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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11246


Ms OWENS (2:39 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. How is the government ending the Commonwealth’s exile from investment and economic reform to ensure the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our major cities? How is this reform being received?


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Parramatta for her question. I note that last night I was at the BCA dinner in Sydney when the Prime Minister set out the government’s vision for national leadership in the growth and development of our major cities. The government has indeed ended the exile of the urban policy area from the Commonwealth. There are three central themes to our urban policy framework: productivity, maximising the economic output of our cities and of employment growth; sustainability, making sure that planning in our cities is consistent with dealing with the great challenge of climate change; and liveability, making sure that we deal with issues such as the affordability of housing in our cities.

Through COAG we will develop national criteria for the future strategic planning of our major cities—for the first time. This has been welcomed. The Urban Development Institute of Australia said:

The Rudd government has committed to re-engaging with the engine room of the economy, our major capital cities. This is a good outcome for our cities and a great outcome for the nation.

Indeed, the BCA board members who were there last night welcomed very much the Prime Minister’s speech.

This builds on the new cities initiatives implemented by this government over the last two years. The Rudd government have, in our first two budgets, delivered substantial investment for urban infrastructure projects, particularly in public transport and in water. This is about investment but it is also about economic reform. In two weeks time I will chair the Australian Transport Council, made up of the Commonwealth and the state and territory transport ministers. We will consider the next step in advancing our agenda for a single national regulator in heavy vehicles, in rail safety and in maritime. These are issues that have been discussed for over 100 years, with very little progress. If we can achieve this outcome that would be a major step forward.

I am asked about ending the exile of the Commonwealth in recent times from the urban policy agenda. When we came to office, we came to office with a base of zero when it comes to cities policy. The coalition had an ideological objection to engagement with our cities. For over a decade the Howard-Costello government said issues which affect our cities, such as urban congestion and public transport, were not their problem. Indeed I am reminded that one of the first programs axed by the former government when they came to office was the Better Cities program. On 17 July 1996 the incoming Minister for Transport and Regional Development put out a release proudly declaring:

The savings will also be achieved by ending the previous Labor government’s discredited Better Cities program—a Coalition election policy commitment.

He went on:

The changes will involve the loss of approximately 220 jobs within the Department of Transport and Regional Development.

When we came into office there was not a single urban planner in the entire Commonwealth Public Service—not one. They got rid of them all. In their release they went on to outline their ideological position, where they said:

Current arrangements for Regional Development and Urban management overlap with State and local Governments which have their own urban infrastructure and local Government reform programs.

There is no clear rationale or constitutional basis for Commonwealth involvement.

That was their position when they came into office. To be fair to them, they delivered on that ideological commitment—totally. For 12 years they consistently implemented that ideological approach. This government has a different attitude. That is the policy that we are taking forward. The speech last night by the Prime Minister was a major step forward in re-engaging with our cities.