Jan 29, 2019

Opinion Piece – Australia needs to improve the sustainability and liveability of our cities – Starts at 60 – Tuesday, 29 January 2019

If there is one thing Australia needs to achieve in 2019, it’s a greater focus on improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities.

Cities are home to four out of five Australians. Their efficiency is critical to the health of our economy, not to mention the quality of life of Australians.

Yet for the past few years, a withdrawal of infrastructure investment by the Federal Government has made our cities more congested, less efficient and harder to get around.

Too many cities are ill-served when it comes to the efficient movement of people. But with the right policy settings, we can do much better.

Public transport, particularly rail transport, is the key to tackling traffic congestion.

Back in 2013, the independent Infrastructure Australia released research which suggested that without action, traffic congestion would cost the economy $53 billion a year by 2030 in lost productivity.

This was a clear warning that failure to invest in better urban transport would worsen congestion and reduce quality of life for people who live in cities.

The former Labor Government invested more in urban rail than all previous Governments combined since Federation in projects such as Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, Redcliffe Rail Link, Noarlunga to Seaford in Adelaide and Gold Coast Light Rail.

Going forward investment was allocated for rail projects, including the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail in Brisbane as well as projects in Adelaide and Perth.

This was common sense. Each commuter train takes hundreds of cars off the roads.

Then Tony Abbott became Prime Minister and cancelled all Federal investment in public transport, transferring the funding to new toll roads, two of which he was unable to deliver.

Mr Abbott kids himself that Australians do not use public transport.

In his 2009 manifesto Battlelines, Mr Abbott wrote: “Mostly there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination and a particular time to justify anything larger than a car, and cars need roads.

What nonsense.

Five years later, it is no surprise that traffic congestion has worsened, despite efforts by state governments to improve rail services without much support from Canberra.

Indeed, the Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has calculated that in 2016, traffic congestion cost the nation more than $16 billion in lost productivity. We should expect that, just as Infrastructure Australia warned in 2013, this figure is rising with each passing year.

The congestion we are now seeing is the outcome of a Coalition philosophy that places scant emphasis on building for future prosperity.

While the Coalition, like Labor, supports business growth because it creates jobs, their interest in Australians stops with employment.

They take little responsibility for quality of life issues, apparently in the belief that if government just gets out of the way, the market will fix everything.

However, the market doesn’t care whether commuters get home from work in time to play with their children. The market treats people like units of economic production, not as human beings with responsibilities and individual needs.

Labor wants Australians to have great jobs. But we also believe Government has a role in delivering services that preserve or enhance their quality of life.

We also believe that people who pay tax deserve something in return – including efficient transport systems.

Being in Government is not only about dealing with the challenges of today, but about planning ahead to avoid problems in the future.

That is why if Labor is privileged to win the next federal election, we’ll do what the Coalition has largely refused to do – we will work with state governments to address traffic congestion.

We will help build the Western Sydney Rail and the Western Metro in Sydney.

We will help build Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, the Perth METRONET and Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop.

We would also deliver $300 million in investment to improve Park and Ride facilities at suburban railway stations.

At train stations across suburban Australia car parks are full before 7am and commuters instead park in nearby streets and walk to stations.

It’s inconvenient for them and a nuisance to the residents of streets near train stations.

Providing more parking is a practical measure to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and catch the train to work.

This policy is targeted squarely at suburban Australia.

If you are lucky enough to live close to a central business district of one of our capital cities, chances are you can walk, cycle or catch a bus to a train station.

But the further you get away from CBDs, the greater the distance required to get to train stations. The commuter’s choice is simple – drive to the train station, or drive all the way to work.

While better Park and Ride facilities will help in the short term, we also need to work much harder at connecting suburban train stations to surrounding residential areas with better bus services, as well as more walking and cycling tracks.

Liveable cities don’t build themselves. They require investment.

Labor will deliver that investment in the national interest.

 

This piece was first published today on the website Starts at 60: https://startsat60.com/discover/news/labor-mp-anthony-albanese-opinion-piece-australian-cities