Speech to National Growth Areas Alliance Conference – Growing Our Outer Suburbs for the Future – Wanneroo
I grew up in the heart of urban industrial Sydney.
Workers’ cottages lined narrow streets and warehouses hummed with activity as they spat out packed crates of textiles, biscuits, flour and other products onto the streets ready for delivery.
In recent decades, much of this neighbourhood that I know so well has changed.
Warehouses have been converted, cafes have popped up and traffic crawls its way down Parramatta Road.
Yet each and every time I drive down Pyrmont Bridge Road, Camperdown, past the home in which I grew up, I feel an overwhelming sense of familiarity.
I, like every other person, have been shaped by place.
And place is shaped by people.
Socrates, as early as the 5th century BC, made this connection between the power of place and strength of community.
He said: By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities.
Today this wisdom is required more than ever before.
The decisions we make, as architects, planners and governments matter.
They shape place and people.
Our cities are in a state of change, rapidly growing outward.
But the question is, can we plan for this growth, or must we always be responding?
Infrastructure is the key to this puzzle.
Instead of sitting back to see where the houses go up, we should be using infrastructure to guide growth in our outer suburbs.
The National Growth Areas Alliance over the past year has campaigned tirelessly for just this – a ‘”fair go for outer suburbs’’ – and I congratulate you on this campaign.
Each of our capitals has its own geography, history and growth challenges.
In that context, NGAA’s thoughtful work to nominate the best value projects in the outer suburbs was something we took note of and acted on during the recent election.
Local government is the closest level of government to people, and it is well placed to understand local priorities for managing growth.
In Sydney there is an opportunity around the new Western Sydney Airport.
A rail line should connect the airport to the existing network from day one of the new airport opening.
But this isn’t just about the airport.
It’s about connecting Sydney’s fastest growing areas in the northwest and southwest to job opportunities around the new airport, the nearby employment lands, and to back in initiatives like the Sydney Science Park.
We also committed to fixing Appin Road and working with the private sector to open up new residential opportunities in that corridor.
In Melbourne, our key commitment was the Metro.
This is critical, because increasing capacity on the inner Melbourne loop will allow many more train services from outer Melbourne in places like Frankston.
We also prioritised key NGAA priorities to the north of Melbourne – including Bridge Inn Road at Mernda, addressing capacity constraints at Craigieburn Road and O’Herns Road.
In addition we added to the Victorian Government’s earlier commitment to Thompsons Road.
In Government we invested $1.43 billion on the M80.
The Coalition cut that on coming to office, and we committed to finishing the job we had begun.
We also committed to increase capacity on the Monash Freeway. In Brisbane we committed to the Cross River Rail, which will facilitate greater carrying capacity from the existing outer parts of the Brisbane network.
This in turn will also take pressure off roads.
We also committed to the M1 Pacific Motorway-Gateway merge project, and the Rocklea to Darra section of the Ipswich Motorway to remove bottlenecks around Brisbane.
Perth is predicted to have seven of the ten most congested corridors in the nation by 2031.
Labor backed the METRONET project, which will extend the existing heavy rail network to outer Perth areas, including north of Yanchep and south to Byford.
We also proposed funding for overpasses to the north of Perth – on Wanneroo Rd and the Roe Highway.
To the south of Perth we added Armadale Rd Bridge – a key element of the ConnectSouth project, connecting Cockburn and Armadale.
This would facilitate new economic activity in a fast-growing area.
In Adelaide, we committed to finish the Gawler electrification by restoring funding to the project that the Coalition cut in 2014.
And in Hobart we committed to a Greater Hobart Transport Plan that addresses emerging congestion, including a new bus interchange and a revamped ferry pier to connect the city with the eastern shore.
My job, over the next term of Parliament is to fight for this critical investment in infrastructure.
Your job is to ensure your voice, and the voices of the many millions of people you represent, continue to be an unavoidable part of the Government’s deliberation.
OUR CITIES TODAY
Four out of every five Australians live in cities.
By 2031 our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 per cent.
Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin are expected to grow by nearly 30 per cent.
Australia’s transformation to a knowledge intensive economy has seen the CBDs of our cities become the heart of the nation’s productivity.
This has exacerbated the issue of urban congestion, which Infrastructure Australia says will cost the nation $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031 if left unchecked.
Australia’s rapid growth in urban population, coupled with the growing challenge of housing affordability, has meant people in our outer suburbs are wearing the brunt of these challenges.
Increasingly, people are being forced to work in or near the city and commute to drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they can find a house but can’t find a job.
