Dec 3, 2010

Transcript of interview with Jonathan Wright

Subject: Jonathan Wright (ABC Adelaide Webcast) and Anthony Albanese, discuss the sustainable growth of Australia’s urban areas.

JONATHAN WRIGHT: There’s been a lot of debate about how big Australia should be and what our major cities will look like in the future and will they still be the engine rooms of growth and investment. Australia is the most urbanised country in the world, so how do we plan for our cities to get bigger but still remain attractive and functional? Just fighting the rush hour to and from work is a drain, and now a figure of $20 billion has been put on the strangulation of roads, freeways and transport corridors by 2020. A national urban policy is about to be rolled out looking into the issues, with future urban traffic trends and the reliance on car travel front and centre.

The Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, joins us. Good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.

JONATHAN WRIGHT: Firstly, Minister, should we be looking at decentralisation as a solution rather than trying to band-aid urban transport problems, trying to fix up what we already have?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, certainly we need to look at the shape of the cities that we have – where future growth is – and also look at the potential growth that’s there for regional cities. In the past I think we’ve let too much just happen by accident, rather than thinking about these issues. Hence why the Government has released this week the Our Cities discussion paper, which has the themes of how do we make our cities more productive, more sustainable and more liveable.

JONATHAN WRIGHT: Can we have it all? Can we have big, sprawling, growing cities and still make them liveable? If you look at cities around the world, with megalopolises, these huge cities where the divide between the rich and the poor is so stark, is that possible?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s one of the issues that we’ve got to confront: the nature of our cities. In the past too often, I think, we’ve allowed for urban sprawl before you’ve had the appropriate infrastructure built. The appropriate infrastructure being transport but also community-based infrastructure: health and education facilities.

We need to look at what the opportunities are including the National Broadband Network. New information technology will enable us to change the way we work and the way we live so that people don’t have to spend an hour in a car travelling to and from work. So making sure that we link employment with growth in terms of our suburbs is particularly important.

In the past we haven’t always integrated transport planning with land use planning very well. And one of the things that this documentation provides is making sure that we get that right. That we look at improving urban planning and design as well so it reflects the changing composition of our communities; that we get the right mix of urban density but also renewal strategies. So there’s a range of issues which are confronted there.

Of course, one of the things we have to look at is the design of our cities in terms of the carbon footprint. That’s why public transport is so important. I’ve just been with the Prime Minister in the northern suburbs of Queensland, where we’ve signed an intergovernmental agreement between the Commonwealth, the state and local government to build a new rail line out to the Redcliffe Peninsula. Now that’s a good example of getting it right in terms of making sure that we have those public transport strategies.

JONATHAN WRIGHT: I guess there’s two parts to it – is the sprawling, growing outer suburbs of all of our cities. You can, I guess, think and plan ahead and maybe get some of it better, some of this planning a lot better into the future, but what about redesigning the hearts of our cities – those bottlenecks that traffic has or that, you know, train lines that are already at capacity. It must cost so much more to redesign what we already have. Is it a cost of one over the other?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think we need to look at using the infrastructure that we have better as well, and there’s a range of strategies to do that. Use of smart infrastructure technology is one way that we can do that in terms of dealing with urban congestion. Making sure too that for our big capital cities everything doesn’t have to go to the centre. For example, in Sydney, building Parramatta as our second CBD is of vital importance. In the south-east of Queensland, where I am today, it can’t just all go into the Brisbane CBD. Making sure that we have those strategies in place are particularly important. I think the quality and amenity that’s available in our inner cities is very important as well, in terms of the quality of life that people are able to enjoy.

JONATHAN WRIGHT: Minister Albanese, thanks for your time this morning, we appreciate it.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.

[ENDS]