Apr 30, 2008

Speech to the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils


Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre,

Penrith, 30 April 2008

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

Federal Member for Grayndler

As prepared for delivery…

Thanks very much.

I am very pleased to be here and have the opportunity to discuss the Rudd Labor Government’s commitment to Western Sydney, particularly to local government in Western Sydney.

It is great to see elected officials here representing nearly 1.8 million Australians.

As many of you know, I grew up in Camperdown in the inner-city.

At the time, it was a very working-class community and the local council was involved directly in our lives.

For many Australians, community infrastructure such as the local park and the swimming pool set the scene for their everyday interactions.

My personal connection with local government runs deeper.

I was born in Council-owned housing.

The same house where my mother was born after her parents moved in during the 1920s.

That council house gave my childhood a sense of stability that it would not otherwise have had.

And I grew up in a community which was enriched socially, if not economically.

So for better or worse, Australia now has a Local Government Minister who understands how central local government can be to the lives of working families.

Local councils the closest level of government to the people.

In fact, local government is still present at the most personal moments of our lives: celebrating birthdays and marriages at the town hall or in the local park, becoming a citizen at a council ceremony, looking after your children in child care, or getting council approval to build your dream home.

Our communities are held together by local government.

As many of you are aware, Federal Labor has a long history of working closely with local government.

It was a Labor government that first decided to give untied funds to local government starting with $56 million in Financial Assistance Grants in 1974-75.

Today the Australian Government delivers nearly $1.8 billion a year to local government.

Another $300 million is provided through Roads to Recovery.

Many of you would be well aware that it was also Gough Whitlam who brought in legislation that established regional organisations to represent local governments.

As a result, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils came into existence some 35 years ago – in 1973.

And on two occasions, Federal Labor tried to give constitutional recognition to local government – once in 1974, and again in 1988.

Personally, my first political job more than 20 years ago was working for Tom Uren, Minister for Local Government in the Hawke Government.

On 24 November last year, many people in Western Sydney voted for Federal Labor for the first time.

Thanks to their trust, Labor now holds a belt of seats from Grayndler in the inner-west to Macquarie in the Blue Mountains and beyond.

The Rudd Government is determined to repay that trust and renew the Commonwealth’s commitment to local communities in Western Sydney.

This region has experienced major changes over the past 35 years.

Today Greater Western Sydney is home to almost half of Sydney – and nearly 1 in 11 Australians.

More than half of the world’s nations are represented among the west’s many residents.

Greater Western Sydney is Australia’s third largest regional economy, generating Gross Regional Product of $80 billion a year.

With this kind of population and economic growth comes infrastructure need.

As WSROC’s mission says, you want a more sustainable lifestyle for your communities, and you want secure infrastructure that encourages – not discourages – people from living in Sydney’s west.

Like you, we believe that secure, reliable and modern infrastructure is central to the quality of our lives.

The Rudd Government wants to see healthy, sustainable communities in the west where people want to live, work and bring up families.

We want to see communities with affordable housing connected to reliable water, broadband and electricity services.

We want to see communities where high quality infrastructure enables people to link with each other, travel easily to work, and access community and recreational facilities.

We want to see communities where there are efficient links between key industries and major export points.

Everyone in this auditorium knows what a difference the new 40-kilometre M7 Westlink has made not only to the movement of freight to and from the west, but also to your community members’ lives.

Every minute spent in a traffic jam is a minute lost with your children and a substantial loss to the national economy.

The Rudd Labor Government has strong plans to help western Sydney meet the challenges of the 21st century.

We are serious about infrastructure investment.

We have established Infrastructure Australia to audit nationally significant infrastructure by the end of this year.

It will develop an Infrastructure Priority List by March 2009 to guide billions of dollars of public and private investment.

I have already announced Sir Rod Eddington as the first Chair of Infrastructure Australia and will be appointing the remaining board in May.

This will include a representative from local government, further highlighting our commitment to local communities.

Starting from July 2009, we will invest $17 billion over five years in the national road network, including critical projects in Western Sydney. These include:

  • $300 million for the Great Western Highway;
  • $112 million for the F5 widening project;
  •  $300 million for the M4 East project to fund approvals and packaging for the private sector; and
  • $300 million towards the Moorebank intermodal terminal.

We want to make sure that products and produce get from the factory and the farm to markets on time and at the lowest cost.

Some of these road and rail projects need action now, before July 2009.

That’s why we are currently talking to the NSW Government to see if we can make a start sooner.

We will also invest up to $4.7 billion in the National Broadband Network, so Australians can access fast broadband services.

We have committed to $1.5 billion in new urban water investment to help secure water supplies for Australian households and businesses.

And to help working families with young children, we are investing in new child care centres and additional child care assistance.

