Jul 20, 2012

Public Transport – The Key to Better Cities – Speech to Tourism and Transport Forum, Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney


Next time any of you decide to pay a visit to the Powerhouse Museum just down the road from where we are now, it’s worth wandering into the transport section.

There, beautifully restored, is the only 19th century Sydney bus still in existence.

It carried 24 passengers and serviced the eastern suburbs route with two horses hauling the carriage up Oxford Street for the lucky residents of Paddington and Woollahra.

Circular Quay to Woollahra cost tuppence, women generally sat inside and if the carriage got too crowded, men were accommodated on the roof.

Hundreds of buses just like this carried school children and shoppers and commuters right around Sydney.

By 1910, the plodding pace of the horse buses, the increasing cost of feed and intense competition from cable and electric trams brought the horse-bus era to an end.

But what’s interesting about this particular omnibus is the time it took to plod the route from the Quay to Woollahra – 40 minutes.

If you check the Sydney Buses web-site, you’ll see that the modern day equivalent along that same route – the 333 express bendy-bus – manages the same route in 36 minutes – a saving of just four minutes.

Of course Sydney is a far more complex and densely-populated city these days and there are many more vehicles crowding the same narrow transport corridors.

What this highlights, very powerfully, are the challenges that we all face as decision makers about the giant task that lies ahead of us –

  • To improve the quality and speed of our public transport
  • To make it a genuine and attractive alternative to the car
  • To unclog our streets from the congestion that sucks so much productive time from the lives of people living in our ever-crowded cities.
  • and reign in the carbon emissions that pollute our air and reduce the quality of life for all of us.

Public transport is and must become an even bigger part of the solution.

It must be factored in at the very outset of every decision about new urban developments, whether it be housing, hospitals, universities or employment centres.

The Federal Labor Government strongly believes that infrastructure, planning, investment and reform can – and must – support and incorporate public transport.

This belief extends far beyond good intentions.

Even though the provision of public transport traditionally rests with the states, the Federal Government has actively engaged in this agenda.

We have committed to funding a major public transport project in every mainland State.

This Federal Labor Government has committed more in urban public transport since 2007 than all previous Federal Governments combined since Federation in 1901.


We can’t face the challenges ahead without facing the facts.

The facts provide some stark truths as to why the Federal Government is now working actively to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Three out of four us live and work in one of our 18 major cities.

Eighty percent of our national wealth is generated in these cities.

Despite our “great wide land” persona, we are one of the most urbanised populations on the planet.

I suspect that is why reports such as our two editions of the ‘State of Australian Cities’ series  have been collectively downloaded in excess of 1.3 million times.

I’m yet to find another Government report that draws such a crowd.

What this shows is an enormous hunger for knowledge about our cities – how they compare, how they are changing, where they are failing.

Our next report, due out in October will have the benefit of the latest Census data with several new categories, such as crime levels, community safety perceptions and rising city temperatures.

Today I’m pleased to add to the debate with the launch of the Australian Infrastructure Statistics Yearbook 2012 produced by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics – BITRE – and now available online.

This Yearbook has become a much anticipated, vital tool for industry, academics and policy makers.

There is nothing else that offers such a comprehensive and reliable statistical summary of Australia’s economic infrastructure.

This year’s edition paints an improving picture.

For instance, there has been a dramatic increase in private sector investment in infrastructure – from 28 percent of all infrastructure investment a decade ago, to 44 percent today.

This comes despite the greatest economic crisis the world has faced since the Great Depression.

A few more quick figures.

The combined investment in infrastructure – both private and public – is up 42 percent in real terms on the last full year of the Howard Government.

  • Spending on roads and bridges – up 23 percent
  • Railways – 103 percent
  • Ports – 156 percent.

In fact Australia is investing $15.3 billion per year above and beyond what was spent in 2006.

A nice set of figures, which translate into better roads, better rail lines, better supply lines to our ports – in short, greater efficiency across the national transport network.

This great investment is no accident.

Infrastructure Australia conservatively puts our infrastructure deficit at $300 billion.

No Government can pick up that load alone.

There is no magic pudding.

That’s why this Government has encouraged private sector investment.

Last year we introduced a new tax treatment for nationally-significant infrastructure projects that allows early stage losses to be uplifted over time and grants exemptions from tax rules which prevent tax losses being realised when there is a change of ownership.

We also formed a working group of industry leaders which advised on better ways to attract private finance to public infrastructure.

Just recently, we set aside $25 million for a NSW Government special purpose vehicle to go to market on Sydney’s missing road links.


Today I am also releasing a second BITRE publication called ‘Understanding Australia’s Urban Railways’.

What it shows is that smart planning and design, backed with the required infrastructure, can produce real results.

It highlights the example of Perth, where remarkable progress has been made to make rail an attractive alternative to car travel.

Fast frequent services, good bus and car interchanges, and station facilities, have all helped to draw patrons to rail.

The report highlights rail’s real strengths in long-distance urban travel, and in travel that links our city centres to our growing suburbs.

Along with Perth, both Melbourne and Brisbane have experienced significant patronage growth, the latter with the help of the new Gold Coast line.

