Feb 10, 2016

Time for a new Minister for Cities

Malcolm Turnbull should move quickly to appoint a new Minister for Cities to replace Jamie Briggs if he is serious about his claim to want to champion the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s cities.

The Prime Minister should also place the new minister within the infrastructure and regional development portfolio, rather than the environment portfolio.

Since he became Prime Minister last September, Mr Turnbull has talked up his interest in urban policy, incessantly staging photo opportunities of himself riding in trains, trams and buses to create the impression of policy engagement.

But Mr Turnbull has done nothing concrete on urban policy, failing to re-establish the Major Cities Unit abolished by his predecessor Tony Abbott or to reverse Mr Abbott’s refusal to fund public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro or Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.

Although he appointed Mr Briggs Minister for Cities, Mr Turnbull gave the new minister no budget and had him work through the environment portfolio rather than infrastructure, which is the logical place for this important ministry.

The importance of urban policy came under the spotlight in Canberra today when I attended the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects Living Cities Workshop.

I explained to participants that a future Labor Government would focus heavily on the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s capital and regional cities by investing in public transport, cycling and walking paths and better urban design.

We will also target Australia’s biggest urban challenge – the development of drive-in, drive-out suburbs on the edges of cities where people can afford homes but where there are few jobs.

With too many Australians forced to commute long distances to work as jobs growth shifts to the inner suburbs of our cities, we need a co-ordinated response addressing housing affordability, public transport and urban planning, including consideration of greater population densities along established public transport corridors.

This type of policy complexity requires a Minister for Cities who is placed within the right department and given enough clout to work with other ministers and other levels of government.