Subjects: Urban policy; over-development in Marrickville, population density; parks; decentralisation; penalty rates; shipping; immigration.
MICHAEL McLAREN: Well Anthony Albanese was 100 per cent correct when he said today – well one issue guaranteed to spark animated discussion at a barbeque or pub in Sydney, is whether our city can accommodate more people and where they are going to live. One hundred per cent correct. Writing in the Telegraph, Albo laid out a vision of a bigger more heavily populated Sydney being a possibility, however, only if, hand in hand with quality planning.
But if you ask me it’s a bit of a courageous vision because, as I read the public’s mood on this most-debated of issues, the average Sydneysiders I think have had enough of the developments, the increased density, the sprawl and everything that goes with it, no matter how well designed the new block of flats happens to be next door. People are simply saying enough is enough. That’s what you have said on the open line, and recent polls back this up.
A ReachTEL Poll of course just this month showed two thirds of those surveyed said their city is full. And this wasn’t a partisan response, both Labor and Liberal voters singing from the same hymn sheet. Yet ironically their political representatives are in unison here as well, but of the opposite opinion. I mean, you would be pretty hard pressed to find one local Liberal or Labor MP who is prepared to stand before a microphone and agree with their voters and call for a tap on the brakes of all of this population growth. To a man and a woman in Canberra they seem to be believers in a bigger Australia – more people, larger cities, greater urbanisation, even if done with good planning.
And look I have to say this as well. I think the elephant in the room with all of this is immigration. I have to admit I do find it extraordinary, in all the talk about full cities and unwanted development and all of this, that there is hardly anyone willing to have a frank and honest discussion about what’s largely feeding all of the development and that is incredibly high migration numbers.
Per capita Australia is running one of the largest immigration programs anywhere in the developed world. We saw our biggest intake in eight years last year. Adding extra pressure to Sydney and Melbourne is the fact that nearly 80 per cent of these new arrivals gravitate to just those two cities, Sydney and Melbourne. No wonder the conversation is particularly acute around the barbeques of Sydney, as Anthony Albanese correctly says. He joins me on the line, Mr Albanese, good to have you on the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be here. Thanks for having us.
McLAREN: Look, I think you wrote well, but it’s a courageous vision, particularly say the MP for Grayndler telling people that, you know, we can have greater density, more people and if we plan right it will all go OK. I mean a lot of people in your neck of the woods aren’t too keen to see greater density.
ALBANESE: That’s right, and I have no doubt that is the case. But it’s also the fact I wrote that the community will only accept any increases if developments are of good quality; and if they see an improvement in their lives – if, because of increased density they have more access to public transport, more access to community infrastructure, more parks to play in, more quality for their life.
There’s a development currently proposed in Marrickville. It’s just outside my electorate because of boundary changes, in a place called Carrington Road, Carrington Road Precinct. Now this is an old industrial area where at one stage GMH had some work there, a lot of industrial work in the motor vehicle industry and other manufacturing. Now as times changed a lot of that is now in the creative sector. They produce materials that are used in plays and in performances and in TV shows. They manufacture still, but it’s a different sort, and there are a lot of people work down there. Now they have proposed around there – there’s currently single and two-storey buildings, homes, and the industrial area has two or three storeys.
They are talking about 28 storey units, where there is one road in, one road out. It’s on a flood plain. It frankly is just an absurd proposition and that is being rejected. There is a public meeting tomorrow night at 7:30 at Marrickville Town Hall. I’ll be speaking at it, and one of the things I am trying to say as well to the business community, including those people who are involved in development, is that people will accept some increased density, particularly around railway lines. There’s examples of developments around Marrickville that are OK. But what they won’t accept is completely changing the character of their local community.
McLAREN: Well I agree 100 per cent, but Anthony, it seems that the two can’t ever go hand in hand because with all of the development I’ve seen; be it in say Epping or Eastwood in the north west of Sydney, some around your area, you know Canterbury Road and all that stuff, it doesn’t matter where you go, the moment the developing gets underway the character changes.
ALBANESE: Well Canterbury Road is diabolical.
McLAREN: It’s appalling.
