Mar 1, 2012

Working together to create productive, sustainable and liveable cities – Speech to Council of Capital City Lord Mayors

Parliament House

As we gather here today in the nation’s capital, it’s worth noting that this time next year – almost to the day – it will be 100 years since Lady Gertrude Denman stood right where we are now, amid the scrub and boulders that once covered Capital Hill, and named the federal capital Canberra.

Lady Denman was the wife of the then fifth Governor General of Australia, Baron Thomas Denman, and she had the pleasant task on 12 March 1913 of withdrawing the winning name of the new capital from an envelope.

Apparently those that had selected the winning name weren’t quite sure how it should be pronounced.

So it was decided that whichever way Lady Denman read it out, would forever more be correct.

And so we are today in Canberra – one of the few planned cities since Roman times and a highly-successful one, that 99 years later not only functions extremely well as the centre of government, but rates highly on just about every social and liveability scale.

Canberra is of course one of our smaller ‘major’ cities and I am delighted it is being represented here today in good company with leaders from many of our other smaller cities.

The Labor Government is – as all of you here today know – in the process of re-engaging with our 18 major cities.

We do this because it is necessary.

It is cities that are responsible for 80 percent of our national wealth.

Three out of four of us work and live in cities.

Yet they are under unprecedented pressure as every mayor in this room knows.

Congestion is just one of the many problems threatening the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our nation’s major cities.

I am very pleased that since the Labor Government made the first steps towards directly addressing these challenges, your organisation has been with us all the way.

In 2007 you produced an impressive document called Partners in Prosperity.

In it, you argued that Australia’s capital cities are assets with long-term opportunities, and should be recognised as such by the Federal Government.

You presented facts and figures about the critical economic role that cities play and argued:

  • That cities provide opportunities for innovation, creativity and productivity
  • That sustainability must be the key objective of all urban planning and management; and
  • That productivity and innovation depend on training, retaining and attracting skilled labour capable of operating in a multi-cultural global world – and that a significant component of this attraction is a city’s liveability and amenity.

In short, in 2007, you presented your vision for productive, sustainable and liveable cities.

In 2007, upon coming to Government, we embraced this vision.

Partners in Prosperity recommended the Federal Government develop a national capital cities policy and establish a Capital Cities Unit.

In 2008, we did just that within my own portfolio of Infrastructure and Transport.

What we did though was include all our major cities, recognising that there is a critical connection between them and the infrastructure that underpins them.

Since those early days, we have worked with stakeholders across all levels of government, across the private sector and from right around the nation.

We needed to clarify the issues and opportunities presented by cities and what our shared aspirations for them are.

In December 2009, COAG adopted a national objective – I quote – to ensure Australian cities are globally competitive, productive, sustainable, liveable, socially inclusive and well placed to meet future challenges and growth.

COAG also agreed to nine criteria that major cities should adopt to guide their planning systems.

The COAG Reform Council has now completed its report into the standard and consistency of these plans and it will be released publicly soon.

The second outcome of our early engagement with stakeholders was the release of a Discussion Paper in December 2010.

The Council of Capital City Lord Mayors contributed to this thinking in May 2010 with your paper: Towards a City Strategy.

You presented the case that the capacity of cities to manage change and accommodate growth will determine the quality of life and economic prosperity of all Australians.

You also advocated the establishment of a new Major Cities Program to deliver smart, targeted urban renewal initiatives focused on unlocking the potential of urban areas to accommodate more housing and jobs – and that we further drive reforms to integrate and improve strategic and spatial planning.

We agreed with you.

Last May, I had the pleasure of launching our National Urban Policy.

It set out clear goals and principles to guide future policies and investment – both public and private – in our cities.

At this time, I was also able to secure budget funding for the Liveable Cities Program.

Liveable Cities is all about partnerships and demonstrating good planning, urban design and delivery.

No funding is provided from the Australian Government without partner funding from applicants, and there are extra brownie points where proposals have multiple partners, particularly financial partners.

There has been enormous interest in this program – we’ve received 170 applications from across the nation.

My Nation Building and Major Cities teams have evaluated the applications and we are now in the process of making the final selections and will announce them soon.

The National Urban Policy and the Liveable Cities Program are not the only examples of great partnerships.

I must also let you know about the State of Australian Cities reports.

If ever proof was needed about the hunger for information about the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities, here it is.

The 2010 and 2011 editions have now been collectively downloaded more than one million times.

Many thanks to the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors who have helped enormously by supplying facts and figures for these reports which – if we added a cover price – would be best-sellers!

Another extraordinarily popular publication has been the first ever Australian Urban Design Protocol – Creating Places for People.

I launched it in Melbourne late last year and since then, it has been embraced by organisations and councils across the country.

It directly tackles the need for a higher standard of urban design and architecture in our cities.

It’s been an amazing collaboration and again, my thanks to the many of you here today, particularly the City of Melbourne, who have helped in its preparation.

The Creating Places website has been viewed over 90,000 times and 38 organisations have already elected to become Champions of the Protocol.

The protocol will directly help governments with the COAG Criterion 8 on urban design.

I am particularly pleased that Australian Green Infrastructure Council has embedded the Protocol into its rating tool – which I launched here yesterday.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity to address this important gathering this morning.

In the three short years since the creation of the Major Cities Unit we’ve achieved a lot and the CCCLM has been there every step of the way.

We all know that there’s much more to do and that, of course, is why you are all here today for this Summit.

Some of you will be back here in a couple of weeks for the first meeting of the Urban Policy Forum.

I set up the Forum to bring together experts from all levels of government, from industry, professional groups and academia, to make sure we get the policy right.

Both capital city and regional Lord Mayors will be attending and – I’m sure – putting the challenges they face each day very firmly on the discussion table.

Finally, let me return to where I began – this city of Canberra.

As you can imagine, the idea of a brand new federal capital was the cause of considerable national excitement.

It sent the politicians of the day into the most impressive rhetorical flourishes.

Of course we’re far more measured in our parliamentary discourse these days.

But I thought I’d share with you the words of one of my predecessors, Labor Senator Arthur Rae, who said in Parliament in 1911 about the building of the new capital – I quote:

Such an opportunity will never arise again, and we should endeavour to obtain the most up-to-date plan for a Capital which the mind of man is capable of evolving.

“This is the first time in the history of the world when one nation has owned a whole continent, and has been able to create a city of its own will for the purpose of a Capital.

“It should be a city which will be an object of pride, and I might almost say of veneration to future Australians.”

What Senator Rae was reflecting in his vision for the Federal capital was a belief that cities should be something greater than simply roads, bricks and mortar.

He was right.

This is a deeply exciting area to be working in for it can literally change the shape and face of our nation.

Thank you for your hard work and continuing belief that our cities can and should be better places for us all.

My best wishes for the remainder of your summit.