May 11, 2018

Speech to Australian Smart Communities Conference Smart Cities Need a National Policy – Smart Cities Need a National Urban Policy – Friday, 11 May 2018


Just last week I was in Taiwan where the delivery of high speed broadband, use of technology for payments and information flow and data analysis in cities like Taipei are just a given factor in their future economic development.

Of course there are examples of smart technology everywhere.

For instance, residents in Tel Aviv can sign up for a Digi Tel Card, which provides them with live updates about what is happening in the city.

And the communication goes both ways. Should a resident notice an issue with a playground, or broken signage, they can feed that information back to city authorities through the app.

Here in Australia the City of Newcastle is set to run a series of Internet of Things (IoT) trials.

Soil monitoring sensors will soon be installed at a sports ground in the city’s west.

These will measure the field’s moisture and potentially enable savings to be made when it comes to water costs and maintenance.

Helpfully, the sensors will allow sports organisations to remotely determine if the field can be played on hours in advance of competitions.

As part of the trial, bin sensors, smart lighting control and parking sensors will also be tested at the sportsground, before being rolled out across the city.

Like it or not, technology is changing the way we live, the way we work and the way we play.

Keeping pace, not just as individuals but also as cities and towns, remains a challenge.

It is up to policy makers, experts and government to ensure that all people benefit from advancements in technology.

But while there are many examples in cities and towns across Australia of smart technology being used effectively, there is no unifying framework at a national level to facilitate a genuine smart cities agenda.

The fact is that while a one off program can provide targeted investment that gets projects and trials off the ground, it is no driver of change.

And what’s more, without a national urban policy, it is very hard to have a smart cities policy.

That’s why I’m announcing today that a Federal Labor Government would embed a smart cities agenda in our national urban policy.

This builds on our legacy from when we were last in Government where we released ‘Our Cities, Our Future’ – Australia’s first ever comprehensive national urban policy.

It also comes in addition to previous commitments that Federal Labor would require all projects submitted to Infrastructure Australia to  show what provision for smart infrastructure has been included to ensure maximum benefit is achieved from any investment.


Despite significant investment in smart technology from both the public and private sector globally there is still a great deal of scepticism about the term ‘smart cities’.

Prominent architect Jan Gehl tells his students that, ‘whenever you hear the word “smart,” beware, because that is somebody who wants to sell as many millions as possible of some new gimmick. And he is not necessarily giving you a better quality of life’.

Not unreasonable advice.

Perhaps the initial challenge with smart cities is defining exactly what we mean by this.

And, most importantly for all of you, defining what the national government means when it talks about smart cities.

On one hand we have a technical response, where a ‘smart city’, according to IBM, is ‘one that makes optimal use of all the interconnected information available today to better understand and control its operations and optimize the use of limited resources’.

But the truth is such a technical response overlooks both the complexity of cities and the potential of those people living in them.

In my view, a simpler and more practical approach paints a clearer picture while ensuring we don’t overlook a city’s most valuable asset – its people.

So I believe smart cities can be summed up as follows: those that use the latest technology and urban design techniques to deliver on three key objectives – productivity, sustainability and liveability.

And this is why embedding the smart cities concept in Labor’s national urban policy is so important.

Yet the challenges that most constrain our productivity, sustainability and liveability are not new.

Issues around the impact of climate change on our urban environment, housing affordability, urban congestion, ensuring cities have an efficient public transport network and that people have access to employment centres have challenged us for decades.

Smart technology certainly offers a new opportunity to address these.

While we can’t expect it to solve everything, it certainly can help.

But a silo approach won’t get us there.

And that’s why it’s important we acknowledge that a truly “smart” city has a few additional defining characteristics, particularly when it comes to governance.

Stephen Hawking once said, ‘intelligence is the ability to adapt to change’.

Smart cities are adaptive cities; they don’t just respond to the issues of the day but anticipate the challenges of the future.

They achieve this by being resourceful with evidence-based decision making, having an overarching strategic vision and an integrated planning approach.

Innovation is supported at a community and a company level.

And, most importantly, smart cities put people first, while collaborating across the different levels of government and with the private sector.

Genuinely achieving this is the challenge at hand.

But having a consistent, unifying national framework in the form of Labor’s proposed National Urban Policy is a good place to start.


Four out of every five Australians live in cities, which produce 80 percent of the nation’s GDP.

Keeping the wheels turning, literally, so that cities continue to perform as economic powerhouses is one of our biggest challenges.

Traffic congestion is already costing the national economy $16 billion a year in lost productivity.

And, according to analysis by Infrastructure Australia, this cost will rise to $53 billion a year by 2031 unless we act now.

How, what and when we choose to invest in infrastructure has very real implications for the future.

The provision of infrastructure can no longer be considered a second order public policy priority.

In 2018, an effective infrastructure policy is fundamental to an effective economic policy, an effective housing affordability policy and an effective environmental policy.

But the key word here is ‘effective’.

If we are to maximise its economic, social and environmental dividends, infrastructure policy has to be got right.

This starts with a genuine commitment to a long term strategy based on an objective, evidence-based assessment of the nation’s infrastructure needs.

Technology has an important role to play in this space, which is why we have said it must be considered in any proposal submitted to Infrastructure Australia.

We know it has the greatest potential to unlock significant efficiency gains.

In practice this means fitting new technology to improve traffic flows along major motorways, using higher productivity vehicles, creating dedicated freight routes and separating passenger trains from freight trains.

