Speech to The National Growth Areas Alliance – Growing Gains, not Growing Pains – Eumemmerring, Victoria
John Irving, the American author, put it best – “living cities don’t hold still”.
Indeed, our cities are constantly changing.
People move in and suburbs grow. Houses and apartment blocks fill pockets and our streets suddenly become a little busier.
But the truth is that this pace of change does not share itself equally.
It is in our outer suburbs that the effect of rapid population growth is felt most keenly.
For instance, the suburb of Clyde in the local government area of Casey is a 30-minute drive from here depending on where exactly you’re going – and even longer in peak hour.
In 2016 it was Melbourne’s fastest growing suburb.
It’s expected to be home to 140,000 people by 2041 as development continues to swallow existing greenfield sites.
However, it’s not the only outer suburb surging ahead in population growth.
Other local government areas with significant growth over the past decade include Whittlesea, which increased by 62 per cent, Cardinia by 69 per cent and Wyndham by 98 per cent.
And this is a pattern replicated in major cities around the nation.
Herein lays the challenge for governments, planners and policy makers. They advocate for smart growth.
Edward McMahon summed this up as: “Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how.”
But for our outer suburbs the challenge extends beyond the task of protecting against the destruction of existing community character.
We must also look at how we can build community character too.
The idea of “place-making’’ has a weight of theory behind it, but it is the practice of this that is most important.
When we think about place, we must put the concept of community first.
As Jan Gehl said, “first life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works’’.
Getting this right requires investment and it requires leadership.
If we fail to achieve this, the consequences are simply far too steep.
They include increased urban congestion, overflowing commuting carparks and schools and childcare facilities that struggle to keep up with demand.
The very simple fact is when we invest in the infrastructure that underpins a community, we invest in each and every one of its people.
OUR CHANGING CITIES
Several factors have contributed to the emergence of population growth hotspots.
The first is that Australia’s transformation to a knowledge intensive economy has seen the CBDs of our cities become the heart of the nation’s productivity.
While most of this job creation has been in inner areas, population growth has been in outer communities.
In some cities this has led to obvious spatial economic inequality.
In Sydney, Geoff Roberts from the Greater Sydney Commission refers to this as a “latte line’’.
Depending on whether you live north or south of the line you are either more likely to be a “have’’ or a “have not’’.
The fact is, higher house prices in the inner and middle rings of our nation’s cities also mean that many people cannot afford to live close to where they work even if they wanted to do so.
There is no sign of this abating, with all capital cities projected to experience significant population growth between now and 2031.
By then, our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 per cent, and Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin are expected to grow by nearly 30 per cent.
But it’s much more complex than this.
There are a number of demographic factors that underpin this growth, which are changing the face of our cities.
The first notable change is that increasingly, younger families are living in outer suburbs.
This has, of course, placed increased pressure on health and education facilities.
In its research, the Grattan Institute found that between now and 2021 high schools will need to accommodate more than twice as many students as they did between 2011 and 2016.
Unsurprisingly this is accentuated in outer suburbs.
Second, the number of people living by themselves has also grown.
Currently one in four Australians live alone. However, by 2030 this is expected to grow to 30 or 40 per cent of households.
This brings me to the third issue, which is our ageing population.
The Commonwealth has projected that by 2057, the number of people aged 65 years and older will have doubled.
These three factors combined have very specific implications for our cities and their supporting infrastructure.
With interest rates at record lows, there has never been a better time for actual Commonwealth investment.
However what we have seen instead from the Coalition is a pattern of underspending, which has serious implications for down the track.
In infrastructure, it is not uncommon for money allocated one year to be delayed into the following year because of factors like weather delays or difficulty finalising contractors to complete work.
But when this happens, the extra spending is delivered in the following year.
Instead, the Coalition is drastically underspending its infrastructure Budgets year after year with the figure increasing each year.
A recent Senate committee heard the annual underspend has increased each year, beginning with $829 million in 2014-15, moving to $1.2 billion in 2015-16 and then $1.7 billion in 2016-17, leading to an accumulated underspend of $3.9 billion.
It appears the tactic here is to promise big on Budget night, when Australians are watching the Treasurer’s Budget speech, but then fail to deliver what was promised in the hope nobody will notice.
This deceptive behaviour lets down Australians.
The fact is, investing in the right railways, road and other infrastructure generates economic activity in the short and medium term, and boosts economic productivity in the longer term.
That’s why, when we were in Government, we invested more in urban public transport than all our predecessors combined since Federation.
The other issue I want to quickly touch on is value capture, which, contrary to what many in the Government seem to think, is not a new idea.
Indeed, the London Underground was financed using value capture.