We have also established a $500 million Housing Affordability Fund to assist new home buyers. This will provide incentives to local councils in high growth areas like Western Sydney to lower infrastructure and regulatory burdens that are factored into the cost of a new home.

As part of the package, up to $30 million will be provided to fast-track electronic development assessment and online tracking.

Recently, I chaired the Local Government and Planning Ministers Council in Brisbane which began implementing this plan.

The Government will also establish a new Council of Australian Local Governments.

We believe there needs to be a direct conversation between local and federal governments on issues of national significance.

Housing affordability, constitutional recognition, climate change and water, community infrastructure – these are some of the issues that would benefit through a new co-operative approach.

I am currently finalising the membership and charter of the Council.

We will also implement our Better Regions election commitments – including $933,000 for St Mary’s Cultural Precinct & Hall and $1.8 million for the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.

All that I’ve spoken of today comes from Labor’s belief in the importance of Commonwealth involvement in the development of our major cities.

A position based on the fact that Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world – with four out of five Australians living in urban areas.

And our cities are critical to the economy, with ABS data showing that Australia’s eight capital cities contributed to 78 per cent of the nation’s economic growth between 2001 and 2006.

We know that our economic prosperity will in great part depend on the ability of our cities to operate successfully.

And we cannot hope to tackle climate change without improving the sustainability of our cities.

Only a couple of weeks ago the new Member for Lindsay, David Bradbury, hosted a Community Cabinet meeting here in Penrith.

At that meeting, Ministers heard about the challenges facing Western Sydney – including transport, housing costs and community facilities.

This message was reinforced at the meeting the Prime Minister and I had with the Capital City Lord Mayors last week.

Your concerns are shared by many of the urban centres I’ve visited around Australia.

For example, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has estimated that urban congestion alone will cost nearly $20 billion by 2020 if we persist with current policies.

What’s more, at least 1 in 10 working parents are estimated to spend longer in their cars commuting to and from work, than at home with their children.

And most major cities face permanent water restrictions – which has a huge impact on the quality of our lives and the natural landscape of our cities.

It is unfortunate that for more than a decade the Commonwealth has been absent from our cities.

But we understand the reality and we’ve heard your concerns.

This disengagement cannot continue if we are serious about securing our national prosperity.

That’s why I am pleased to announce the Government’s next step towards making sure Australia’s major cities remain places where people want to live, work, raise a family and do business.

To this end, the Government will establish and resource a Major Cities Unit in my Department, renewing the Commonwealth’s focus on cities and, more broadly, on urban development.

By major cities, I mean more than our eight capital cities.

For example, critical regional centres like Townsville, Newcastle, the Gold Coast and Geelong have grown enormously.

As these centres expand, they face many of the same infrastructure and planning challenges our capital cities have encountered.

Currently our cities deal with a myriad of federal government departments which affect their economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

A more coordinated and integrated approach is needed.

The Major Cities Unit will do just that.

It will be critical in identifying opportunities where federal government leadership can make a difference to the prosperity of cities and their residents.

In particular, I am keen to see a strong relationship develop between our major cities and Infrastructure Australia, the body charged with prioritising billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure around the nation.

The Major Cities Unit will be central to this relationship.

For cities to grow to their full potential we need a collective vision.

By working together on shared objectives, we will achieve better outcomes for the people we represent.

While the establishment is a significant step in reengaging with our urban centres, the Government will have more to say on our commitment to urban development in the coming months.

Our policies will be developed keeping in mind some key goals:

  •  Productivity – to reduce urban congestion and improve our freight networks so that people and goods can move more efficiently;
  • Sustainability – to make sure our cities provide employment and business opportunities within close proximity to their residents, and of course to ensure that infrastructure is planned and built with the aim of reducing emissions and securing our water supply; and

Liveability – to make sure that planning accommodates participation and lifestyle so that people have access to community services.

I know WSROC is equally committed to providing sustainable growth and better infrastructure for its residents.

Like, for example, the Socially Sustainable Renewal project, which is examining ways to achieve more sustainable high density renewal in suburbs such as Auburn, Bankstown, Fairfield and Penrith.

There is also the urban renewal project in Bonnyrigg, where WSROC and NSW Housing are working with the private sector to renew public housing estates.

I understand the project recently won the National Australasian Housing Institute award for community renewal and is the first time a Public Private Partnership delivery model has been used in Australia for such a project.

This Government recognises the importance of local communities and the role infrastructure plays in holding communities together, making communities work and helping them renew in a sustainable way.

At WSROC’s 30th anniversary, Gough Whitlam was your keynote speaker and he said:

“The Federal Government has an important role in advancing the activities and aspirations of the region.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The Rudd Labor Government is equally committed to providing the infrastructure western Sydney needs to continue to grow and prosper.

I look forward to working with you over the coming year on our bold new priorities for regional and local communities.