There are a number of examples I can point to where this has already occurred.

For instance the former Labor Government invested in the Managed Motorways Program, which incorporated intelligent transport solutions into urban motorway networks.

These included entry ramp signalling, variable speed limit signs, CCTVs and digital message signs that provide motorists with live updates on traffic conditions and delays.

And in Victoria we committed $9.9 million in our last Budget to upgrade the Intelligent Transport System along a 4.1 kilometre section of the Monash Freeway.

While in the scheme of things that was a relatively small amount of funding, it would have generated an extraordinary $11.50 of benefits for every $1 invested, according to Infrastructure Australia.

Unfortunately, this was one of those worthy projects cancelled by the incoming Coalition Government, which has seriously underinvested in infrastructure.

Indeed, this week’s Budget, which includes no new money for infrastructure, speaks for itself with page after page listing zero, zero, zero, zero into the forwards.

The fact is that every project announced in the Budget will be funded from previous allocations, putting the lie to weeks of pre-budget hyperbole in which the Government pretended it planned to lift investment after years of cuts.

The infrastructure Budget is nothing more than a triumph of spin over substance.

It does not include one extra dollar of new investment over the Forward Estimates and, indeed, Commonwealth infrastructure grants to the states will fall in each of the next four years from the promised $8 billion in 2017-18 to $4.5 billion in 2021-22.

Not only is the Coalition cutting investment in coming years, but it has failed to deliver what it actually promised in its first four budgets.

Over the Coalition’s first four budgets, the difference between the amount the Government promised to invest and what it has actually delivered is $4.7 billion.

It’s just not good enough, particularly when you take into the account the multiplier effect of investment in good infrastructure.

The Government’s underspend means we are potentially missing out on a whole swathe of private investment.

The need for investment in infrastructure has never been greater, but the Government must play its part by fronting up with real investment and offering private investors the certainty they need.

There are a number of examples elsewhere in the role where governments have thought deeply about how they can lead in this space.

For instance, in the UK, a partnership has been established between the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge.

Called Digital Built Britain, it will function at both a theoretical and practical level, developing standards to improve how new technologies, data and analytics are used when it comes to planning, building and maintaining social and economic infrastructure.


But an essential part of cities being productive is dealing with the issues of sustainability.

2017 was Australia’s third hottest year on record. Not surprisingly, the other two hottest years – 2016 and 2015 – also broke a number of world records.

While heatwaves and extreme weather events take a toll on everyone, the fact is that it is those living in our outer suburbs, as well as the elderly, who are disproportionately affected.

We need to be doing everything we can to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

It is one of our greatest global challenges.

Smart technology has a key role to play in enabling greener, more resilient cities.

This is particularly important when you consider the fact that while cities cover less than two per cent of the earth’s surface, they consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60 percent of all carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

However developments in technology now mean that we can not only monitor a building’s impact on climate change, but through smarter design we can actually reduce it.

For instance, just two kilometres from here on Little Collins Street, the façade of Melbourne’s Council House 2 dominates the streetscape with its timber slats, which open and close in response to the movements of the sun.

It was the first building to receive Australia’s 6 Star Green Star – Office Design rating and is designed to work as an ecosystem.

Down the road from here, the renewal of the Queen Victoria Market precinct saw  the City of Melbourne become the first Australian local government to receive the 6 Star Green Star – Communities accreditation.

There are plenty of great examples of innovation, across Australia and abroad.

Vertical forests in Milan, Singapore and Sydney act as a sponge, absorbing and purifying water before it is reused.

Renewables, too, are playing an important role.

In just the last three years, the number of cities around the world sourcing more than 70 percent of their power from renewables has more than doubled to 100.
Given the challenge at hand, it is a responsibility of government to ensure it provides leadership on climate change.

This not only grows market confidence in renewable energy at a macro level, but can impact on individual behaviour and decision-making at a micro level.

We have the potential to transform a city’s impact on its environment from both the bottom up and the top down.

And this is why we will ensure sustainability remains a core pillar of our national urban policy, while also embedding a smart cities agenda.


The very simple fact of cities, however, is that their success is entirely dependent on people.

People flock to cities for jobs, to pursue education and training opportunities as well as for access to restaurants and a range of cultural activities.

But people abandon cities because of the obstacles it throws up – lengthy commutes, the high cost of living and poor amenity which includes environmental issues such as air quality.

Liveability matters.

Smart technology can assist with this.

Many local councils are already using technology to allow residents to inform them if maintenance is needed in public spaces.

But there is more that can be done.

For instance, NGO Plan International Australia has released a new online interactive map called ‘Free to Be’ for Sydney, New Delhi, Kampala, Lima, and Madrid.

It allows women to map where in the city they feel unsafe.

The challenge of data however, and there is plenty of it, is what we actually do with the information we have.

In this particular case Plan International Australia has already said it will work with local councils and other relevant authorities to see what steps can be taken to make our streets safer.

We need to make sure that as we collect data we continue to close the loop, using the information we have to generate better outcomes for people.

However, we also need to be mindful that smart technology is not a silver bullet.

Building truly liveable communities that are socially cohesive places depends on face-to-face interactions.

And overcoming spatial inequality requires targeted investment in infrastructure from both government and the private sector.


In order for there to be a smart cities policy, we must first have a National Urban Policy.

Labor is committed to integrating a smart cities agenda in our National Urban Policy because we know that technology has a key role to play in improving the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities.