Subject: City Partnerships policy
LIBBY COKER: I’d like to welcome everyone here today and I’m Libby Coker. I’m the Labor candidate for Corangamite and with me I have Richard Marles, my friend and colleague and the Member for Corio. I have Bruce Harwood, who is the Mayor of the City of Greater Geelong. And of course we have Anthony Albanese, who is Labor’s Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. Now we are here today because we want to send message of commitment to this region, to the people of Geelong and to the people of Corangamite.
We know that this region is growing rapidly and we also know that it has great potential. We’ve got the Surf Coast and Bellarine. We have the hinterland areas of Golden Plains and Colac, Otway and of course we have the thriving city of Geelong and these places are full of potential. We are so close to Melbourne as well. It’s an absolute recipe for a great region that can deliver for people and that’s what we’re here today to talk about. We want to actually unlock this potential, but to do so we need to invest in infrastructure. So it’s very exciting to have Anthony Albanese with us because he is going to make an announcement about our commitment to the region and I’d like to introduce him now to talk to you about our City Partnership for this region. Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well thanks very much Libby and it’s great to be back here in Geelong with yourself, with Richard and with Bruce as the Mayor. We’ve just had a very constructive discussion yet again with the council but also with the G21 representatives and the Committee for Geelong. This is very much a region that I am familiar with and one of the things I put in place when we were last in government was a strong, close relationship between local government and the national government. For the first time we established the Australian Council of Local Government and invited all mayors to meet with the entire Cabinet in Canberra over a two-day period and we developed a funding relationship that saw major infrastructure here such as the Princes Highway, the Geelong Ring Road and other community-based infrastructure here – support for the stadium. But we also saw a relationship with local government in partnership.
There’s been some discussion about a City Deal for Geelong. But now, more than seven months after the memorandum of understanding was signed, we still don’t have any actual dollars on the table from the Federal Government. What we want to see with our City Partnerships policy is a genuine bottom-up approach, one whereby decisions aren’t made in Canberra and then relayed later on to cities such as Geelong; a relationship whereby the city of Geelong and the community here develop what their priorities are, how it fits in with a strategic approach to making this area more productive, more sustainable and more liveable and how we grow our regional cities like Geelong, which plays an important role as the day after we just ticked over to 25 million people, we need to grow Geelong in part due to its status as a great city in its own right, but also wanting to grow the second cities in order to take pressure off the capital cities, particularly those along the east coast. One way we do that is by having a vibrant centre of the city that will service the entire region; that will service Colac, the Surf Coast and other parts of this region to the west of Melbourne. So we think this is critical and we will work in partnership.
Today we discussed the projects that have been the centre of City Deal – discussions such as the convention centre, the revitalisation of the city here, but also what else could be done; the idea of the arts centre servicing the northern region here in Geelong, what other major infrastructure projects are required and a process. We announced our City Partnerships policy just last month and what we announced was that we’d re-establish the Major Cities Unit. It would oversee the implementation of City Partnerships on an ongoing basis.
When we were last in government, we delivered community infrastructure funding through the local council based upon local priorities and we want to work with the community and through the council, through Bruce, but also through the local representatives – Richard of course on an ongoing basis, but we hope that Libby will join us in Canberra after the next election. This is a vital region. It could be so much better if the three levels of government work together in order to see the priorities of this region realised.
BRUCE HARWOOD: Thank you. First we welcome Anthony Albanese down in Geelong. It’s been an important discussion we’ve had and as I’ve said to the Shadow Minister, it gives Geelong an assurance that Geelong will be receiving much needed and important funding into the future through a potential new program of our City Partnership policy and, as has been explained to us, a slightly different process to what we’re going through at the moment. But as I said, the key is that Geelong is being the focus for important Federal Government funding in combination with the State Government and Council contribution as well.
The particular projects we’re talking about are well documented in relation to the conference convention centre, our revitalisation program, our safe harbour and also our connection to the Shipwreck Coast masterplan which is very important. But we’re also talking about rail and road infrastructure and also the Northern ARC project out in our northern suburbs. So it’s good to hear that this commitment is going to be realised in some way shape or form. So from Geelong’s perspective it’s great news and we look forward to the future with great optimism and again we thank you gentlemen for coming down and making this announcement and your consideration of Geelong and the importance you place on our region is much appreciated.
RICHARD MARLES: Firstly welcome Libby, thank you Bruce for hosting us and thank you Anthony for coming down to Geelong today to talk about our policy in relation to City Partnerships. In the first century of our Federation we’ve seen some amazing capital cities be evolved and created in Australia. But going forward in terms of our country’s future, our nation’s story has to be more than simply capitals. It has to be about regional Australia and I know that Anthony is very committed to seeing regional Australia at the centre of the Australian story going into this century.
