Post budget speech to the Property Council of Australia
Hilton Hotel, Sydney
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure & Transport
Leader of the House
Member for Grayndler
18 May 2011
Building Productive, Sustainable and Liveable Cities
Some of you here this morning will be familiar with the work of Jane Jacobs.
The great American thinker and author of The Economy of Cities was not an architect, or a town planner.
But her ideas, that seemed so radical when she first wrote about them, did more to shape the face of American cities in the second half of the 20th century than just about anyone else.
She was particularly critical of urban sprawl and planning styles that destroyed communities, separated land uses and rebuilt sterile areas.
And she was a fierce advocate for citizen involvement in vision making and comprehensive planning.
Though she died five years ago, her theories about the ways cities work can be seen in academic discussion across the world. In reviewing her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the New York Times wrote that Jacob’s prescription for successful cities was to bring “people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.”
Many of you here today would have followed the recent progress of the Federal Government’s work to formulate a national urban policy.
It complements our work on regional development and sustainable population.
And before I talk to you about our urban policy – which I am delighted to be launching before you today – I’d like to remind you that modern federal involvement in cities policy goes back to Gough Whitlam.
It was Gough and his Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren, who dared to wade in with the novel suggestion that all new urban developments in our capital cities should have basic water and sewerage systems.
The tradition was then continued under Hawke and Keating with the Better Cities Program which set out to revitalise inner city communities.
Unfortunately, it was one of the first programs abolished by the incoming Howard Government.
Now, a Labor Government is again re-engaging with our nation’s cities.
And this time, no-one could claim we have not followed the Jane Jacobs model of citizen involvement.
This year alone, forums have been held in our 18 major cities across the country and I thank those of you here today who contributed your ideas.
The Federal Government has a critical role to play in making our cities more productive, more sustainable and more liveable.
Despite the romantic view of ourselves as nation of rough, tough bushies, Australia is one of the most urbanised nations on the planet.
Cities are the principal centres of economic activity.
They account for around 80 percent of our GDP and employ three out of every four Australian workers.
They are where labour, industry and social institutions are most concentrated.
We are hardly alone here.
About 12 months ago, the world reached a milestone.
According to the World Bank, for the first time in human history, more than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas.
We are drawn to cities for all kinds of reasons – work, culture, lifestyle and educational opportunities are just some of them.
But in Australia, we cannot ignore the fact that our cities are under strain.
Congestion is costing us dearly.
Not only does it steal time from our work and family lives, it is also a major economic drain.
The Bureau of Infrastructure Transport and Regional Economics estimates that if left unattended congestion will cost our economy $20 billion by 2020.
Just one reason why this Government is back in the business of cities. Not because it’s easy, not because it’s without risks, but because it’s necessary. Productivity is, of course, the key to maintaining our place in the fastest growing and most dynamic region in the world.
Due to the microeconomic reforms of the 1980s and early 90s, our productivity soared to an average of 2.3 percent by the late 1990s.
Unfortunately, the effects of those reforms were worn away during the following decade to the point where between 2000 and 2008, our average annual productivity growth fell to just 1.6 percent.
If productivity growth is left to languish, Australia will stagnate and struggle to keep pace with our neighbours.
That is not something this Government is prepared to let happen.
That’s why last year at COAG, the Commonwealth got agreement from State and Territory Leaders to have in place strategic plans for their capital cities by 1 January 2012.
Future Commonwealth infrastructure investment will be linked to these plans and the principles laid out in our national urban policy.
Right now, the COAG Reform Council is reviewing capital city plans against the nationally agreed criteria.
The outcome of this work will not only help us implement a national urban policy.
It will also help inform the Federal Government’s recently released national population strategy and our Regional Policy agenda.
We would like to see cities with populations greater than 100,000 put in place similar plans.
Let me be clear, this is not a takeover of State and Territory planning roles, but we will use all the levers at our disposal to drive, foster and encourage the creation of more productive, sustainable and liveable cities.
That is what the policy I am launching here today is all about.
So let’s look at what we are doing to make our cities better places for all Australians.
And it comes down to the three themes of our urban agenda – Productivity, Sustainability and Liveability.
