It was Barack Obama who said, ‘climate change is no longer some far-off problem; it is happening here and it is happening now.’
Indeed, research from the Climate Council revealed that 2017 was a record-breaking year for heat and extreme weather.
The fact is that rising average temperatures and extreme weather events are placing immense pressure on the productivity, liveability and sustainability of our cities and regions.
And what we know is that business as usual won’t cut it.
We must take action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
So thank you Professor Barbara Norman for inviting me to launch your book, which considers the enormous challenge at hand for governments and the urban policy sector.
It very usefully proposes a set of seven sustainable pathways.
These encompass planning within planetary boundaries, the need for a long-term vision, integrated planning, national sustainable development strategies, net zero carbon precincts, innovative platforms for collaboration and evaluation, as well as green growth.
This is important because issues of urbanisation and climate change go hand in hand.
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 per cent of all carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
When I was Infrastructure Minister, the world tipped over to become more than 50 per cent urban.
Now, with the world on track to become 70 per cent urban by 2050, it’s pretty obvious these figures will continue to rise.
As Professor Norman puts it in her book, ‘planning for a low-carbon and resilient urban future is now our greatest global challenge’.
Australian cities are not exempt.
All capital cities are projected to experience significant population growth between now and 2031.
By then, the populations of our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 per cent, and Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin are expected to grow by nearly 30 per cent.
Sustainable development must be amongst our first priorities as we seek to accommodate this growth.
But, as highlighted by Professor Norman, we must do this in a way that is fair.
It must also be democratic and participatory.
In doing so, we can ensure people and the communities in which they live are at the forefront of this process.
The Commonwealth has a central role to play in leading this change.
It is significant that Kuala Lumpur recently finished hosting the ninth World Urban Forum – the first time for our region.
It is disappointing that the Federal Government did not send a delegation.
This follows on from the Federal Government’s decision to not send a Minister to the UN Habitat Conference held in Quito in 2016.
These multilateral forums provide opportunities we simply cannot afford to miss.
The fact is; Australia is not alone in the challenges we face.
We should be learning from other countries in our region, and indeed from across the world, sharing examples of best practice when it comes to urban policy, or innovative solutions that are actually working.
We should be participating in conversations about how to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals with the New Urban Agenda in our cities and regions.
These are both ground-breaking agendas that have the potential to transform how we approach nation building.
But we have to take part.
What’s more, and as is noted by Professor Norman, the implementation of these agreements is dependent on national urban policies or sustainable development strategies.
I’m proud that as a Minister in the former Federal Labor Government I released Australia’s first national urban policy called ‘Our Cities, Our Future’.
We also created the Major Cities Unit, established the National Urban Policy Forum and released the National Urban Design Protocol.
Our policy recognised that a silo approach, whereby government departments and ministers don’t talk to each other, won’t work for our cities.
Similarly, a multi-level governance framework is also critical and COAG, as well as the Australian Council of Local Government that we established, play an important role in this space.
And when it comes to place-based decision-making, I’ve always advocated that communities and elected local governments know best, which is reflected not just in the principles underpinning the ACLG, but also a number of programs that we funded including the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program.
This book tells us a story of what we could, as a nation, achieve with an integrated, sustainable approach to planning and development.
It tells us that our cities and regions, whose successes and failures are intertwined, can be places of opportunity for any person.
It tells us, really, that we are a nation standing at a crossroads.
One path leads us to cities and regions that are productive, liveable and sustainable, but we can only get there with leadership and investment from the national government.
The other is troubling to think about.
That’s why I’ll continue to talk about cities policy, and I encourage you all to do the same.
It’s also why contributions, such as this book are so important.
We are very lucky to have in Barbara someone who understands the need to ensure that an analysis of our cities is not just academic.
Barbara’s work with this book, and in all her contributions to urban policy in Australia, has been geared at making a genuine, practical difference for which I am very grateful – and I’m sure these are sentiments echoed by everyone here today.