In Sydney, patronage dropped in the first half of the past decade but has grown modestly since 05/06 and Adelaide’s patronage, which grew earlier in the decade, has declined since 08/09.

Such valuable research helps guide our national decision-making – it helps us to craft smarter policy and investment decisions.


Let me turn to a key policy that will help shape the future of our cities – Australia’s first National Urban Policy.

It is designed to target three goals – productivity, sustainability and liveability.

I’ve mentioned the role public transport can play in reducing harmful carbon emissions.

But it can also improve public health outcomes, as most trips on the bus or the train begin and end with walking or cycling.

Obviously, we recognise this must be encouraged.

Your discussions here today highlight the way in which this can be achieved, in part, through the smarter design of our cities.

That’s why in addition to our National Urban Policy, we are working through COAG with States and Territories to improve the standard of their planning systems.

And it’s important this cooperative approach continue.

That is part of the reason that the Australian Government also convened an urban policy forum – to advise the Government on the implementation of our urban policy.

In short, to make sure we get it right.

The forum is working directly on two important pieces of work.

Firstly, helping craft a set of common indicators that cities can use to set targets to improve productivity, sustainability and liveability.

And secondly, in the formulation of our active transport policy, improving opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists.

Of course, consultation must be balanced with action.

That’s why one of the initiatives of the National Urban Policy to already achieve tangible results is the Liveable Cities Program.

I recently announced that 25 innovative projects have secured funding – and many of the successful projects promote smarter solutions to transport dilemmas.

One project in Parramatta is a walking and cycling network between key employment areas.

Another is situated in the aptly named ‘Green Square’ south-east of here – Australia’s first large scale low carbon tri-generation energy network.

Other projects around the nation will encourage people to walk between local destinations by providing better pedestrian routes.

What these projects show is that the Australian Government has a serious contribution to make in fostering new, innovative and tangible transport approaches in our cities.


Last month, I visited Hobart’s waterfront to make the newest announcement in the Liveable Cities program.

It is $50 million to remediate the Macquarie Point Railyards, an iconic project that will transform Australia’s second oldest city, Hobart.

The Railyards will soon become redundant with the transfer of rail activity to the Brighton Transport Hub.

This will free up some of the most magnificent waterfront land in the country and allow Macquarie Point to reach its true potential.

Uses proposed for the site so far include a tourist and scientific centre for Antarctic activity, better facilities for cruise ships and more five-star hotel accommodation and medium-density housing.

It will unlock at least $1 billion worth of economic activity across the 8.4 hectare site and finally reconnect Hobart’s CBD with one of the country’s most majestic waterways.

It is hard to overestimate the potential of this announcement and the value of it for the people of Hobart and indeed the nation.

Macquarie Point can now become not just a generator of income and jobs, but a remarkable new space for locals and visitors which – if done well – can rival the most beautiful waterfront precincts in the world.

The closure of the railyards provides a golden opportunity for Hobart.

This Federal assistance means Hobart can capture that opportunity and make it work not just for today, but for generations to come.


On the theme of investment – let me mention how some of the Government’s broader investments will improve our national transport network.

Through our six-year $36 billion Nation Building Program we’ve made real progress.

And in this latest budget I announced the continuation of our successful Black Spots and Roads to Recovery programs, and outlined our investment priorities for the next phase of the Nation Building Program.

The Australian Government’s investments have helped fund innovative projects to promote greater public transport use, such as the City Link project in Perth.

We have invested $236 million – with matching funding from Western Australia – to sink the Perth rail line in the city and unite the CBD with Northbridge.

The Gold Coast new light railway project is another great example of an infrastructure project that will improve liveability.

We’ve almost completed the duplication of the Hume Highway.

We’re also taking a holistic approach to freeing up our urban roads, by returning more freight to trains.

For example, the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal will be a case study in how infrastructure can link our ports, drive productivity and improve logistics, all the while creating long-term efficiencies, employment and environmental benefits by reducing congestion.

It will remove 3,300 trucks each day off the road between Port Botany and south western Sydney.

We are investing over $12 billion in rail and intermodal projects – that’s ten times what the previous government invested.

We are also being smarter about our investments.

You can see this through the creation of Infrastructure Australia in 2008.

Since its inception Infrastructure Australia has created a priority pipeline of projects, helping to develop a truly long-term infrastructure vision for this country.

And we are following through.

Of the nine ready-to-proceed projects identified by Infrastructure Australia in its 2009 Priority List, the Australian Government has committed funding to every single one of them.

IA has also created a National Ports Strategy and a National Freight Strategy, two critical pieces of work that when fully implemented, will change the way we move goods and people around the nation.

And in September, IA is expected to release its National Public Transport Strategy.

Last week, IA released its 2012 Priority List with several new public transport projects:

  • The Brisbane Cross River Rail
  • The Eastern Busway, again in Queensland, and
  • The first stage of a Melbourne Metro.


The Federal Government is committed to a far-reaching vision for a more prosperous Australia – one that puts an improved transport system and a smarter approach to cities at its heart.

Clearly there is much more that can and must be done.

I assure you from a federal perspective, we remain ready to tackle the challenges ahead.

Thank you.