It is absolutely imperative if we want to meet the destiny that we have for our country that places like Geelong, like Wollongong, like Newcastle are a centrepiece of what Australia is about and it is as central a part of our national story as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. That’s only going to happen if we place councils and local organisations at the centre of that decision-making; if they are empowered in the way in which that growth occurs and that’s what the City Partnership policy is all about. You know the City Deal, that’s all fair enough, but we actually don’t know what’s going on in terms of the Federal Government’s policy there. It’s very much a top-down approach. What we’re talking about is building upon that and doing that in a way where local councils, where organisations like the Committee for Geelong and G21 are central to the thinking …(inaudible). Unless we do that we’re not going to see places like Geelong and regional Australia more generally develop in the way that we would want it to and that is so absolutely essential to our national story going forward.
Anthony has been a champion of this throughout his political career. He mentioned that when he was the Minister – I think officially Minister for Local Government at the time – we had really sort of the blossoming of that relationship between the Federal Government and the local tier of government, which was the underdone relationship in the Australian Federation, such that we saw a gathering of mayors back in 2008, which I think Bruce as the Mayor at that time participated in in Canberra, which really changed the relationship between the Federal Government and local governments around Australia. Anthony brings that spirit to the task going forward and it’s absolutely what we need to see – Geelong go forward and regional Australia go forward. So it’s just fantastic Anthony to have you down in Geelong today.
JOURNALIST: Shadow Minister, if I can ask what is the difference between a City Deal and a City Partnership?
ALBANESE: A City Partnership will be bottom-up, will be one which genuinely partners with local government and with state government and with the community to meet their needs as they see it. The City Deal approach is that councils have been asked to sign up often to commitments that they don’t know what is in the deal until it’s announced by the Federal Government without consultation with them about their priorities. So we think that there is a much better way of doing this and that is the way that we intend to work. We intend to have guidelines for the City Partnerships encompassing the priorities of productivity, sustainability and liveability – that framework. There will be an oversight by the independent Major Cities Unit that we will establish as part of Infrastructure Australia to work with local government. At the moment the Government’s City Deals have no guidelines, have no time frame, have no funding pool and have, in Geelong’s case, some seven months after an MOU is signed, we have no detail and that’s not a way to build that genuine partnership and collaboration that’s required.
JOURNALIST: How important is it to take the politics out of this?
ALBANESE: Well one of the things that having the Major Cities Unit will do is to ensure that you have the politics taken out of the process. One of the things we wanted to make sure as well, that people know as well, is that we’ll build on any arrangements that are signed up to in terms of a City Deal announcement, either here in or in other parts of Australia where there are discussions taking place, because we don’t want local government to be in a position of having uncertainty in the lead-up to an election over whether what has been agreed will proceed. We want an enhanced relationship with cities and the City Partnership policy will do just that.
JOURNALIST: How much money would a Federal Labor Government commit to Geelong’s City Partnership?
ALBANESE: The whole idea of this is that you would have a process whereby a City Partnership built on any City Deal which is arranged. It goes through the Major Cities Unit, which would give recommendations to the Government for funding and that would be a process that we’d go through in government. There would be guidelines to it. But one of the things about the City Deal concept as taken from the United Kingdom is essentially the idea that if a particular project is going to cost $10 million but will produce additional economic activity that will produce a return in terms of revenue to the Federal Government of $15 million, or a positive return, then the Government is therefore incentivised to make that contribution earlier rather than waiting for delay. So it’s a matter of getting ahead, particularly in those projects that produce an economic return, and to be able to have an objective process through the Major Cities Unit as part of Infrastructure Australia to determine that.
So that is the idea behind City Deals originally. The way that this Government has implemented City Deals is very different from that. They’ve tended to be essentially election commitments that were made prior to the last election with a City Deal title put on top. That’s not a way of having genuine collaboration that’s required and so we are saying we want to work on all of the objectives and how it fits together particularly. This is a form of economic policy. This is about creating jobs as well and building in work such as the GROW concept that’s been founded here in Geelong of making sure that people from disadvantaged backgrounds are benefiting as well from that infrastructure support and investment here in the region.
JOURNALIST: So how would you stop a government from keeping their powder dry and rolling out announcements just in the lead-up to an election? Because it’s obviously a tempting thing for government to do.
