Jul 12, 2018

Opinion Piece – Cities need true partnership, not simple “deals” – Daily Telegraph – Thursday, 12 July 2018

One of the great challenges of life in 21st century Australia is the way in which strong population growth is transforming our cities.

Urban sprawl, traffic congestion and the shift toward greater population density are all challenges that will not be overcome without genuine collaboration between all levels of government.

Otherwise, uncontrolled growth will damage our economy and our quality of life.

Labor has engaged on urban policy since the 1970s. We seek to work with local communities, particularly through their local councils, to develop responses to the challenges of growth.

By contrast, the Coalition is a newcomer to the urban policy space. In 2013, it dismantled the former Labor Government’s urban policy framework, including our Major Cities Unit.

This changed in 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull established his City Deals Program as a vehicle for greater inter-governmental collaboration. Under City Deals, federal, state and local governments agree to a shared vision for the future and ways to achieve make their vision real.

However, more than 18 months after the first deal was signed in Townsville, it is clear City Deals have fallen well short of their stated objectives.

The program is a poor imitation of the United Kingdom model it seeks to replicate. Rather than providing a framework for collaboration, it seems to be based on a top-down approach in which Canberra determines priorities and requires other levels of government to march to its tune.

A Labor Government will overhaul and replace City Deals.

Our City Partnerships model will foster more genuine collaboration, transforming the existing top-down system into one in which councils are seen not as casual stakeholders, but genuine partners in urban policy.

A key problem with Mr Turnbull’s City Deals is that there are no clear guidelines about how they work. City Deals have either been in marginal electorates framed around single election commitments or are simply missing depth and detail.

This is the case for the Western Sydney City Deal, which excluded Blacktown Council for no good reason. And the deal’s centrepiece – a north-south rail link through Western Sydney – is still unfunded.

The Coalition’s model also limits engagement with the private sector.

But most worryingly, there is no review process for Mr Turnbull’s City Deals – no independent mechanism to determine whether they are working.

Labor will address this deficiency by re-establishing the Major Cities Unit within the independent Infrastructure Australia and requiring it to use transparent measures to assess the progress of City Partnerships.

The Major Cities Unit will also refresh the National Urban Policy that Labor released when in government to ensure City Partnerships align with its objectives, for example, in areas like sustainability and smart technology.

Labor accepts that City Partnerships must be tailored and flexible.

But we expect them to set out a strategic vision that aligns with the National Urban Policy and delivers on pre-determined performance indicators.

The importance of a bottom-up approach was rammed home for me last month, when I met many mayors from around the nation who were in Canberra for the Australian Local Government Association annual congress.

Mayor after mayor told me of their desire to co-operate with other levels of government, other councils in their regions as well as the private sector to achieve positive change in their communities.

Yet the Government seems to have little interest in using its City Deals regime as a vehicle for this collaboration.

For example, in the Hunter Valley – Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Stephens and Cessnock councils are seeking $13 million from the Commonwealth to deliver the next stage of the Glendale Interchange.

The project will create 6000 jobs and unlock $700 million of private sector investment, including an expansion of Stockland Glendale.

This sounds like a perfect opportunity for collaboration with the Commonwealth.

In the same way, the Council of Mayors for South-East Queensland, which encompasses ten local government areas, has been working together for years on issues of common interest.

The Federal Government is not involved. But it should be.


This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph today: https://bit.ly/2JfKyKB