Mar 10, 2016

Speech to the Sydney Institute – A new agenda for Australian cities – Sydney

As he launched his 1969 campaign, Gough Whitlam made an important observation about the need for proper planning in Australia’s cities.

“Crucial in determining the quality of life is the environment in which we live; the shape of our cities and towns shapes all our lives, for all our lives.”

Outlining his vision for the nation, Whitlam argued that without Federal leadership our cities could never rival their international counterparts.

He said, “by neglect now, we are building massive problems for the future.”

These words are just as true today.

Labor has long understood the central importance of cities to Australia’s economy.

Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren were right to pioneer urban policy.

But they did this not just to accelerate the nation’s productivity.

They did this because they recognised that a properly planned city has the capacity to shape the lives of people, and the opportunities available to them.

And in the decades since Gough Whitlam first put forward the case for Federal Government leadership and investment in cities, Labor has continued to be the Party of urban policy.

The Hawke Government, through Brian Howe, created the Better Cities Program, which revitalised parts of our cities like East Perth, Honeysuckle in Newcastle and Ultimo-Pyrmont in Sydney.

The Rudd Government created Infrastructure Australia, established the Major Cities Unit and the Australian Council of Local Government, developed a national urban policy and funded the Liveable Cities Program.

Regrettably, the current government has reversed this engagement with cities.

It has marginalised Infrastructure Australia.

It has ignored urban policy.

It removed all funding for public transport projects not currently under construction.

When Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott I welcomed the initial appointment of a Minister for Cities.

But that appointment didn’t last long.

In the latest Cabinet reshuffle the Cities portfolio has been downgraded to that of a parliamentary secretary.

Our cities deserve better.

Urban policy must constantly evolve to meet contemporary needs, but more importantly it must anticipate future needs.

Smart, evidence-based decisions on investment in our cities will ensure the best outcomes.

That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing that a Labor Government will broaden Infrastructure Australia’s role in two ways.

As well as looking at the economic benefits of proposals through cost-benefit analyses, the Government will require that projects address two new criteria.

Firstly, proponents will need to show what provision for smart infrastructure has been included to ensure maximum benefit is achieved from any investment.

Secondly, projects will be required to include in their design measures that improve their sustainability, including provision for active transport where appropriate.

These are common sense proposals, which should be included as a matter of course, rather than as an afterthought.

Before I speak further on this, let me outline the context for this policy announcement.


Our nation is in a state of change.

Four out of every five Australians live in cities.

By 2031 our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 per cent.

Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin are expected to grow by nearly 30 per cent.

Yet our cities are already feeling the pinch of urbanisation.

Australia’s transformation to a knowledge intensive economy has seen the CBDs of our cities become the heart of the nation’s productivity.

According to research from the Grattan Institute, the CBDs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth generated almost 15 per cent of all economic activity in Australia in 2011-2012.

This concentration of economic activity has exacerbated the issue of urban congestion.

Across our nation there’s an emerging phenomenon where people are being forced to work in or near the city and commute to drive-in, drive-out suburbs where they can find a house but can’t find a job.

Estimates from Infrastructure Australia indicate that congestion will cost the nation $53 billion in lost productivity by 2031 if left unchecked.

But while this is about the economy, it is also about equity.

Traffic congestion makes it harder for people to access the education and services they need.

It makes it harder for disadvantaged people to improve their circumstances.

However our public transport system, for many, is inaccessible.

On the edges of our cities, many people don’t have access to public transport.

For those that do, surviving the ‘crush load’ conditions of the morning peak hour is the second challenge.

According to the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics, here in Sydney many commuters, especially those travelling from the western suburbs, frequently travel in trains operating at a load of 167 per cent during the morning peak hour.

This is not sustainable.

It’s also not practical.

We need to invest in public transport.


When I was Minister for Infrastructure and Transport we lifted infrastructure spending to record levels.

When we took office, Australia was 20th among OECD nations when it came to infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP.

When we left office, Australia was 1st.

We doubled the roads budget and we allocated more investment to public transport than all other governments combined since Federation.

We established Infrastructure Australia, which conducted audits and identified a national infrastructure priority list.

We set up the Major Cities Unit and the Urban Policy Forum.