ALBANESE: By having a proper process and by having a process which has guidelines, that is a rolling process as a part, an inherent part, of government, rather than just election commitments which tend to be stand-alone in terms of funding for a community centre or for a particular road. The idea of City Partnerships is how does that all fit together; how does transport infrastructure fit together with tourism infrastructure; fit in with job creation; fit in the economic specialisation of a region. And here in this region I in the past have sat down and had roundtables with industry, with Deakin University, with the G21 group, with the Committee for Geelong. There is a great deal that this region has to offer. It has – in spite of some setbacks over the last decade, the fact is that it remains a centre for manufacturing. It has the potential to be even greater in terms of advanced manufacturing. We want to be a nation that continues to build things and a region such as Geelong can use the advantages that it has to ensure that that’s the case.
JOURNALIST: Shadow Minister, one of the criticisms you had of the City Deal policy when you launched it last month was that they were only being rolled out in marginal seats. Corangamite is a marginal seat. Is that the only reason Geelong got a City Deal?
ALBANESE: We’re here for the Geelong region and Geelong is getting a City Deal from the current Government. Well, there’s an MOU, there’s no details, there’s no funding there. What we want to do is to work with the regions and you’ll note that yesterday I had an opinion piece published speaking about the context of Australia hitting 25 million people. One of the things that we can do to take that pressure that’s there in terms of urban congestion in our capital cities is to make sure that our second cities grow. This isn’t a new idea for me, we very consciously set up last time round the Major Cities Unit. It wasn’t the capital cities unit, it was the Major Cities Unit that dealt with Geelong, Townsville, Wollongong, Newcastle. These are important areas that need to grow.
It’s one of the reasons why we supported the National Broadband Network being so important in terms of the original fibre to the premise idea was overcoming the tyranny of distance. If you can be located in Geelong and have the same access to markets both national and international as one located in Collins Street, Melbourne, then you have other advantages, because your cost overheads are lower in this area than in Collins Street, Melbourne, so you immediately have a positive advantage for business. We want to look at that concept of regional economic development which is very much a part of our City Partnerships policy and we will be developing that policy as well. Unlike what the current Government has done with its City Deals, which is selecting from Canberra as well, we’re setting up a framework whereby any capital city, regional city or area like Western Sydney can come together and can put forward a proposal for a City Partnership.
Last week I was in Frankston and had a roundtable with the Greater Frankston Committee there about what opportunities are there in south-east Melbourne. So wherever, the will is there. And the great thing about Geelong and one of the reasons I was very keen to come and see Bruce and the local representatives today, and I think Richard has always been keen to have me down in this region, is that it does have a structure whereby you have – I know there is a bit of debate about perhaps having one single body – but the truth is you have a range of people who come representing not a sectional interest. They represent a regional interest and they advocate very strongly and that’s a real advantage that this region has. Even today when we were talking about the benefit of Geelong as a city, and in particular the inner city of Geelong, the benefit that that has as an asset, not just for Geelong, but for Colac and for the Surf Coast and for the region as a whole.
JOURNALIST: So would you scrap the existing deals that have already been struck with Western Sydney, Launceston and Geelong or will you honour those commitments?
ALBANESE: No what we’ve said is that we will keep those commitments, but we’ll enhance them. The Western Sydney City Deal for example, the centrepiece of it is a rail line through Badgerys Creek on the north-south corridor that’s been identified. There isn’t a dollar of funding for construction been allocated by either Federal or State government. It’s the centrepiece. So we need to do much better than that and I think that we can do better and we can do better not by sitting in Canberra and determining how we do better; we can do better by going here, Launceston, Western Sydney and hearing from them what their priorities are and how we can do better.
JOURNALIST: For a City Partnership would you commit to a time frame for things to be rolled out? You mentioned that an MOU here was signed seven months ago and there’s not a lot of detail. What sort of time frame would a Federal Labor…
ALBANESE: Well we’ll establish the Major Cities Unit very quickly and we know the framework because we’ve done it before. But this will be enhanced. We’ve identified where the funding will come from. It comes from the abolition of the Infrastructure Financing Unit which is the job that Infrastructure Australia under its legislation should be doing at arm’s length of government. We’ve identified that. Last time round when we were in government I was appointed Infrastructure Minister in December, we had legislation to create Infrastructure Australia in February and it was up and running fully in June of 2008 and produced reports and policies that year, including an Infrastructure Priority List. So we can do this very quickly. There’s a framework. That’s one of the reasons why we’re not saying we’ll scrap work that’s been done. We’ll enhance it. We’ll build on it. We don’t want people to go back to the drawing board we though acknowledge that we can do much better. That is the response that we’ve had from local government in particular who welcomed our call in City Partnerships because that’s the feedback that we’ve been getting from local government around the country – that they want to be genuine partners with the other levels of government rather than just be there waiting to hear announcements from the national government. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.