Parramatta – Australia’s next CBD
Speech to Parramatta Economic Development Forum
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure & Transport
Leader of the House
Member for Grayndler
Tuesday, 8 March 2011
Sydney was born three times.
As Grace Karskens describes so eloquently in her book, The Colony, which won last year’s Prime Minister’s Prize for non-fiction, Parramatta, or Rose Hill as it was firstly named, was by 1790 the third and presumed final centre for the new colony.
It was orderly. It was planned…in fact Karskens writes that the picturesque Rose Hill was designed by Governor Phillip to mirror Milton Abbas, a small Dorset village near Phillip’s family farm in England.
Watkin Tench, Phillip’s able Lieutenant-General, whose descriptions of his experiences in the early colony are generally acknowledged as the finest writing of the time, tells us that by December 1791, Sydney at Farm Cove, was already worn out and ‘exhibited nothing but a few old scattered huts and some sterile gardens’.
Cultivation of wheat at Farm Cove had been abandoned, public building was at a standstill and ‘all our strength is transferred to Rose Hill’ wrote Tench.
Indeed it was here in Parramatta that the European colony found its footings.
It was here in Parramatta that the most gracious of public buildings, parks and public spaces were constructed to reflect the dreams of our civic forbears.
And it was here in Parramatta where it was first possible to imagine that this colony could be something grander.
A place with its own sense of purpose, identity and enterprise.
And a colony which over time, would grow into one of the most vigorous, economically and socially successful nations on earth.
In preparation for today, I was delighted to read again Chris Brown’s discussion paper on Parramatta and its future, published last July, and which prompted today’s forum.
It’s indeed a thoughtful and welcome contribution to the debate about Parramatta’s future and its claim to the mantle of Sydney’s second CBD.
With many of the oldest existing European structures in this country, modern Parramatta is home to nearly 170,000 residents and 15,000 businesses.
By 2036 the population is projected to climb beyond 200,000.
It boasts NSW’s largest concentration of employment outside the Sydney CBD and one of the largest shopping and entertainment centres in the country.
Economic output is currently above $14 billion, and employment continues to swell, as does commercial floor-space.
Those lucky enough to both live and work here are blessed with no end of social, cultural and recreational pursuits.
These are all made more dynamic by an ethnically diverse population.
Approximately 35 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home.
It would be hard to find a place in the nation that demonstrates more powerfully the rich benefits of multiculturalism.
I want to take this opportunity to outline the work the Australian Government is doing with our major cities.
Under the previous government, urban policy was left almost entirely in the hands of local and State administrations.
But as the most urbanised nation on earth, it is clearly in the national interest that the national government play a role in making them more productive, sustainable and liveable.
Put simply, the Federal Labor Government has reengaged with our cities.
It’s why we have established a Major Cities Unit.
It’s why COAG has agreed that by 1 January 2012, all States will have in place capital city plans with agreed objectives and criteria.
It’s why we will not be shy about tying the future of Commonwealth funding to those city plans.
And it’s why we’re developing a national urban policy.
This will be a guiding set of principles that will shape our cities into the future.
Last October, Sydney was named one of the world’s greatest global cities – the only Australian city to make the top 10 on that list.
Ranked at number nine out of 65 leading cities, the Global Cities Index assessed Sydney on five criteria – political engagement, cultural experience, information exchange, human capital and business activity.
In 2009, Sydney again rated highly – again at Position Nine on the Economists’ Liveability Survey of 140 leading cities.
Melbourne and Perth also scored well.
It is undeniably impressive.
But there’s something more impressive here when you scratch behind these rankings a little.
Consider the fact that the world’s top 20 liveable cities are more often than not characterised by their size—they’re smaller cities of roughly half a million people.
Australia’s largest cities, the ones which rank so highly in standards of living, are nearly unique in that their size—well above one million people—hasn’t disqualified them from ranking so highly.
That is indeed something to be proud of.
But there is no room for complacency.
We can and must do better.
The cities that are now outranking our own are characterised by stronger investments in infrastructure such as transport and housing.
This highlights a paradox — population density is the source of much of the advantage and economic opportunity of cities.
But if left untouched by smart planning and investment, the very ingredients of those advantages sour, creating congestion, pollution, social inequity and market inefficiencies.
So the big lesson here is that we need to be smart about planning our cities.
Our National Urban Strategy will help us to achieve just that by providing a long term framework for action.
We must link land-use planning with transport infrastructure investment.
We must link economic opportunities with housing.
We must ensure that the design of our cities promotes sustainability.
We must embrace the opportunities presented by the national broadband network to overcome the tyranny of distance.
Our commitment here in Parramatta and Greater Western Sydney follows a simple principle: where there’s growth, you’ve got to have the right infrastructure to support it.
And again, let me say how important forums such as today’s are in raising the many challenges we face as our city grows.