We produced the annual State of Australian Cities reports, which were downloaded more than three million times and we released Australia’s first national urban policy, “Our Cities, Our Future.”

We also created the nation’s first Urban Design Protocol, which was developed with industry and included a checklist for designers to ensure they took into account a range of quality-of-life issues including heat.

Labor did all this because it’s our long-held view the Commonwealth can improve our cities by providing direct investment and policy leadership to other levels of government.


By contrast, one of the first acts of the Coalition Government was to abolish the Major Cities Unit.

It disbanded the Urban Policy Forum and marginalised Infrastructure Australia.

Under the Coalition infrastructure investment has fallen.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that infrastructure work conducted for the public sector has declined by more than 20 per cent since the 2013 election.

Despite cutting investment by 20 per cent the Coalition will now cut it again to spend $18 million on a propaganda campaign to pretend otherwise.

It can’t deliver actual projects, so it is delivering propaganda instead.

What’s more, this campaign has been named ‘Building our Future’.

Yet the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook document released last year shows the Government has no new money for three new projects it has announced in recent months – the Gold Coast Light Rail Stage II, Adelaide’s Northern Connector and Perth’s Armadale Road upgrade.

Delivering these projects within the existing infrastructure budget will see other projects cut, deferred or cancelled.

You can’t claim to be building for the future when you’re actually reducing infrastructure investment.

This comes in addition to the fact the Howard Government squandered more than $300 billion of windfall tax collections driven by the boom on pre-election handouts.

According to Treasury research released in 2008, the mining boom delivered the Howard government a revenue windfall of $334 billion between the 2004-05 Budgets and the 2007 election.

If even a portion of this revenue had been invested in infrastructure at the time, Australia would be in a better position now.

In 2016, in the absence of windfall tax receipts, governments need to lift their own infrastructure investment as much as they reasonably can while also finding ways to lift private sector investment.

This requires Commonwealth leadership.


Australia needs a Minister for Cities who understands cities and the role of the Commonwealth in ensuring they are productive, sustainable and liveable.

In 2014 at the National Press Club I outlined Labor’s 10 point plan for cities.

It’s a comprehensive vision that goes to the heart of what makes our cities productive, sustainable and liveable.

It recognises the need to create alternate employment centres, protect our urban environment, address the issue of housing affordability and ensure our cities have integrated public and active transport systems.

Since then we have built upon our policy.

Last year Bill Shorten announced that a Labor Government will make private investment in nation building easier through a $10 billion infrastructure financing facility administered by Infrastructure Australia.

In a time of limited resources government must think creatively about new financing models for infrastructure.

The model will be similar to the highly successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has attracted $1.80 in private investment for every dollar of public investment.

Subject to strict and transparent guidelines, Infrastructure Australia will work with private investors to help mitigate risk on big projects using loan guarantees, loans, seed money and direct investment to get projects up and running.

This will give the private sector the confidence it needs to be involved.

It also opens the door to the $2 trillion held in superannuation, bringing a national pipeline of investment online.

But today’s announcement takes these ideas one step further.

Labor wants to see a return to evidence-based policy decisions.

We’ve seen the consequences of funding projects on the run:

  • The East West Link fiasco;
  • The collapse of the Perth Freight Link in the courts, and;
  • The blowout on WestConnex from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.

All on the Coalition’s watch.

That’s why Federal Labor has asked the Australian National Office of Audit to review the Turnbull Government’s entire infrastructure program.


To reduce the infrastructure deficit we must also think of smarter financing models.

This includes being smarter about how we encourage private investment, whether this is through the policy measures I mentioned earlier or through new, innovative means.

Value capture is one solution.

I’m pleased the Coalition Government has announced a willingness to consider this measure.

But while they’re still thinking about their plan, we’ve developed one.

This will come as no surprise – as far back as 2011, I established the Infrastructure Finance Working Group, which provided advice on exactly these matters.

And last year I put forward the case for a value uplift model with regard to Badgerys Creek airport.

I argued that it needed to be connected to Sydney’s rail network from day one.

The most obvious option is an extension of the existing passenger line from Leppington to the western line near St Marys via Badgerys Creek.

This would complete a loop line around Sydney and is worth building even if we weren’t building an airport.

