SPEECH TO THE NATIONAL GROWTH AREAS ALLIANCE
MONDAY, 19 NOVEMBER 2018
GROWING OUR OUTER SUBURBS FAIRLY
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I’m very pleased to be with the NGAA again, this time in Campbelltown with my friends and colleagues Anne Stanley and Mike Freelander.
A little over 160 years ago Campbelltown Train Station opened and at that time it was the end of the line, with the journey from Sydney taking 1 hr and 45 minutes.
Since then Campbelltown has changed significantly.
From wheat crops to grapes, dairies, the 38 post World War I soldier settlements and the steady churn of small businesses that kept the town moving as Sydney stretched out towards it.
In the early 1960s Campbelltown was designated a satellite city by the New South Wales Planning Authority and a regional capital for the south west of Sydney.
Back then, its population was just under 20,000.
But this quickly grew to 43,000 in 1974 and 144,000 in 1996.
Today the population is just over 167,000.
This is expected to grow to more than 273,000 people by 2036.
Campbelltown has always been a centre for growth.
It services the much larger Macarthur catchment area, providing employment opportunities across a range of sectors.
But with greater south-west Sydney also anticipated to grow by more than double again and Western Sydney as a whole expected increase its population from two to three million people, governments cannot afford to be complacent.
The truth is that while thriving growth areas such as Campbelltown continue to build upon their success, they require, first, a strategic vision and, second, significant investment in order to secure their productivity, sustainability and liveability.
This is because we need to position growth areas to maximise the benefits that come with increased urbanisation, while also efficiently dealing with the challenges.
As Socrates once said, “by far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities.”
So this is not a new problem.
Too often we see the population of our outer suburbs increase before the necessary infrastructure such as public transport and social infrastructure like schools, hospitals and recreational space are put in place.
For instance, in the Macarthur region some of the recent developments like Oran Park, Gregory Hills, Bringelly, Appin, Wilton and Cobbitty are also the areas with the least public transport.
Locally, this has led to worsening traffic congestion and placed increasing pressure on essential services like hospitals and schools.
This year was the 50th anniversary of the electrification of the rail line to Campbelltown, but even simple measures such as the extension of electrification to the south west and the completion of the Maldon-Dumbarton rail connecting Macarthur to the Illawarra have been ignored.
What’s more, planning for a future M9 motorway has been a complete debacle and has now been temporarily shelved.
Ultimately, bad planning leads to bad outcomes and a higher cost of retrofitting infrastructure to try to catch up with the community’s needs and fulfil their expectations.
What’s more, if people can’t access employment, training or educational opportunities; if people are stuck in their cars for hours commuting to and from work, and; if people cannot enjoy their quality of life, then they can’t achieve their potential.
And of course this means that, in turn, our cities won’t fulfil theirs.
Successful cities are inclusive cities, with diverse vibrant communities – not disconnected enclaves of privilege and disadvantage.
We must ensure our cities are places of opportunity – for all people.
This perspective underpins Labor’s national urban policy agenda.
We recognise that the national government has a particular responsibility to invest in our growth corridors.
We also recognise that if we are to achieve genuinely positive change then we must work from the bottom up.
This means working with communities and local councils as well as the private and not-for-profit sectors, and, of course, state and territory governments.
However, Labor’s City Partnerships proposal and commitment to investing in growth areas is about more than just levelling the playing field.
It’s about creating new places of opportunity, beyond the CBDs of our cities, and ensuring they are productive, sustainable and liveable both now, and for the decades to come.
ARE WE THERE YET?
This is the third year in a row I have addressed the NGAA conference – and the first with Bronwen Clark officially at the helm.
The 2018 conference theme is, ‘ten years on; are we there yet?’
The simple answer is no.
But we shouldn’t dismiss the gains that have been made.
There is now broad bipartisan agreement that the national government must be engaged in urban policy.
This is underscored by the recently released, cross-party House of Representatives Committee report ‘Building Up and Moving Out’, which is the product of extensive consultation and provides numerous recommendations on the way forward.
Your organisation, along with others, has helped us reach this point.
We also have a greater awareness across the sector, in the media and communities, about the impact our urban challenges, such as congestion, housing affordability and sprawl, are having on everyday life.
This includes the Heat Island Effect, which is scorching our outer suburbs because of higher inland temperatures.
Yet with this comes questions not just about whether we’re there yet, but where it is we want to go and how we plan to get there.
And I think we all agree that each person in society should have access to the opportunities and services they need to advance themselves.
But I am concerned by the failure of some people to consider communities as a whole – colourful, vibrant tapestries composed of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds – and the positive contribution this diversity has already made to the nation we are today.
If we are to be truly successful in our endeavour to make cities better places for everyone, then we can’t let ourselves be side-tracked by a divisive debate around immigration.
It only entrenches fear and division in our neighbourhoods and this dog-whistling must be called out for what it is.
We must work together – across governments, across politics, across industries and across communities.
Since World War II, every Labor Government has made an important contribution to Australia’s urban development and progress, including in our outer suburbs.
In 1945, Ben Chifley commenced post-war reconstruction with large-scale investment in public housing.
Gough Whitlam connected Western Sydney and other suburban areas to sewerage and established the Department of Urban and Regional Development.
Bob Hawke and Paul Keating invested in the Building Better Cities Program.
And the Rudd-Gillard Government put in place a large number of policies to support the development of our cities.
- Establishing Infrastructure Australia to provide independent advice to government about the merits of major projects;
- Creating the Major Cities Unit and Urban Policy Forum to ensure policy is informed by expert opinion and underpinned by an evidence base, including through the annual State of Australian Cities report;
- Establishing the Australian Council of Local Government to bring local councils into the conversation;
- Creating the Centre of Excellence for Local Government at UTS to promote best practice;
- Conducting a review of capital city strategic planning systems through COAG – this was chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe with Lucy Turnbull as Deputy Chair;
- Releasing the Urban Design Protocol after consulting extensively with industry, which promotes guidelines for sustainable urban development and;
- Releasing Australia’s first ever comprehensive National Urban Policy, which identified three key pillars of productivity, sustainability and liveability.
BEYOND THE NEXT DECADE
Labor will build on this urban policy legacy if we have the privilege of being elected at the next Federal Election.
But we’ll also take action on climate change.
Invest in advanced manufacturing.
Properly and fairly fund our schools, universities and TAFE.
Improve housing affordability for those currently locked out of the market.
Support the growth of business.
And upgrade health services around the nation.
The difference between us and the current occupants of the ministerial wing is not just that we understand inaction has serious consequences for our nation, but also that we’re prepared to do something about it.
And we know that people in regional towns and cities, as well as those in major cities and growth corridors need this action now because the culmination of inaction or bad policy in each of these areas is devastating.
Over the coming decades the population of South-East Queensland is projected to increase by 2.2 million people.
Wanneroo, in Western Australia, will become Perth’s most populated local government area by 2050.
Wyndham, in Victoria, is expecting its population to grow by more than 74 per cent by 2036.
Managing this will not be easy.
But one thing is certain: a failure to plan and build the infrastructure that will be needed will leave many people and communities socially isolated and economically disadvantaged.
And that would inevitably harm the productivity and performance of the Australian economy.
Put simply, if we fail to plan, we are planning to fail.
If we get the planning right, particularly in our growth areas, then we can improve quality of life for people and make our cities more efficient.
But because the nature of Australia’s federation means that all three levels of government have both distinct and overlapping roles in urban development, collaboration and alignment are needed to maximise the effectiveness of investments and policies.
Labor’s City Partnerships policy will engage all three levels of government through genuine collaboration, as well as with the private sector, to set out a strategic vision for our cities.
This will be linked to a renewed National Urban Policy that focuses on the three pillars of productivity, sustainability and liveability.
To help achieve this we will re-establish the Major Cities Unit within Infrastructure Australia and task it with independent oversight of the program, including recommending City Partnerships to the Minister.
Guidelines for City Partnerships will be developed in consultation with urban policy experts and we’ll make sure that these are publicly available so that any city, or group of cities, can apply.
We want people to focus on what gains can be made through productivity uplift and the additional revenue that will flow to the Federal Government as a result.
This could be achieved by setting targets across areas such as employment, education or health.
Importantly, City Partnerships provide an opportunity to address spatial inequality in our cities by driving and facilitating investment in outer suburbs and growth areas to enable them to become more productive, sustainable and liveable.
Ultimately, we want to unlock the potential of our cities by bringing together all levels of government, the private sector and community in a way that is meaningful so that we can achieve genuine structural change.
Our approach emphasises collaboration.
It is a product of extensive consultation with stakeholders, including hearing about the experience of local councils with the current City Deals program, which we know has failed to deliver real change.
The lack of rigour and independent oversight means City Deals are subject to political whim.
The absence of transparency and clear guidelines has left local councils in the dark about how to best be involved.
And limited engagement with the private sector and an absence of detail around the funding of projects means that all levels of government are missing out on potential value uplift.
We know that here in Western Sydney, local councils were asked to sign on to a City Deal without knowing what the content of it would be.
Blacktown Council was completely left out of the picture.
Here, Macarthur received no additional investment for major infrastructure, despite its growth.
And the rail project at the centre of the city deal remains unfunded by the Coalition.
We must do better – our growth areas need us to do better.
