Jun 22, 2012

Federal Government backs transformation of Macquarie Point – Opinion – Hobart Mercury

Every so often an opportunity comes along as a Minister to make a decision that will transform a community for decades into the future. Today I’ll be in Hobart to announce just such a decision. After more than a year of representations from Andrew Wilkie, Julie Collins, Carol Brown and Lisa Singh, plus long negotiations with Tasmanian Minister David O’Byrne and advice from Infrastructure Australia, the Federal Government will commit $50 million for the remediation of the Macquarie Point site. This will allow the precinct to reach its full potential.

Sitting on the edge of the Derwent River right next to the historic Constitution Dock and a stone’s throw from the city centre, Macquarie Point is not just a city asset, it is a national asset. In real estate parlance, the site has it all – location, opportunity and, with the imminent transfer of rail to the new transport hub at Brighton, availability. It is a similar story for the Brook Street Pier. There’s a great need for a modern, safe wharf that serves the needs of Hobart’s growing number of visitors and for locals seeking to use the ferries to commute to work.

The remediation program will be managed by a new body, the Hobart Waterfront Development Corporation. The program is the next step in the roll-out of our National Urban Policy Our Cities, Our Future which we released last year. It adds a new dimension to the recent announcement of funding from our Liveable Cities program to help with the necessary planning groundwork at Macquarie Point.

I am aware that city planners and the people of Hobart have proposed many uses for Macquarie Point. Given that the next stop south of Tasmania is Antarctica, it makes sense that part of it be considered for a tourist and scientific facility for Antarctic activity. Further hotel space and conference facilities, low-cost and medium density housing and a variety of educational, business and hospitality activities have all been suggested. Better facilities for the many cruise ships now choosing to visit Hobart also makes sense.

While all that is for the people of Hobart and their elected representatives to decide, one thing is certain. The opening up of Macquarie Point has the power to expand not only Hobart’s economy but its liveability. Over recent years, the Australian Government has been re-engaging with our nation’s 18 major cities. The reason for this is that while our cities rate towards the top of almost every international liveability scale, and Hobart is no exception, they are facing unprecedented pressures. Changing demographics, housing affordability, congestion and poor urban design are just some of them.

Late last year, the Federal Government released the 2011 State of Australian Cities report. While Hobart rates highly in many categories such as the shortest commuting times in the nation, the cleanest air, and the safest city according to its residents, it is not an entirely rosy picture. For instance, Hobart has the lowest level of green-star office space in the country, perhaps because the city’s low population growth means little call for new commercial buildings. And while more residents might live in detached housing that in any other major Australian city, this means fewer live in town houses or apartments which might be a better style of living for singles, the aged and the less physically active.

A carefully re-designed Macquarie Point precinct has the opportunity to transform the waterfront. It is a project that will boost Hobart’s liveability, sustainability and the Tasmanian economy.  It will also finally connect the CBD with one of the country’s most majestic waterways, creating a recreational pleasure-ground for locals and tourists alike and an attraction to rival anything in the world.