However, my issue with value capture is this: anyone who pretends that clever financing arrangements or value capture will meet Australia’s current and future infrastructure needs without significant Commonwealth investment is kidding themselves.
There is no substitute for actual Commonwealth investment.
That’s why, at the last Federal Election, Labor committed to a number of projects advocated for by the NGAA.
This included Bridge Inn Road at Mernda, upgrades at Craigieburn Road and O’Herns Road, Thompsons Road and the Monash Freeway here in Melbourne, as well as the Metro project to increase suburban rail capacity.
We committed to upgrade Appin Road and Western Sydney Rail.
To the Gawler line electrification in Adelaide.
To Cross River Rail, the Pacific Motorway-Gateway Merge project, Darra to Rocklea on the Ipswich Motorway in Brisbane.
To the Greater Hobart Transport Plan.
And Perth Metronet, Wanneroo Road and Roe Highway upgrade as well as the Armadale Road Bridge.
Real commitments to make a real difference.
We know our growth areas need improved rail and road connections, and we will continue to work with the NGAA and local communities to identify priority projects.
Planning for projects that we know will be needed, such as the M9 Outer Orbital in Sydney should be underway right now.
Over the course of this year I’ve met with a number of local councils, including many of you in this room today.
I understand you have questions about the City Deals program, both in terms of the Government’s approach, but also in terms of where Labor’s thinking is heading on this issue.
My view is that when done right, City Deals do have something to offer.
My concern, however, is that the Government has used this as a distraction from their failure to provide real investment in our nation’s cities.
Here’s what we know about the City Deals program so far:
We know that the three City Deals proposed in last year’s federal campaign in Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney all came in response to actual infrastructure investment commitments by the Labor Party.
We know that there is no process in place to guide the selection of future City Deals.
And, we know that there is no real funding for the program.
The fact is these City Deals are a far cry from the UK model they seek to replicate.
City Deals originated from the United Kingdom as vehicles for co-operation between national and local government on shared economic development goals.
There, the national government delivers infrastructure funding based on these shared objectives and shares any resulting revenue increases with the council.
Labor supports greater investment in our cities; we don’t support political fixes that don’t achieve outcomes.
And I think when it comes to the question of what Labor will do, you only need look at our track record from when we were in Government to know we will invest not only in infrastructure for our cities, but also the policy and research that underpins this.
That’s why we will reallocate the funding for the Infrastructure Financing Unit to Infrastructure Australia and to recreate the Major Cities Unit to drive evidence-based policy making.
Enormous potential exists in our outer suburbs, but the biggest handbrake on this is undoubtedly congestion.
It’s a tragedy that many people spend more time commuting to and from work than they do at home with their family.
We already know that analysis by Infrastructure Australia indicates the cost of urban congestion will rise to $53 billion a year by 2031 unless we act now.
There has been a great deal of talk recently about the 30-minute city and, indeed, I raised this in 2014 in my first speech as the Shadow Minister for Cities.
Last month, the NSW Government released its Draft Greater Sydney Region Plan 2017, which aims to achieve three 30-minute cities by 2051.
The problem is that people in our outer suburbs cannot wait until 2051 for critical infrastructure.
Indeed, Liverpool Council has already raised the fact it houses 100 new residents every week and has 18,000 new dwellings in the development pipeline.
The fact is many of the outer suburbs, such as Liverpool, are happy to assist in accommodating our growing population.
But without the right infrastructure in place, their capacity to do so is severely limited.
That’s why I intend to keep advocating for a rail line servicing the Western Sydney Airport from day one.
Each day, more than 300,000 people commute away from the region for work.
The airport provides a much needed economic catalyst for the wider Western Sydney region, but making sure people can access the jobs this opportunity brings is essential.
That’s why Councils have identified the north-south corridor connecting Rouse Hill, St Mary’s, the Airport, and the Macarthur region as essential, as well as extending the South-West line from Leppington.
I also just want to briefly mention one of my other portfolios.
Opportunities for economic growth in our outer suburbs also lie in tourism.
Penrith City Council, for instance, has seen a significant increase in both international and domestic visitors.
This has boosted the local economy by more than $26 million.
Outer suburbs often function as gateways to the wider regions.
So if we’re serious about encouraging regional dispersal, enticing visitors away from the CBDs of our cities, then we should also think about the role outer suburbs play in this.
American President John F Kennedy was absolutely right when he said: “We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation.”
Delivering for our growth areas is good social policy because it promotes inclusion.
It is also essential economic policy because it maximises productivity of our cities, as well as sustainability and liveability.
MONDAY, 20 NOVEMBER, 2017
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.