ALBANESE: And subject to an ICAC investigation at the moment, some of that development. Now at Canterbury Racecourse there’s talk about Canterbury Racecourse being used for development. Now if the Canterbury Racecourse site doesn’t produce community infrastructure facilities, playgrounds; there aren’t enough playgrounds and parks for kids to play sport on the weekends. It’s a crisis and we now have, my son plays football down at Mackey Park in Marrickville, they have people scheduled in; one group from 5-6, the next from 6-7. It’s just diabolical.
McLAREN: I mean Dick Smith is right, I think, when he says, you know we increasingly are treating hens with great respect, getting them out of the batteries and shoving them into free range, give them a good life and we’re paying more for the eggs. Yet we’re doing the opposite with the humans. We all grew up in Sydney; you, everybody else, grew up in houses or if we were in flats they were three storeys at the most and there was, as you say, the park around the corner, the bowling club and the golf course. And now we’re all going into battery farms. I mean (audio failure)…
ALBANESE: (Audio failure)…Kids could get out on the weekend and it’s one of the other BBQ stopper on a weekend is how do we get our kids playing sport and not looking at screens? That’s a common topic. I mean, one of the things we do have to do is talk as well about whether it’s appropriate – you’re right about people heading to Sydney and Melbourne. We need to take pressure off them, that’s one of the reasons why I’m a big advocate of High Speed Rail.
We have areas where we could grow our economy where the overheads, the day-to-day living expenses for housing and other activity is less than it is in the big capital cities. High Speed Rail is the big game changer along with, if we were doing a proper National Broadband Network, for encouraging that jobs and economic activity in our regions and I’m continuing to push that as well.
McLAREN: Well I mean not everyone in Labor obviously agrees with that. I spoke with Bob Carr, the former Foreign Minister just the other week about this and he said, we’ve tried decentralisation, a lot of the time. He gave examples of migrant communities that have settled in Perth, within a year they ended up in Fairfield in Sydney. I mean, we can sort of build the infrastructure and build those veins of transport to try and pump people out of the city centre and into regional centres, but can’t guarantee they’ll go. We could be spending billions here only to make railway lines to nowhere.
ALBANESE: The economy will drive that change and I mean there are examples where you’ve had jobs created in the regions. Canberra where I’m talking to you from …
McLAREN: Canberra is the obvious one.
ALBANESE: What’s happened, and we’re not talking just public service jobs – one of the things about the Canberra community that’s interesting is how many people who work, particularly from southern Europe who worked on the Snowy Mountains Scheme settled in Canberra and are still here. And the next generation is here and Canberra is a great example of, it’s Australia’s largest inland city, of course, as well as being the bush capital, of a city that has grown, has a thriving private sector economy, not just public sector economy. And one that has a great quality of life.
McLAREN: But mind you Anthony, you know this as well as I do; you take away the public sector, you take away the parliamentary infrastructure of Canberra and it’s curtains.
ALBANESE: Well, it’s interesting to see the growth that’s occurred here, particularly over the last couple of decades, there has been an enormous growth and diversification of the economy of Canberra. When Parliament sits, it’s true, the population grows, not just with politicians of course, there is a small proportion of that but the others who come to talk to us or who are associated with the work here. But it does have a thriving economy.
One of the things we need to do as well is to ensure that we can have jobs created closer to where people live and I raised the issues of universities and tertiary facilities such as Westmead Hospital. It is a great example whereby the number of PhDs and people in high-value jobs who live around Westmead Hospital who work there – it has been real catalyst for that job creation and of course the airport, the Western Sydney Airport, needs to be not just a runway and a terminal; it needs to be a catalyst for creating jobs in high-value manufacturing, in logistics, in infrastructure, in tourism particularly along the north-south corridor.
McLAREN: Yes, that’s correct. And it needs to be linked by rail, I don’t deny that.
ALBANESE: Absolutely – north-south rail.
McLAREN: Yes. I don’t disagree. Just before you go though, it’s compelling what you wrote in The Telegraph, although I think a lot of readers will be saying: That’s nice Anthony, but I don’t agree.
ALBANESE: Sure and I respect that. But one of the things you’ve got to do and one of the things I think I am known for is trying to put out ideas and contribute to debate. I think The Telegraph deserve a fair bit of credit frankly for debate that they have about Sydney and its infrastructure needs and the nature of the city.
