Oct 20, 2011

Doorstop – Brisbane

Subjects: Cities report, royal visit, housing

QUESTION: Can you sum up, you know, you… or in one key phrase what this shows us about Australia?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What it shows is that we do have productive sustainable and liveable cities, but we need to get the planning mechanisms right. We live in the most urbanised country on the planet. Our cities are where three quarters of our population live and generate 80 percent of our wealth. So we need to make sure that we get planning right, that we ensure that there’s – where there’s housing it goes together with jobs and with economic development. We need to make sure that we have infrastructure particularly good transport infrastructure where people live, and where people work.

QUESTION: And whose responsibility is that.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Commonwealth has taken a view that for a national government, we can’t represent all of our citizens without being engaged in our cities, so we want to develop cooperation with the states and territories to make sure that we get some consistency in terms of planning mechanisms, to make sure that all our cities are properly planned, and that with housing comes proper infrastructure, including transport infrastructure, and employment opportunities – and that we work together to make our cities more sustainable. There are many positive features of this report – the fact that Australians are losing, are using less electricity. Australians are using less water. Australians are using public transport more. All of these will have an impact in giving us cleaner air, reducing our carbon emissions, and also of course saving costs for the population in general.

So there’s some very positive things coming out of this report but there’s obviously much more needs to be done. What we’ve done is produce the evidence. The evidence is there now for the Commonwealth to work with states, territories, with local government, and with communities to make our cities even better places to live.

QUESTION: Don’t you think state governments would know how best to plan cities? Do you think the federal government has a valid role there?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: If you look at our cities there are a lot of places where you have housing without proper transport infrastructure, without employment opportunities, with consequences not just for the economic productivity of those areas but also real social consequences as well. So we need to do better. One of the things that this report does is for the second time – since the first time was the last report last year – is bring together in one place a snapshot of what is happening right across the country with our 18 major cities, look at all the research which has been undertaken, both international and here in Australia by state governments by research institutions and by the private sector and bring it all together in one place. It’s important that more and more we live in a national economy, it’s important that we have a seamless national economy and consistency across the board.

This report providing this information out there will assist with the roll out of the national urban policy that we announced in the May Budget. We also provided funding and today we’ve called for submissions for funding for specific projects that can be examples of how we can make our cities more sustainable and more liveable.

QUESTION: There are a couple of key factors in the fight between the two big cities, you know, Sydney and Melbourne, that showed some interesting stuff.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Melbourne’s growing faster than Sydney, and that is as a result of many people leaving Sydney either for south-east Queensland or for the coastal areas of New South Wales. Melbourne continues to be Australia’s fastest growing city. Melbourne has also the highest increased take up of public transport use. So inevitably there’s always a bit of tension between Melbourne and Sydney. What I want to see is all our cities be great cities.

QUESTION: There’s also a stat there I think that there’s just not enough housing going up in Sydney.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We need to deal with the issue of housing supply if we’re going to address affordability. What the report shows is that in Sydney in particular the costs of new greenfield development is higher than for infill due to the costs of infrastructure, and just the size and spread of Sydney which is there. So that’s a message for urban planners, it’s a message for the state and local government, and I’m sure that they’ll take notice of this research. We’re releasing it out today. Last year’s report was downloaded 575,000 times. What that shows is that there’s a great deal of interest out there from the public in how our cities function, and how they can be made better cities.

QUESTION: You’re aware of the, obviously, all the research in the report. Where would you prefer to live? Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m a loyal Sydneysider, and for people who know Sydney, I’ve moved all the way from Camperdown to Marrickville, which is about 5 k’s. But one of the things that…

QUESTION: You wouldn’t be bothered with Brisbane, hey?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: One of the things about being a national politician particularly in this portfolio is that it’s sometimes difficult to know where I live, and you get to go to great cities like Brisbane. Brisbane and the whole of south-east Queensland has just stormed ahead in the time that I’ve been coming here, even the time that I’ve been a federal member which is 15 years. And I know that south-east Queensland to the credit of the state government are in my view further advanced than any other state government at getting comprehensive planning for infrastructure right across the transport, water and energy fields, so that’s a great credit to the Bligh Government, but also a great credit to the people here of south-east Queensland. I’d enjoy coming here more if occasionally we won an odd game at what I still call Lang Park.

QUESTION: Tell me, the federal government, any moves to – or any plans to intervene in the Qantas dispute?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we’re obviously keeping a watching brief on this. We’re very concerned about the implications of the Qantas dispute. I’ve again today had some discussions with Qantas and with their employee organisations and indicated the Government’s firm view that common sense has got to prevail here. We have a common interest of Qantas with its work force. They need to get together, put aside some of the tensions which might be there, and act not just in the national interest but in their own interests.

QUESTION: Are you inclined to intervene?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: There are provisions in the Fair Work Australia Act for the Government to intervene, but that can only occur if there’s a protracted dispute, and if there is a national economic interest. Both sides are still saying they want to talk, they want to discuss, and they want to resolve this. The Government’s view is that we would much prefer that to occur rather than have some form of intervention.

QUESTION: Well how much longer can you wait before you need to intervene, given that it is becoming protracted, and there are clear economic impacts of having these aircraft grounded.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: One of the things that I’ll do as the Minister is do what I say, which is be moderate in my comments, be cooperative and encouraging in those comments of the parties. That’s what I’m calling upon them to do and I won’t contradict that by being inflammatory. There have been I think on both sides some unfortunate comments made. What we need to do, and they need to do is sit down around the table and get this agreement done, because there are implications for Qantas and its workforce directly. There were also national implications if the dispute is not resolved.

QUESTION: The Prime Minister opted not to curtsey to her Majesty today. Do you think that’s appropriate?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Prime Minister followed proper protocols as you would expect. And isn’t it a great thing that we had a female Prime Minister, female Governor General, and female Queen of Australia which is what the Queen’s position is here, and I certainly welcome the Queen’s visit. I look forward to meeting her again later this week.

QUESTION: Will you be bowing, or how will you be greeting – how would you greet her majesty?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I will be doing whatever the protocols instruct me to do and that’s appropriate. We’re a modern society. The Government and I think all Australian people, regardless of what they think about the future constitutional arrangements, have respect for the Queen, and very much welcome her here, and wish her a successful visit. And it shouldn’t be distracted by any sort of petty issues such as that.

QUESTION: So you wouldn’t become the next lizard of Oz?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I will act according to the protocols.

QUESTION: In Queensland there is quite literally thousands of unsold apartments and houses, and we have that at a time where there is this enormous demand for housing. Do you think affordability is more of an issue than with developers being a little bit greedy on margins?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I can’t comment on the specifics of what you’re referring to, I’d have to, you know, get advice on that. But there’s no doubt housing affordability is a major issue. Good housing is essential if people are going to be able to participate in the workforce, it’s essential in terms of the living standards of Australians, and we know that there’s real pressure there. One of the things that the government has done through our housing affordability programs, through our investment, through the economic stimulus plan, through the mechanisms that we’ve put in place to encourage private sector investment in housing is address supply. For years that wasn’t addressed. The Government has addressed that. And obviously there’s a need to do more in that area. But you can’t address housing affordability without addressing the issues of supply; and that requires a mature debate as well about the nature of infill development, about the nature of the urban design of our cities. And I’m sure that today’s report is an important contribution to that debate. Thank you.