The line could be funded at minimal public cost by understanding that the land around the airport holds more value if the airport is served by a railway line than if it is not.

The Commonwealth can capture this uplift value by factoring in the rail line to the lease price of the airport.

The airport operator will then be able to lease out land to aviation-related businesses in the area at higher rates than could be achieved if the airport had no rail access.

The existence of the rail link would also increase land values of the employment lands in the nearby precinct owned by the NSW government.

The NSW government should factor in that uplift value to its contribution to the rail line.

But this is simply one option.

All we need is some flexibility in our thinking.

High Speed Rail is another example of a project that would benefit from this approach.

It’s a game changer for the nation and will revolutionise interstate travel.

It also has the capacity to turbo-charge the economic potential of regional communities on routes like the Gold Coast, Casino, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga and Shepparton.

The study into High Speed Rail that I commissioned when I was Minister showed the economic benefits outweighed the costs.

It found that high-speed rail would return, for the Sydney to Melbourne section, more than $2 in economic benefit for every dollar invested.

It’s a project that stacks up.

We just need a Government with vision to make the call.

That’s why I have a Private Members Bill before the Parliament to create a High Speed Rail Authority.

This is in line with the recommendations of the High Speed Rail Advisory Group, which included Tim Fischer and Jennifer Westacott.

The Authority is needed to coordinate the preservation of the corridor, for which we allocated an initial $54 million with was cut in the 2014 Budget.

High speed rail technology and infrastructure is proven. Around the world millions of people travel using it every day.

Almost every example of well deployed high speed rail involves a partnership between government and the private sector.

Companies based in Japan, China, Korea and Europe have experience in constructing and operating successful High Speed Rail projects and we should use that expertise.

That’s why a future Labor Government would have the High Speed Rail Authority, once established, work through a process for gathering expressions of interest.

Given the international interest in High Speed Rail in Australia, I have no doubt this would advance the project.


I want to return now to the other policy announcements I have made tonight.

Smart infrastructure will future proof our cities.

In the digital age, time stops for no one.

Labor understands this.

That is why the former Labor Government invested heavily in the Managed Motorways Program, which increases the efficiency of existing road assets through the use of smart technology.

In this particular case ‘smart technology’ included entry ramp signalling, variable speed limit signs, lane control, CCTVs, and digital message signs which provide live updates on traffic conditions and delays.

At a practical level these measures have made it easier for governments to upgrade and better use existing infrastructure

It also goes part of the way to addressing the problem of congestion, and this technology is used on some of our major motorways such as the M4 in Sydney.

But there are also other instances of smart technology being incorporated into cities.

Water companies, for instance, have found innovative ways to resolve some of their most common issues through drones, smart materials and other forms of new technology.

Yarra Valley Water, which services 1.7 million people and 50,000 businesses throughout Melbourne has partnered with IBM to use data analytics, maximising their asset performance while improving customer service.

Yarra Valley Water has also implemented new smart technology called TaKaDu Software.

This software identifies bursts, leaks and meter failures and also provides geolocations for these events.

It monitors and analyses the state and changes in the water and sewerage system in real time using a combination of tuned algorithms, historical analysis and live system data, to identify deviations from predicted system behaviour.

By using this software Yarra Valley Water saved $930,000 and 1.05 billion litres of water in the last financial year.

Queensland Urban Utilities also uses this technology.

The software not only reduces costs, but also minimises the disruption experienced by the community.

It saves water and it saves time.

A planner’s map of a city like Sydney will show that so much of our supporting infrastructure is located by the side of roads.

When a pipe bursts, or an electricity line comes down, cities simply grind to a halt.

Smart technology like TaKaDu Software changes this.

It keeps the city moving.

It also provides us with advanced options to assess ageing infrastructure.

In a highly urbanised area, innovation like this is critical.

Upgrading existing infrastructure where identified as appropriate saves both time and money.

If new infrastructure is not required, we shouldn’t build it.

Smart technology improves the decisions we make.

It facilitates a more sustainable approach, while ensuring the most appropriate allocation of resources.


Increasing the resilience of our cities does more than simply prepare them for the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

It also ensures they play their part in addressing the shift to a carbon-constrained economy.

In 2016 it makes sense that projects submitted to Infrastructure Australia demonstrate sustainable infrastructure.

