Black Spots and funded 17,200 council road projects.

Labor also introduced the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which along with regulators in the maritime and rail sectors, is expected to deliver $30 billion in economic benefits over the next two decades.

That reform ended the difficulty of having different cattle carry limits in different states.

I acknowledge there have been teething problems with the set-up of the regulator, particularly in respect of oversized trucks.

But while I believe the current Government should have ensured it got the details right, I remain convinced the regulator’s arrival is a positive development for your industry.

I am particularly proud of Labor’s Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, including our livestock transport industry program.

This has delivered 294 new projects including more than 140 new or upgraded rest areas and 46 new or upgraded parking/decoupling bays.

In 2013 we expanded the program with $10 million in extra funding for 47 livestock transport industry projects.

These are improving the safety and condition of 119 ramps and 42 loading pens.

Lighting is being improved in 16 saleyards and the program has added truck wash points, internal roadways and saleyard security gates right across the country.

This was the first ever dedicated Federal funding program for your industry and your organisation can take great credit for it.

THE BUDGET

I was disappointed that the only new infrastructure projects funded in the 2014-15 Budget came from cuts to already funded projects.

Apart from re-announcing existing projects, sometimes with a new name, that’s all there was.

It’s the first Budget since 2008 that had not a single dollar added across the forward estimates for the Pacific Highway or the Bruce Highway.

On top of that the Commonwealth has frozen indexation of Financial Assistance Grants to councils which is used for local road maintenance.

The freeze will have a compounding affect over coming years and within seven years, the reduction in funding will be of a scale equivalent to the entire Roads to Recovery program.

That is bad news for your industry.

It means that councils will have to either reduce services like road maintenance, with resulting effects on road safety and productivity, or increase rates.

Over time, that will lead to less maintenance on the nation’s rural and regional roads.

I’ll be keen to exchange views with members of ALRTA in coming years because you will be the first to notice the reduction in road quality should these fears be proven correct.

CONCLUSION

In the coming fortnight Labor will move amendments in the Senate to Land Transport legislation to ensure the continued operation of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.

We were not successful with these amendments in the House of Representatives but are much more hopeful in the Senate.

If there was one thing I could leave you with tonight it would be my assurance that Labor understands the trucking sector and remains dedicated to playing a constructive role in Opposition.

In particular, you can expect me to remain a firm advocate of proper investment in infrastructure to ensure that our exporters remain well-placed to extract full benefit from the growing demand for their products within our region.