The original intention of the UK City Deals was to provide a mechanism through which various levels of government can work together to develop area-based strategies that improve overall economic growth.
It’s particularly relevant for growth corridors, as it provides a model through which they can receive greater investment.
Given these areas face substantially different challenges to inner suburbs, the strategic and targeted approach of this program matters.
Ultimately City Deals are intended to provide a long-term vision for how structural change can be achieved.
But, most crucially, City Deals are underpinned by the idea that investment should be guided by the level of government that sits closest to the people.
They encourage a bottom up strategy that recognises local government as genuine partners – well placed to lead structural change and foster local community ownership.
Not just another stakeholder.
And through this process all cards are put on the table from the outset and priorities determined in collaboration.
From the conversations I have had it is clear to me that many local councils are thinking comprehensively about what they can do to positively shape the economic future of their region.
They are thinking strategically about how innovation can be used to advantage the people they represent through job creation.
And they are thinking about how they can work with neighbouring councils, engage the private sector and bring together all levels of government to achieve positive structural change that empowers a broader geographical area – not just their own.
It’s nation building – from the bottom up.
But the national government must do more to support these ambitions and that’s precisely what our City Partnerships program intends to do.
INVESTING IN OUR GROWTH AREAS
But real investment in our growth areas is also required.
That’s why we have already committed $3 billion towards the construction of Western Sydney Rail.
This project will reduce congestion and car dependency, by connecting the communities of Western Sydney to each other as well as the region’s new Western Sydney Airport.
Western Sydney Rail alone is expected to take 1,000 cars off the road every time a train leaves the station, and Deloitte estimates the project will add over $44 billion in benefits to the economy by 2040.
Elsewhere around the nation we’re committed to investing in projects like Cross River Rail in Queensland, which will benefit the entire South East Queensland growth area.
This complements our significant investment in improving the road connection between the growing suburbs of Brisbane and the Gold Coast through our $1 billion upgrade to the M1.
Additional investment in Perth METRONET will connect the north-eastern suburbs around Ellenbrook to the city’s heavy rail network, linking passengers to the major employment hubs of Malaga and Morley along the way.
This will build on Labor’s legacy of investing in rail and road projects around the nation.
Indeed, the former Federal Labor Government invested more in urban passenger rail than all our predecessors since Federation combined.
Projects, like the Regional Rail Link through Victoria’s burgeoning western suburbs is an excellent example of delivering public transport in anticipation of residential development.
The Gold Coast Light Rail, or as the locals affectionately call it, “the G”, is a transformative piece of infrastructure has helped change the way people get around the Coast.
But it is important to remember that even when governments deliver new projects, the job isn’t necessarily over.
Right now, in parts of Australia in 2018, a lack of car parking at train stations is emerging as an unwanted impediment to efforts to tackle traffic congestion, which costs the nation about $16 billion a year in lost productivity.
Unless governments act on parking, we risk creating a situation where commuters give up on public transport because it is too much trouble.
Federal Labor has part of the solution.
In Government we would create a $300 million Park and Ride Fund to work with state and local governments to expand community car parking at public transport hubs.
Already, we’ve announced ten park and ride projects, including at Mango Hill, Narangba and Northgate in Brisbane’s outer northern suburbs; Gosford, Woy Woy and Tuggerah on the NSW Central Coast; Riverwood and Schofields in Sydney; and Tarneit and Frankston in Victoria.
The rationale is simple – if we want commuters to use trains, train stations must be accessible.
It’s not enough just to build rail networks. We must also ensure they are easy to use.
In an ideal world, commuters would live within walking distance of train stations and have no need to park and ride.
Indeed, that is the situation in many long-established urban areas of Australia.
But outer suburban areas are often served by a single train line that draws in commuters from far and wide.
When it’s too far to walk to the station, parking becomes critical.
Traditionally Federal governments have left park and rides to state and local governments.
But after five years of under-investment in infrastructure by the current Federal Government, traffic congestion looms as a genuine threat to national economic growth and our quality of life.
The emergence of the parking problem points to a broader challenge relating to population growth and development in urban Australia in coming decades.
And to truly deal with traffic congestion, we must ensure we provide the infrastructure investment needed to support this growth.
Today the train from Sydney to Campbelltown takes just over an hour – and up to an hour and a half on weekends.
But the changing nature of our cities means that it is no longer just about how people get from outer suburbs to the CBD.
It’s also about how people connect to their surrounding suburbs and how we can grow more opportunities locally as our cities expand.
Collaboration across all levels of government, with the private sector and communities, as well as strategic investment, is required to support this shift.
I look forward to continuing to work with you to invest in our growth areas and ensure they are places of opportunity – for everyone, not just some.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.