We’ve made record investments in productive infrastructure, including some $18 billion in urban rail and road infrastructure.
We’ve increased average annual spending on rail more than tenfold.
We have invested more on urban rail since coming to office in 2007 than all previous governments – collectively – since Federation.
We now have a major urban rail project commitment in every mainland state capital:
Noarlunga to Seaford rail extension & Gawler Line in Adelaide;
- The Perth City Link Project;
- Moreton Bay Rail line in Brisbane;
- Regional Rail Link in Melbourne;
- The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link in Sydney;
- As well as the Gold Coast Rapid Transit Project.
We’re also about to begin much needed improvements with an $840 million investment in Sydney’s freight rail system that will help free up space on the passenger network.
We are also improving the efficiency of our urban infrastructure by improving connectivity via the National Broadband Network.
In last Tuesday’s Budget we announced a new Infrastructure Investment Incentive, aimed at attracting up to $25 billion worth of private and superannuation sector investment in national infrastructure.
We need to attract more private investment to fund much needed infrastructure and this new incentive will encourage that.
Projects that are ticked off by Infrastructure Australia will be eligible for this incentive.
We will be making better use of smart technologies.
In the Budget we announced an extra $61 million for Managed Motorways, where data sensors can improve real time management of vehicle movements.
Such systems improve the speed and flow of traffic, reducing the stop-start behaviour that occurs on congested roads – reducing accidents and greenhouse gas emissions.
Supporting Managed Motorways will be our $100 million Suburban Jobs program, which will see more jobs created outside central CBDs, reducing travel times and distances for our city workers.
This Government is determined to make our cities sustainable cities.
The nature of our cities provides opportunity to exploit economies of scale to reduce our impact on the environment. How cities are planned, their density and spread and the infrastructure within them provide enormous opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint.
There are real opportunities for improvement in specific areas including waste, water and energy.
The leadership of the Sydney City Council with its proposals for Green Square shows a practical example of visionary, sustainable policy development.
There are further gains to be made through larger systems such as land use and settlement patterns, particularly the location of employment areas in relation to residential development and public transport.
We need to manage our natural resources better and incorporate climate change risks into infrastructure location, design, construction and operation.
In this way, we can mitigate the effects of natural disasters such as the recent floods across Eastern Australia.
The Budget also delivered support for the Henry Review’s recommendation to replace the current tax formula for motor vehicle fringe benefits with a single rate of 20 percent, regardless of kilometres travelled.
This is a practical measure which will make a real difference.
In last week’s budget, we announced $20 million in seed funding over two years to start investing in high quality urban renewal demonstration projects that enhance the liveability of our cities and create better public spaces and streetscapes.
We want to encourage a better supply of appropriate mixed income housing for people of all ages and abilities, both in metropolitan and regional cities.
Last year’s 2010 Intergenerational Report also urged a national approach to our cities.
We know that our cities are continuing to grow. At the same time, the makeup of the population is changing.
The proportion of our population aged 65 and over will nearly double from 14 percent to 23 percent by mid-century.
That means a smaller workforce and an eroded tax base.
We therefore need to be smarter about how we attract and sustain our workers, with a variety of affordable housing and job opportunities close to home.
The design of our cities must ensure that spatially concentrated social disadvantage is addressed.
Too many of our cities have areas defined by their lack of access to jobs, educational opportunities and services.
A major theme of the Budget was ensuring that Australia takes advantage of the projected economic growth in the years ahead to emerge as a more inclusive society that engages with all of our people.
Providing training and prospects of employment is good for individuals, but also in the national interest.
Engagement in economic activity by individuals will lead to greater engagement in recreational, cultural and sporting pursuits that add to our fulfilment as individuals but also help define our cities’ liveability.
The Australian Government wants a prosperous and resilient future for Australia with cities that lead the world in their productivity, sustainability and liveability.
The National Urban Policy signifies our commitment to just that end and I am proud to release it here today. It is just the next step forward and I don’t profess it has all the answers.
It will however promote further dialogue and discussion, which will in turn lead to further action.
As Albert Einstein said: “The significant problems we face can’t be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.