There’s been some public discussion recently suggesting that the solution to growth is to simply ‘release more land’.
It’s such an easy thing to say.
But the hard decisions in this debate are always around infrastructure – will these new suburbs have good schools, world class health facilities, reliable and effective public transport?
Will they have the social infrastructure to support productive, sustainable, liveable communities?
The new century requires a more sophisticated approach which considers all the implications of where growth occurs.
There must be a balance between greenfield development and infill.
People who live near transport, near services and near opportunity, fare better than those who do not.
And this principle lies at the core of our National Urban Policy.
URBAN PASSENGER RAIL
As Transport Minister, I am proud that the Labor Government since 2007 has committed more to urban passenger rail expansion than all governments in all the preceding 107 years since Federation.
Right now, we’re funding 10 projects – at a cost of $7.3 billion.
There’s a new urban passenger rail project in every mainland state.
We know that we need to help Australians make the choice to keep the car in the garage and use public transport to get to work.
A reliable, safe rail network that gets passengers to where they need to be in the fastest possible time, is the surest way of achieving that.
In Sydney, we have committed to funding the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link.
A crucial piece of infrastructure that was first committed to back in 1994 by the then NSW Transport Minister Bruce Baird.
And the fact is, this rail line should have been built a long time ago.
The Gillard Labor Government has put forward $2.1 billion towards its construction.
And the Keneally Government has provided $520 million.
The 14 kilometre Parramatta to Epping Rail Link involves upgrading five stations at Parramatta, Telopea, Dundas, Rydalmere, and Carlingford, with a new station at Rosehill-Camellia.
It will fill a vital gap in this area’s transport system.
It will directly link Parramatta with the employment powerhouses of Macquarie Park, North Ryde and the educational opportunities of Macquarie University.
It will also support the NSW Government’s Western Express Line – a much-needed express service for commuters from Sydney’s outer west into Parramatta and the city.
And I want to make an important point here.
The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link is about much more than simply taking people into Chatswood or Epping.
It’s an uncomfortable geographical fact that our main CBD, on the far eastern edge of the city, is supported by a radial transport network where all road and rail lines head to the centre.
For Parramatta to assert its position as Sydney’s second CBD requires a different way of thinking.
Our rail investment over the next five to 10 years can either reinforce the existing structure of Sydney or completely reshape and improve the way it works.
One suggestion has been made that it would be more practical for the proposed north-west rail link to go through Parramatta, given the challenge of rail capacity on Sydney’s harbour crossing.
What is clear is that the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link is a transformative project for Parramatta.
Industry groups in NSW get it. They know it’s important. They know it’s needed.
Sydney Business Chamber’s Patricia Forsythe said the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link is an important project for Sydney that will open up new opportunities between Sydney’s north and west.
Or the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Council’s Alison McLaren who said building the link is good for jobs, good for easing road congestion, good for work life balance and good for the environment.
The list goes on.
You have our commitment because the Gillard Labor Government understands public transport’s capacity to inspire urban revitalisation and cut carbon emissions.
For the record, the Gillard Labor Government is in the midst of investing $12 billion in New South Wales’ road and rail infrastructure as part of our six year $37 billion Nation Building Program.
Ambitious, but necessary projects –
– the continuing duplication of the Pacific Highway
– the new $1.7 billion Hunter Expressway to better connect Sydney to the Hunter Valley and beyond, and
– $1 billion to untangle the freight rail network from the passenger rail network in the Sydney basin.
Investments like this will make our roads safer, relieve bottlenecks and congestion and bring our rail system into the 21st century.
And better connect road and rail with our ports, helping our exports get to overseas markets quicker.
As an aside, we learned last Thursday that the NSW Government is to fund a brand new arts centre with a gallery of national significance right nearby on the site of the Old Kings School.
A place where the Mums and Dads of this region – in fact the entire city of Sydney – can take their kids and share with them the kind of cultural opportunities that for too long have been provided for the convenience of those living east of here.
More good news for this important economic hub.
And along with its world heritage historic attractions – another good reason for the 10 million visitors that visit Sydney each year to include Parramatta on their itinerary.
Wander around the streets of Parramatta today and it is a vastly different place to the perfect model village envisaged by Arthur Phillip.
The profound relief that the success of Parramatta offered the new colony – where crops grew, where commerce flourished, where the emancipist settlers flocked to escape the disorder of Farm Cove, and where a degree of civilised order prevailed – all lent a sense of optimism and hope.
And in Parramatta today, I sense that same great optimism, that the city is enjoying a genuine resurgence.
A vigorous, determined, buoyant economy which acknowledges and celebrates its past and its place as the heart of Sydney.
I look forward to working with you as we put in place the economic reforms and infrastructure improvements to cement Parramatta’s place as Sydney’s next true CBD.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.