Commonwealth Association of Planners State of the Commonwealth Cities Symposium – Brisbane
You have to come to Brisbane from around the world and I welcome you all.
Not since the 9th World Congress of Metropolis in Sydney in 2008 have so many global minds turned their collective attention to the future of Commonwealth cities.
Australia is a natural place for such a discussion.
Despite our vast size, most Australians cling to the coastal edge and three quarters of us live in a city.
We are, in fact, among the most urbanised countries on the planet.
Today I am delighted to launch the 2011 State of Australian Cities report.
It was here in Brisbane a little over 18 months ago that I launched its predecessor, the first ever State of Australian Cities report.
That document was the most comprehensive of its kind ever produced in Australia.
It generated enormous interest and has been downloaded by yesterday an extraordinary 575,000 times.
That figure is testament to the level of interest and public engagement in this vital area of national policy.
The report brought together a diverse range of data about the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities.
Where possible, it compared our cities with the rest of the world.
What it signalled was that when it comes to cities policy, the national Government is back in the game.
Historically in Australia, cities policy has been left largely to the States and Territories.
The fact is our cities have become too important to ignore.
While our country is famous for its agricultural and mineral production, it is our cities that produce 80 per cent of our national wealth.
We need better cities for the people who live in them, for the people who work in them and for the people who depend on them.
In May, I announced a National Urban Policy and Action Plan.
It was the first time a government had outlined its overarching goals for the nation’s 18 major cities with populations greater than 100,000 — six of which are located here in Queensland.
The policy sets out objectives and directions for these cities.
And it provides national leadership to help transform them and make them more productive, sustainable and liveable.
So while State, territory and local authorities remain the hands-on planners and designers of our cities, the Australian Government is helping reform their planning processes and strengthen the networks between them.
This is no federal take-over.
Everything we are doing has been agreed to by leaders sitting around the Council of Australian Governments table.
Under the agreement, all States and Territories will have in place strategic planning systems for their capital cities by 1 January next year.
These planning systems must meet nine nationally-agreed criteria.
For instance cities must show how they are providing for nationally-significant economic infrastructure such as for transport corridors, airports and ports, intermodal connections, communications and utilities.
They must show how they are providing for evidence-based land release and an appropriate balance of infill and greenfield development.
And they must address big policy issues such as how they are planning for population growth and demographic change, climate change mitigation, housing affordability and how they can better connect people to jobs.
Future Commonwealth infrastructure funding will be tied to these plans.
Already, the Australian Government is investing $36 billion to improve the nation’s transport infrastructure, with major improvements to our road, rail and ports.
This is an unprecedented investment.
We have committed more to urban public transport than all previous national governments combined since Federation.
We are doubling the federal roads budget to a record $27.7 billion and rebuilding more than one third of the nation’s interstate freight rail network.
The improvements we have made to the freight line between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are shaving 11 hours off the travel time – a remarkable change that is taking freight off our roads and onto rail.
We are also investing in new technology on some of our busiest city roads to better manage the flow of traffic.
This smart technology helps reduce congestion and carbon emissions, so that travelling around our cities is safer and smoother.
We are also rolling out the National Broadband Network, which will do more to overcome the tyranny of distance than any other single policy initiative in our history.
It will allow businesses to expand into new markets around the nation and around the globe.
It is not just a communications tool – it will also have implications for transport, urban congestion, and transform the delivery of education and health services.
THE AUSTRALIAN CONTEXT
By world standards, Australian cities are young.
For instance, Brisbane, this vibrant capital of Queensland, was a village of 5,000 people only 150 years ago.
Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne were among the first planned cities in the western world since Roman times.
A hundred years later, Walter Burley Griffin’s vision for Australia’s capital, Canberra, reflected 20th century ideals.
Burley Griffin believed cities had the capacity to improve the human soul and he laid the foundations for a most successful fully-planned city.
The highest incomes in the world, which were fairly evenly spread through the population in the late 1800s, allowed Australia to lead the international march into the suburbs.
It was in those ever-spreading suburbs that we created a new style of low density living that still characterises our cities to this day.
Let’s look now at what the 2011 report tells us.
Australia’s cities remain among the most liveable in the world.
Our largest cities generally rate in the top 20 in global rankings and have retained or improved their position in the main indices overall.
Overwhelmingly, international migrants choose to settle in our two largest cities — Sydney and Melbourne.
Almost as fast as international migrants arrive, older residents are leaving, mainly for Perth, Brisbane and the ‘sunbelts’ either side.
Interestingly, older residents are not leaving Melbourne at the same rate as in Sydney.
Melbourne is growing much more rapidly than Sydney with 600,000 new residents over the past decade, compared to 450,000 in Sydney.
One of the key productivity findings in this latest report is that mining has now overtaken manufacturing as the nation’s second biggest industry after finance.
This does not necessarily mean manufacturing is in decline, rather that the rest of the economy has grown.
