Subjects: Urban policy; development; public housing.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: I’m joined live out of the nation’s capital by Shadow Infrastructure spokesperson Anthony Albanese. Thanks very much for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: We’re going to do something unusual this week and presumably next and not talk about energy policy. I’ve got your colleague and friend Mark Butler coming on later this hour to do just that. I want to talk to you about your portfolio.
ALBANESE: Excellent, he’s more than capable of doing that.
VAN ONSELEN: I don’t know if that’s you acknowledging your own failings of knowledge in the area or …
ALBANESE: I’m acknowledging his expertise.
VAN ONSELEN: Fair enough, well we will talk to him about it, we’ll see whether you’re right about that. Look, infrastructure is a portfolio that in government and opposition you’ve held for a long time now. You’ve got a piece in today’s Daily Telegraph, making the point that yes cities need to get denser, in terms of urban sprawl, but without losing the kind of amenities that avoid that becoming a kind of unwanted urban sprawl. How do you do that though? How can government or indeed, I guess, the wider community ensure that higher density around things like railway lines and the rest of it, transport hubs, doesn’t just simply become a lifeless existence in an over-populated city centre?
ALBANESE: You do that with proper planning Peter. The Telegraph deserves, I think, praise for the fact that they’re really encouraging this debate about the nature of Sydney in particular, but a lot of the lessons are there for all of our major cities. Successful cities are inclusive cities; they are ones whereby you can’t determine automatically what income someone earns by just looking at their postcode. So that means a range of challenges have to be dealt with.
One of the reasons why you have that increased density in the inner areas is because that’s where the jobs are. One of the things that we have to do is make sure that jobs are created closer to where people live. Now Badgerys Creek Airport and the concept of an Aerotropolis is one way to do that. Universities can be one way to do that. If you look at Westmead Hospital at Parramatta, it has more PhDs living within a five kilometre radius of it, than any area of New South Wales, except for the CBD of Sydney. That’s because those high-value jobs are created- and people live around that area. Sydney doesn’t work if it’s a hub and spoke approach, if everyone is just going into and out of the city.
VAN ONSELEN: Let me jump in then. Is that you taking on the Government’s concept of the 30-minute city that Angus Taylor and others having talked about? Or is what you are talking about something that fits with that?
ALBANESE: Well I talked about it well before, two years before, as part of our ten-point plan for cities. We did that at the National Press Club on the day, indeed, on which I was appointed the Shadow Minister for Cities, so I’m pleased that the Government has adopted a similar position rhetorically. But what they haven’t done is to do it in policy terms. They haven’t got the planning mechanisms right. They continue to, in spite of the difference between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott on public transport – at least Malcolm Turnbull likes riding on trains and trams, he likes taking selfies on them – he just hasn’t funded them.
So we need, for example, the funding for the north-south corridor of the rail line through Badgerys Creek Airport, but making sure that those jobs in the employment lands, just to the north of the airport and south, are opened up to people in St Marys, Rouse Hill and the Macarthur region. We need that funding. I notice yet another road announcement from the State Government of the F6 proposal down into the end of the southern suburbs. One of the things that you can’t have with a major city that has high-density and medium-density living is reliance upon the private motor vehicle. It simply doesn’t work. You need public transport to be prioritised.
VAN ONSELEN: Well let me jump in there again. I saw that announcement by Gladys Berejiklian’s Government in last night’s news. You raise a broader issue though, which is in my mind do we need to have federation reform here to have clearer lines between the Commonwealth and the states? Because it feels like there is a constant argy-bargy of which project should or shouldn’t be funded or prioritised or gain appropriate due diligence and thus attention as part of that ever present stand-off between the Commonwealth Government and the State Government at any point in time, exacerbated I would argue when political complexions are varied.
ALBANESE: Well we of course set up the mechanism. It’s called Infrastructure Australia.
VAN ONSELEN: You say that’s been gutted.
ALBANESE: It just hasn’t been listened to. It’s been sidelined. So what we’ve had is a section set up within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, it’s not even in the Infrastructure Department, to advise on cities and to advise on financing, another group on financing, which is one of the core components in the Infrastructure Australia legislation, that they advise on financing of projects. But what we need is proper planning, not this ad hoc with Sydney’s road network at the moment. One road leads to another road being created to deal with the congestion created by the first road. You end up never providing a solution. A solution is an integrated transport network.
When you have medium density proposals; there’s a proposal just on the border of my electorate in Marrickville at the moment, Carrington Road, which is proposed for an area that currently has one and two-storey houses and it has some industrial at two and three storeys, of 28 story developments. Now this is an area where there is one road in and one road out. It’s on a flood plain. It’s a massive over-development that has been proposed. Now what occurs then is that you’ll end up getting a rejection of all of it, instead of having sensible planning, increases in density along railway lines by all means, but making sure that there’s open space created for the kids to play sport in, making sure that the schools and the health facilities are there as well.
VAN ONSELEN: On that, one of the other elements of, if you like, diversity and aligning with that community space that you talked about in your piece is not wanting to see what is currently happening in some states, particularly in New South Wales – inner-city, often expensive public housing sold off, relocated to outer suburbs and then the land being used in different ways. To play devil’s advocate on that, why is that important? If you look at the tough fiscal climate that governments are facing, as long as you are replacing the housing in cheaper-landed areas, can’t government then do more with that excess cash?
ALBANESE: It’s important for two reasons Peter. One is successful cities are cities that are inclusive. They are not homogenous. They provide a mix of people. That’s what provides the dynamism in a city and so for the nature of the population in itself, it is all the poorer if it just rich people living in the city and poorer people living in the outer suburbs. That creates a dynamic that is unhealthy and one that doesn’t contribute to the quality of life for everyone in that community.
Secondly, what you are talking about is moving people away from the social and community networks they have. The sort of treatment whereby one gentleman down at Millers Point had a note put under his door, who had lived in his house that used to be Maritime Services Board – it was for working people who worked on the wharves and on the waterfront in that part of Sydney – just telling him he was going to be evicted from the house in which he had lived his entire life – more than 80 years. That lack of respect for people is, I think, quite shocking and we’ll end up with circumstances whereby why wouldn’t you move them right out of Sydney completely because housing in regional communities is cheaper than it is anywhere in Sydney?
Once you go down that road; and I understand that on the surface, if you take people out of the equation yes it might make some sense, but it is people who make a city. It’s not just the infrastructure. It is the people and to destroy those communities, I think, has been a tragedy and we end up, I think, being all the poorer for it.
VAN ONSELEN: Just finally before I let you go Anthony Albanese, can you get to the bottom for us of what’s going on with the whole Michael Danby sickie, trip-to-Israel business? On the one hand I have heard Bill shorten accused of running some sort of white-anting campaign against him. On the other hand I have heard him accused of being weak for not acting to reprimand him. What is going on here?
ALBANESE: I don’t know to tell you the truth and I have got to say I haven’t given it a second thought.
VAN ONSELEN: OK, well I guess that is that then. Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for your company. We appreciate you joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.