Tomorrow’s release of the Turnbull Government’s cities policy must restore the $4 billion in cuts to urban rail and commit extra funding for the next wave of congestion-busting public transport projects.
The Government must also re-establish the scrapped Major Cities Unit and appoint a Minister for Cities – a position Malcolm Turnbull scrapped earlier this year when he chose not to appoint a replacement for Jamie Briggs, who quit in December.
Mr Turnbull must also outline how he will promote jobs growth in the suburbs of Australian cities to make it easier for people to find work closer to where they can afford to live.
Indeed, Mr Turnbull would be well served if he embraced Labor’s 10 Point Plan for Better Cities, which I released at the National Press Club in September 2014.
Mr Turnbull starts a long way behind Labor on cities policy.
As soon as the Coalition took office in 2013, it scrapped more than $4 billion allocated to important public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, reallocating the funding to new toll roads like the discredited East West Link in Melbourne.
Incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott also scrapped the Major Cities Unit, which the former Labor Government created to drive policy to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities.
While it is a good thing that Mr Turnbull has rejected Mr Abbott’s disdain for public transport and creative urban policy, his interest in cities has so far gone no further than tweeting pictures of himself riding on trains, buses and trams.
Tomorrow is the day when Mr Turnbull must go beyond riding on public transport and actually fund public transport, which is the obvious starting point for any serious attack on traffic congestion, which is inhibiting economic growth and eroding the quality of life of the four out of five Australians who live in cities.
Infrastructure Australia pointed the way in a major report released in December that warned traffic congestion would cost the nation $53 billion a year by 2031 without government action now.
The challenges facing cities are clear.
It’s time to act.
Labor’s 10 Point Plan for Better Cities
- Investing in properly integrated transport systems involving public transport and roads
- Investing in active transport solutions which connect up with public transport, education and employment hubs;
- Addressing housing affordability through the use of urban planning, land supply and use of incentives;
- Aligning greater housing density with public transport corridors;
- 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;
- Promoting jobs growth in middle rings around cities by investing in research precincts around universities and hospitals;
- Supporting connectivity and productivity through fibre-to-the-premise National Broadband Network;
- Supporting renewable energy including buildings and precincts that produce their own power in new developments;
- Enhancing sustainability and resilience of household and industrial water supply and rehabilitating our urban waterways which for too long were used for industrial waste;
- Cooperation between Governments to promote the development of second or third CBD’s to decentralize jobs growth.