Commercial and residential buildings alone are responsible for approximately 23 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable urban design and planning must be at the forefront of our consideration.

Cities, globally, are rising to this challenge.

Copenhagen has announced its plan to become a carbon neutral city by 2025.

It’s the first Scandinavian city to adopt a policy that requires green roofs for all new buildings with roof slopes of less than 30 degrees.

France, similarly, has legislated that rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels.

Here in Australia, our urban planners and architects are increasingly incorporating sustainability into their design.

Last year the Green Building Council of Australia last year certified 218 Green Star projects in 2015, compared with 156 in 2014.

That’s an increase of 40 per cent.

City Councils, such as the City of Sydney are also taking action.

In 2014 the City of Sydney implemented a Green Roofs and Walls Policy, the first of its kind in Australia.

They are also working to lift their tree canopy in public areas from the existing 15.5 per cent to 23.5 per cent by 2030.

While both of these measures go some of the way to addressing the important problem of the Heat Island Effect, it also achieves something else.

Recent research has suggested greener cities make people happier and healthier.

I’m not surprised by this.

I’ve always thought that liveability and sustainability go hand in hand.

When in Government I released the nation’s first Urban Design Protocol.

It sets out the common sense principles which underpin good, sustainable urban design.

It also provides sound, practical advice for avoiding the planning mistakes which too often create neighbourhoods characterised by high crime rates, poor health outcomes, social isolation, joblessness, poor housing and a lack of basic services.

Best practice and sustainable urban design should be considered for any development that bears upon liveability.

And that’s why I’ve announced tonight that sustainability be considered by new projects submitted to Infrastructure Australia.

Badgerys Creek is the perfect example of how this might work.

If we look to our international counterparts we can see that in the green-fields around Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, authorities have been thinking laterally when it comes to mitigating aircraft noise.

Noise has dropped by half by digging 150 symmetrical furrows in a nearby 32 hectare site green belt, which functions also as a recreational park.

It’s creative thinking at its best.

And because Badgerys Creek is a green-field site it’s even more important that it implement best environmental practice.

We’ll only get one chance to build Sydney’s second airport.

We need to get it right to guarantee maximum economic benefit, while also ensuring sustainable environmental outcomes.

But as our cities expand, we must also ensure our parks, open spaces and waterways are protected for these same reasons.

Unchecked growth has the potential to devastate these valuable resources.

I fear that if sustainability is not a priority when we consider new projects then we put all our urban environment amenities at great risk.

This also means incorporating active transport into project design.

Projects should demonstrate an understanding of how transport systems are linked to smaller scale transport dynamics like active transport to reduce the community’s high dependence on this car.

In many places around the country this is already occurring.

For instance, in Perth as part of the Citylink project, you can leave your bike at a u-rail on the platform.

Bike hubs and lockers are also provided at a number of stations.

Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, which was funded by the former Labor Government, offers secure bike parking at new stations including Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.

Big office buildings in our cities are also jumping on board.

Owners of the Grosvenor Place tower, in Sydney, reportedly spent more than $9 million recently transforming a basement into a well-appointed cycling centre, with space for 230 bicycles, as well as fancy showers and dressing rooms including ironing boards, grooming stations and shoe cleaners.

The International Towers building, in Sydney’s Barangaroo development, will include 1000 bike racks and an on-site bike repair shop, but only 600 car parking spaces.

The Federal Government has a role to play in identifying best practice, then facilitating and investing in its replication where appropriate across the nation.


The Federal Government must be ambitious.

If the foundation of ambition is evidence-based, the people in our cities and regions will reap the rewards.

By this I mean projects that are properly planned and independently appraised by Infrastructure Australia.

Tonight’s announcement adds a new dimension to this approach, requiring projects to also show consideration of smart infrastructure and sustainable infrastructure.

We know that in 2016, urban policy is not a luxury.

It’s a necessity.

Our nation’s cities must be liveable and sustainable.

But for the sake of our economy, and our ability to create new jobs, our cities must also be productive.

This requires that governments dedicate themselves to driving productivity gains and constantly reviewing their approaches to make sure they are meeting current demands.

That’s why Labor will go to this year’s election with a comprehensive plan for our nation’s cities.