We know this is taking a toll on the nation’s economy in terms of lost productivity.
But what we don’t always recognise is the way this permeates the everyday lives of people living in our cities.
It is so much harder to spend time with your family, go for a walk, get odd jobs done, if you are spending more than three hours a day commuting.
It’s a tragedy that many parents spend more time in their cars driving to and from work than they spend at home playing with their kids.
There’s also another issue at hand.
Our sprawling development patterns have resulted in significant fragmentation as we struggle to grow our cities in a compact way.
This too often means our outer suburbs are left without the infrastructure and community facilities they need.
INVESTING IN OUR OUTER SUBURBS
I’m sure I’m not the only person here to have read Lisa Pryor’s recent piece on Australia’s urban experience in The New York Times.
In this Pryor said:
The passion for well-designed communities needs to be directed outward instead of inward, geographically and in spirit. We need to let go of some of our resources; we need to learn to share.
I couldn’t agree more.
By achieving this we unlock the enormous potential of our outer suburbs.
Melbourne’s Regional Rail Link is the perfect example of investing in outer suburbs prior to people living there.
It included new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.
I am proud of the fact that this was the largest ever federal investment in an urban public transport project.
Effectively, it untangles the lines used by Melbourne’s suburban railway lines from those used by regional services to and from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong.
It has added 54,000 seats and saves the Victorian economy $300 million a year.
We built this project in anticipation of future growth in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
It’s an approach that should be applied to each of our cities.
Right now, Western Sydney is crying out for the same type of investment.
Western Sydney has more people living in the region than Adelaide and Perth combined.
It is a city in and of itself, which is why I can’t understand why governments won’t commit to resourcing it as such.
This includes ensuring the rail line to Western Sydney’s airport is ready to go from day one of its opening.
It’s basic commonsense.
We have an opportunity to get this project right; to ensure people have access to the employment opportunities that come with an aerotropolis.
This is important because when we put all our talk of productivity and the economy to the side, we need to remember that when we lift an area, we also lift its people.
This equally applies to the issue of drive-in drive-out suburbs, which I mentioned earlier.
Business as usual won’t work as a strategy for dealing with this challenge.
We need to think of new ways to ensure people don’t need to spend as long commuting to and from work.
Part of this involves improving both public transport and its facilities in these locations.
During the election we committed to a Park and Ride Access Fund in Melbourne to boost car parking capacity at high- use train stations.
We also wanted to make sure funding would be available for new stations where demand growth is expected.
In Sydney, we committed to commuter parking at Schofields Station.
In the scheme of things, these are relatively small investments, but we know they make a practical difference.
Another way to reduce the distance people commute is to create alternate hubs of economic activity across a city.
In my 2014 speech to the National Press Club I spoke about the concept of the 30-minute city.
This is the simple idea that most of people’s day to day work, educational, shopping or recreational activities should be located within 30 minutes walking, cycling or public commuting from their homes.
Our outer suburbs should be vibrant, lively places, not dormitories where people simply rest between commutes.
These two strategies would go part of the way to addressing this challenge.
CITY DEALS City Deals provide an opportunity for investment in our outer suburbs, but only if they are done properly.
The British examples show the potential that exists when all levels of government work together to encourage the economic growth of a region.
Part of this arrangement is that local governments receive support from the national government in recognition that such local investment produces a return to Federal revenue.
That’s why local governments must be at the core of this equation and engaged from day one.
Commenting on City Deals earlier this year Ken Morrison from the Property Council said:
We want to see City Deals implemented in Australia, but the deals must be based on rigour. We don’t want to see quick deals, we want to see good deals that draw out the economic strengths and potential of a city and drive change where it is needed. Both sides of politics must resist the temptation to turn City Deals into a ‘pork barrel’ or a prize to be awarded to marginal seats.
I fear this is occurring.
Rather than engaging in a matching funding exercise, the Government should be focusing on proper process, using international best practice as its guide.
We should be using best practice to guide all infrastructure investment.
Smart, evidence-based decisions on investment is the most effective way to ensure positive outcomes in our cities, particularly our outer suburbs.
Earlier this year I announced Labor’s plan to broaden the role of Infrastructure Australia in two ways.
As well as looking at the economic benefits of proposals through cost-benefit analyses, we said the Government should require projects to address two new criteria.
First, proponents should show what provision for smart infrastructure has been included to ensure maximum benefit is achieved from any investment.
Secondly, projects should be required to include in their design measures that improve their sustainability, including provision for active transport where appropriate.
In some cases this is already occurring.