The report also points to the value of concentrating employment in one location, known as agglomeration.
Agglomeration is shown to be a major driver of productivity, adding as much as $50 per hour worked in increased productivity.
This agglomeration comes at a cost, mainly in the form of transport costs, and it is interesting to see how cities arrange themselves to reduce this.
For instance, there is growing evidence that while jobs are still concentrated in our CBDs, 50 to 70 per cent of new jobs are emerging in the outer suburbs.
That could partly explain another interesting finding.
It seems our love affair with the car is declining, with per capita car travel falling by one per cent and overall car travel stabilising.
This could in part be because people are seeking jobs closer to where they live, reducing their daily commuting load.
Working close to home is good for everyone.
There’s more time for families to spend together, less congestion and cleaner air.
Although three-quarters of all transport trips are still by car, we are using public transport more often and we are walking and cycling more.
This suggests a major modal shift in how we are choosing to travel around our major cities.
While our love for our cars might be fading, it is quite the reverse for our bicycles.
Over the past decade, Australians have bought 11.5 million bicycles – two million more than cars.
Turning now to labour force participation, a key indicator of productivity.
Thankfully rates here are high by international standards, mainly driven by the growth of women in paid employment.
That said, participation has tended to stabilise over the past year, except in Wollongong where the level is continuing a downward trend. As our population ages, large numbers of people will leave the workforce.
It is therefore critical that we become more productive, hence the Gillard Government’s investment in education, skills, the NBN, better transport networks and new technologies.
Let us look at the sustainability of our cities.
Australian cities are altering their consumption patterns.
For instance, we are consuming less energy with electricity use in particular falling by 1.2 per cent over the past year.
We are producing less household waste and air pollution, the result of decades of policy effort.
Canberra and Adelaide are the best recyclers, managing to recycle more than 70 per cent of their waste.
We are fortunate to breathe air that is very clean by international standards.
Air quality is expected to improve even further as the current car fleet is replaced by ones with cleaner engines.
Not surprisingly, this year’s report does look extensively at the effect of natural disasters on our cities.
Though cyclones, floods and bushfires might wreak social, environmental and economic havoc, it is heat-waves that are the most deadly.
The record breaking heatwaves in Melbourne and Adelaide in early 2009 caused hundreds of premature deaths and taught us some hard lessons to draw upon in the future.
The report describes methods by which governments are now mapping the hazard potential for our cities so that we can better predict and plan for potential sea level rises, severe storms, bushfires and heatwaves.
Melbourne is ranked the most liveable city in the world by the Economic
Intelligence Units Global Liveability Survey, with Adelaide the most liveable city in Australia as rated by its own residents.
At the same time, Australia has had one of the largest increases in real housing prices in the OECD, particularly since 2000.
Household size continues to decrease as couples with children decline in number.
Not only are we ageing, we are living in different household types, with single person and couple-only occupation increasing substantially.
We are now more likely than ever to live in units and other forms of medium and high density housing – nowhere is this more evident than in Sydney.
Interestingly, the uninterrupted trend for nearly 20 years of shrinking households has been reversed in Queensland, Victoria and WA.
This suggests housing affordability might be forcing kids to stay at home longer, and that more adults are choosing to save costs by living in group houses.
Future reports will reveal if this is a trend or a hiccup.
The report shows that it is still cheaper for families to build homes on the fringes of our cities and that is where the greatest proportion of new housing stock continues to be built.
The exception is Sydney where the cost of land and infrastructure charges on the periphery are now so high that infill development is more attractive.
The City of Sydney is leading the nation in successful infill development with a variety of housing options.
LIVEABLE CITIES PROGRAM
I have another task today and that is to officially open applications for our Liveable Cities Program.
The program aims to promote better planning and design of our cities, their infrastructure, buildings and public spaces.
It will also encourage projects which reduce car dependency and congestion by offering practical solutions for better public transport, cycling and pedestrian access.
Projects selected for funding must be able to demonstrate good planning and design that can be emulated and applied across Australia’s cities and regional centres.
Cities are the engine-drivers of this nation.
They are also its heart-beat.
While a hundred years ago our future rested on the sheep’s back, it now also lies in the hands of our high-tech industries, the financial boardrooms, the design studios and shopfronts of our cities.
All spheres of government now agree that if we are to succeed as a nation, our cities must serve us better.
Put simply, they must become more productive, more sustainable and more liveable.
This Federal Government is taking action to ensure that happens.
A national policy needs national leadership, but a top down approach alone will not work.
It requires the active engagement of communities themselves and that is why the State of Australian Cities reports are so valuable.
For they provide us with a solid foundation of evidence-based information – a compendium of knowledge – to inform our future conversations and decisions about urban policy.
It is also at gatherings such as this, where leading thinkers and practitioners come together, that great ideas and solutions are born.
I am sure that will be the case here and I wish you well for the rest of this symposium
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.