Issues: Federal Labor infrastructure investment; Melbourne Airport; Infrastructure Australia; State of Australian Cities 2012
QUESTION: Are you in favour of a rail line between Melbourne Airport and the city?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I understand that that was a commitment of the Baillieu Government at the last election and that they would have a feasibility study. When they have the feasibility study they will submit that, I would assume, to Infrastructure Australia for assessment and Infrastructure Australia will provide advice.
Of course we’re engaged in the largest-ever investment by any Commonwealth government in Australia’s history in any rail project which is the Regional Rail Link. The Commonwealth is investing $3.225 billion and this is a project that is going ahead and creating jobs in the short term but really making a big difference to liveability in Melbourne’s west over a period of time.
QUESTION: Is there a stand-off between the State Government and the Federal Government over this possible rail link between Melbourne and the airport?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, not at all. They haven’t made a submission or asked us for funding and it’s something that the State Government haven’t raised with me at any of the meetings, but I’ve got a constructive relationship with the Victorian Government and in particular with the Transport Minister, Mr Mulder, and I look forward to working with him on Victoria’s transport needs.
QUESTION: Another road which is linking the west into Melbourne Airport, an $80 million road. Would you be in support of that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You need both rail and road links and it’s pretty clear from people who visit Melbourne Airport, as I do, that there is increased congestion around the airport. As part of the master plan process these consultations will occur about future road linkages around the airport.
I welcome that. I’m the decision-maker on the master plan so I can’t comment on the specifics of the proposal but it’s part of the master plan process. Melbourne Airport is, I think, one of the best-run airports in the world but it needs to make sure that it keeps up its end in terms of transport links so that it can deal with the expansion that will occur in aviation activity in the future.
QUESTION: Minister, I’ve been around for a while now and I’ve covered innumerable conferences and stories on infrastructure and the theme for the past 20 years has been the need for public transport.
Now, I note what you said about your predecessors, clearly, but how can we be happy with your level of performance, with your – with the Labor Government’s level of performance since it’s been in administration? How many urban rail networks have you started construction since you came to power?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have urban public transport projects in every single capital city on the mainland underway, whether it be the largest which is of course the Regional Rail Link in Melbourne, whether it be in Sydney, the separation of the freight from the urban passenger line, through the northern Sydney freight line, in Queensland the Moreton Bay regional rail link, the Gold Coast light rail project, in Perth the Citylink project, which is burying the rail line, and uniting the centre of the city with the Northbridge precinct, or whether it be in Adelaide, the Noarlunga to Seaford Extension, or the Gawler line electrification.
All of these projects have commenced construction – we also have a range of projects looking forward to the future, such as the Perth light rail study that’s occurring, or the Metro stage one funding that we provided here in Melbourne, of $40 million.
So this is a Government that has committed more to urban public transport since we came to office in 2007, than was committed by all governments combined, from Federation of 1901, right through to 2007, so I think our record stands in stark contrast to our predecessors who committed not one cent to urban public transport over 12 years.
QUESTION: But given your speech, your emphasis on the loss of productivity in the future, the competition with the other Asian cities, clearly you’re of an opinion that more needs to be invested, and quickly, in public – urban public transport, so what’s next, how are you going to improve what you’re doing?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: More does need to be done on urban public transport, and we’re working with State and Territory Governments at the moment about our Nation Building Two program, which will commence in 2014, the next stage of investment, of cooperation on transport infrastructure around the nation. But I think our record speaks for itself. We have invested, we haven’t just talked the talk, we’ve put the dollars there. We’ve invested more money in urban public transport than all governments combined for the previous 107 years.
QUESTION: Looking at the other side of the equation, housing, you mentioned a need for a mechanism to increase the density of housing around job centres and transport hubs, what did you mean by that, and what is that mechanism?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think too often these issues have been impeded by Local or State Governments failing to be prepared to take those decisions. One of the things that increases the viability of public transport, new public transport corridors, and increases the benefit cost ratios that come with that, is urban density issues.
We need to have a community debate about these issues, whether we’ll continue to have urban sprawl, and there is a role of course for new greenfield development, but we also need appropriate density, particularly around our transport corridors. There are ways of doing this that are innovative, for example, building over railway stations is a way that has worked overseas, and worked in some specific examples, such as Newtown in Sydney, has meant that you have higher density, it’s very attractive to people to live in areas where they can just walk to the train station, ensure that they can get to work without needing to drive in their car.
So those planning issues are ones that remain on the agenda for cooperation between the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments. I note there’s a debate today in Sydney about councils, and the structures of them, but we need to look at outcomes, and we need to have that community debate. Too often what’s occurred is that people look at a specific proposal, without looking at how the whole cities are structured.
We also need for planning to occur, that creates support for second CBDs, that not all the concentration is in the capital city CBDs, which will be under increased stress due to the changing work patterns, because, as the report identifies, increased jobs are coming from areas such as finance, legal advice, white collar jobs, concentrated in the CBDs of cities, there is a limit to the number of people who can be transported in and out of the central CBDs.
So that creates a challenge in terms of the way that our cities are designed, to make sure that we have second CBDs and other areas of that high level economic activity, not just in the centre of the city.
QUESTION: But is – when you say there’s a mechanism, it sort of suggests there are actually some concrete things that can be done.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There are indeed, and we have, for example, through the COAG Reform Council’s report that’s been referred to the Ministerial Council that I chair, one practical way that governments are able to provide leadership. That’s been the transfer of government offices to areas other than the CBDs, to regional centres. The Victorian Government’s plan for its regional centres that the former Government conducted, that saw the growth of areas such as Bendigo and Ballarat, is particularly important to take the stress off those capital cities’ CBDs, and I think it’s that sort of leadership that the report points towards being needed more in the future.
QUESTION: Could I just ask one more question? As you mentioned, good and bad today, just sort of taking a step back, I hope it doesn’t sound like a [indistinct], but for you, what are the elements of a perfect city?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: A perfect city is one which is economically productive, that produces economic activity, does it in a way that’s sustainable, that has least impact on the environment, and one that provides a quality of life for its citizens that make it an attractive place to live.
I think all of those things are very achievable, what’s important is that we engage in this debate, based upon the policy evidence that is produced in this report, and that we work cooperatively in a way that puts aside party political politics, puts aside federal, state, local divides, and engage as a community to ensure that we get those outcomes.
QUESTION: So why is Melbourne so much better than Sydney, do you think?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, these are objective analyses that are there, certainly Melbourne has some advantages in terms of the planning that has occurred, for example, very close to here, the fact that you have the precinct of the MCG, the tennis complex, AAMI Park, all of these activities in walking distance from the city, that the walking is encouraged by the corridors that have been created, all of that I think adds to the liveability of a city, it doesn’t happen by accident, it happens because Government does good planning, and Government does it in consultation with the community.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.