Water companies, like Queensland Urban Utilities and Yarra Valley Water, are maximizing the potential of their assets by using smart technology including drones and software like TaKaDu.
And Melbourne’s Regional Rail Link has provision for active transport at the new stations where secure bike lockers are available.
However, rapid growth in our cities’ populations is taking a toll on Australia’s unique natural assets and agricultural lands.
So is climate change.
We should be including as much green space as possible in city plans.
Not only do we know that this makes people happier and healthier, but it also offsets some of the worst effects of climate change.
Heat waves are a serious challenge facing Australia.
In outer suburbs, which tend to be further away from coastlines, the Heat Island Effect means residents in these areas, especially the very young and elderly, are at risk.
Many local governments are already taking a leading role in tackling this issue.
The City of Melbourne is working to lift tree canopy from 22 percent in all public places to 40 percent by 2040.
Similarly, the City of Sydney’s urban forest is aiming to grow its urban forest by 50% by 2030.
By ensuring our growth areas have parks, open space and water features we not only build more attractive places to live, but more resilient cities.
Internationally, cities are grappling with this issue of sustainable development.
Many of you will be aware of the 100 Resilient Cities Network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation.
As part of this cities apply to join and develop resilience strategies.
These strategies aim to prepare cities for the challenges of the future, so they are more productive, sustainable and liveable. One such is example is Berkeley in the United States.
It’s one of many cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region which is expected to grow by two million residents over the next 25 years.
Berkeley’s biggest challenge is ensuring the seismic safety of its buildings and that residents are equipped to respond to earthquakes.
However at the same time, the city is also looking at innovative ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, with a focus on water management.
Berkeley is also looking to play a role across the region in partnership with other nearby cities.
The city is also assessing the feasibility of using groundwater sources as back-up water supply and capturing stormwater.
In addition Berkeley is hoping to change behaviour by developing rainwater catchment incentive programs for residents and businesses.
The city will also look at access to reclaimed water for street cleaning and other uses.
In Australia, we have an opportunity to consider how to best use our natural resources in green field development.
Water should be at the heart of this strategy.
We should be making sure all new developments include water sensitive design.
It’s more economical, and has huge environmental benefit.
Melbourne, too, has developed a resilience strategy through the Rockefeller Foundation.
Issues of sustainability are at the heart of Melbourne’s strategy.
The city aims to create a healthier environment by enabling its natural assets and ecosystems to thrive, whilst accommodating its growing population.
This is critical because Melbourne is particularly dependent on its food basin.
Forty-one percent of Melbourne’s fresh produce is currently grown within 100 kilometres of the city.
However, as Melbourne expands, the consequent loss of agricultural land could reduce this figure to 18 percent by 2050.
The city’s resilience strategy includes a series of actions to ensure Melbourne meets its objective.
It’s great to see Melbourne leading the way with such a holistic approach to building resilience.
Of course, resilience goes further than issues of sustainability.
It is also about how cities function as a whole, including socially and economically.
In an age with so much technological advancement, the onus is on government to ensure communities are connected to each other.
This is critical to tackling inequality.
And, that’s one of the reasons why the NBN, fibre to the home and business, is so important.
There is no excuse for Government not being able to connect our cities and towns to high speed broadband in this day and age.
Fast Internet provides employment flexibility, access to education and training as well as health services.
Successful cities are inclusive cities.
I don’t want to live in a city where you can tell a person’s wealth based on their postcode.
We need to remember as we develop greenfield sites that we are building more than just houses.
We’re building communities.
If we’re serious about addressing issues of inequity we need to ensure people can access the benefits that come from living in cities.
This includes public transport, jobs and education.
But it also includes safe neighbourhoods with footpaths and plenty of parks and green spaces.
Failing to achieve this can have a serious impact on our cities.
Concentrations of disadvantage alter the character of our cities.
Clearly, across the world, significant numbers of people feel excluded.
They feel that the mainstream political and economic systems are failing them.
Many factors are involved.
One way we can help to address this trend is to ensure our cities are inclusive and cohesive.
When communities don’t have access to jobs and when people experience increasing inequality it is hard for them to see the benefits of globalization.
The consequence is less cohesive communities.
Many of our cities are at a crossroad.
It is up to us to decide what sort of place we want to create.
We can create places of opportunity, but we need governments that are prepared to work together.
There is certainly a role for the Federal Government to step up and provide leadership and investment in our growth areas.
But that will only be successful if that leadership is in partnership with local government.
For my part I will continue to work with you.
Our track record shows this is not mere words, it will be backed by deeds.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.