McLAREN: Yes, I don’t deny that, but you say the truth is by international standards Sydney has relatively low population density. True. But I mean that is what makes it a great city in many respects compared to say Shanghai. You say we need to do something about housing affordability. That has got to be addressed. And you say communities will accept increases in density if developments are good quality. But nowhere in the piece, and this is what disappointed me out of it all, was that “I’’ word – immigration. And this seems to be the thing from Canberra. I don’t understand why, because, as you know, housing is a market like any other market, driven by supply and demand. There is lots of supply coming on. The problem is there is too much demand. What is driving demand? Largely immigration, I mean we’ve got hundreds – 200,000 people every year lobbing into the joint, most going into Sydney or Melbourne – disproportionate pressure on your city in the areas that you represent, yet no one really in Canberra, bar say Tony Abbott or Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi, are willing to even utter the “I’’ word. I don’t know what it is. Is everyone afraid that the moment that you talk about immigration you are going to be branded racist instead of looking at the numbers? That’s what is behind all of this development.
ALBANESE: Well I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a sensible discussion about immigration and we should have it at appropriate levels and we should have a discussion about the impact on the economy.
McLAREN: Well is 200,000 an appropriate level?
ALBANESE: Well, I am not in a position to sort of put a precise figure on it. I am not the immigration spokesperson.
McLAREN: Sure, but it is the thing that underpins everything that you have just written about.
ALBANESE: One of the things that I do say and that I do argue the case for is that immigration in general is positive; that in terms of the impact on the economy you have to look at the ageing of Australia’s population. If we don’t have immigration coming in, people who are prepared to contribute to the economy and of course they create jobs as well …
McLAREN: Yes, but Anthony, they get old as well, they get old as well, and then they need the pension. So what are we going to bring in more people? It’s Ponzi scheme.
ALBANESE: We have an ageing of our population right now and with the baby boomer demographic now ticking over into retirement over the recent period and it is something that we have to address …
McLAREN: But you can’t address it Anthony by bringing in lots of young people from abroad because they stay, they then get old. So what do you do then? They go on the pension you’ve got to bring in more young people from abroad. They then get old; you’ve got to being in more. I mean it’s an unsustainable economic model.
ALBANESE: At any particular period in time there will be about a million Australians who are travelling overseas as well. We do live in a globalised world.
McLAREN: Well no-one denies that.
ALBANESE: If we bring in people as well who will contribute to the economy; we need to get the immigration mix is important as well …
McLAREN: But you know GDP per capita is flat. GDP per capita, despite this rapid population growth, is flat. So we are bringing in more people. Federally the GDP numbers look good – consecutive quarters of economic growth. Well, if you are not getting economic growth with a booming population, you are doing something wrong, but per head of population people aren’t seeing the benefits. People aren’t getting richer with more people. This is another problem. This is why people are saying it’s not working.
ALBANESE: Oh look, I think there is no doubt that there is enormous pressure on people, particularly with real wages in decline in effect and that is a product of a range of factors – the de-unionisation of the workforce and casualization of work is, I think, placing real pressure. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve raised the issue of concern about the impact of penalty rates. So many people rely upon penalty rates to pay the mortgage, to put food on the table, to look after their kids’ school fees.
McLAREN: But if course when there are three people going for every job rather than two, there is downward pressure on wages. If you want to recalibrate that statistic you’ve got to cut immigration.
ALBANESE: And that is one of the reasons why when we look at immigration as well, we have been concerned about some of the abuses that are there over 457s visas …
McLAREN: And fair enough.
ALBANESE: … and a range of those areas where there are Australians who could do the job. That’s why labour market testing is important to see, which is pretty simple. If an Australian can do the job, they should do the job. That’s why, in my area, I am very concerned that this Government has a conscious policy when it comes to coastal shipping of replacing Australian ships around our coast with Australian workers being paid Australian wages and conditions with foreign wages and conditions which drive down the employment levels, particularly in regional communities, but have a real impact on wages and conditions because of the difference between what we expect as Australians and what occurs in places like The Philippines and other places where you have flags of convenience.
McLAREN: That’s right. Yes. Look we are out of time. We could talk for another 20 minutes. You’ve got to go. I’ve got to go. But we’ll talk again in the future Anthony. Thank you so much for your time.
ALBANESE: Great to talk to you as always.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.