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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1942


Mr GILES (Scullin) (16:49): I rise to speak this evening on the role of the Commonwealth in urban policy, and I do so in the context of revelations at Senate estimates last week that the Urban Policy Forum's future is under a cloud—and a pretty dark cloud at that. We now know that it has not met since the election, since September, and that it is unlikely to meet again. The member for Bass just spoke of Waiting for Godot. Perhaps Samuel Beckett could also have touched upon this matter in that work? Indeed, the Urban Policy Forum seems to have been erased from existence; the department's website has airbrushed it out.

The Urban Policy Forum was established in 2012, in recognition of the long-term challenges facing Australian cities and, equally importantly, the need to harness the great opportunities that these communities are presented with. It was central to a consistent policy vision that recognised the critical role of governments, in partnership with the private sector, in supporting the development of cities in Australia and working towards achieving more productive, sustainable and liveable cities with our progress marked by regular reporting to the public of the State of Australian cities. The forum brought together experts from across all levels of government, industry and academia to collaborate and advise on how to reach this goal; to serve as a stakeholder forum as well as to develop innovation by sharing ideas and experiences with decision makers and supporting evidence based public policy work.

But now we are witnessing the dismantling of national urban policy, as well as this government maintaining its consistent approach to independent experts—it simply gets rid of them. Closing down the Urban Policy Forum and the capacity of its members to contribute comes on top of the abolition of the Major Cities Unit, attacks on the independence of Infrastructure Australia and an ideological rejection of public transport that flies in the face of what communities need. As even the Napthine government acknowledges, Melbourne needs the Melbourne Metro project to go ahead. Productive cities need strong public transport links. And of course this also takes place in the context of cuts to important programs, which are impacting at a local level. I think about the impact of cuts to the Lalor Tennis Club and to the Epping Memorial Hall as decisions of this government that will impact significantly on communities and also community-building in the Scullin electorate. This is a government that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. At the last election, Labor committed to a minister for cities, but the coalition had nothing to say. This silence continues and is simply not good enough for residents in Scullin and in cities right across Australia. In the most urbanised country on earth, let us remember that 80 per cent of economic activity takes places in our major cities. Making more productive cities is everyone's business.

Our local government structure, by and large, does not naturally enable city-wide or regional decision making. Structures are evolving to remedy this. I think of my own area and the work of the northern region councils of Melbourne, working together to better serve our dynamic regional economy and working with other layers of government. Here is a thought for members opposite: perhaps regions are not only a phenomenon of the bush?

This is a model that is working well elsewhere. The work of Melbourne's Grattan Institute, also touched on by the member for Bass, is full of insight in this regard, and the Brookings Institution has effectively and persuasively highlighted the 'metropolitan revolution' that is turning around many cities in the United States, recognising that cities are hubs of policy innovation. Such a revolution will not just happen by itself. We need to build a dialogue around how we make our cities more productive, more sustainable and more liveable. We need to support and work with our evolving local government and industry stakeholders to harness all the capacity of the Commonwealth to this task.

As the memb er for Scullin, I am excited by t he possibilities of growth in the communities I represent. It is a good thing that so many families, and others, are making their homes in new estates like Aurora and L yndarum., a nd that they are engaged about how they can make the places they are so rightly proud of even better. But this optimism must be tempered by a recognition of the challenges that come with growth. Buildin g c ommunities is about so much more than just bu ilding houses. It i s about finding ways to enabl e people to live their lives well, critically to find work relatively near where they live . T his is a huge issue as our big cities grow outwards while jobs are further concentrated in the inner city, as the SMH acknowledged in an interesting piece yesterday.

As well as the economic costs of failing to manage the growth of our cities, there is also a troubling social cost. Rates of family violence and the incidence of mental health issues must be a call to action . This need not b e an overly partisan debate. Indeed, the evidence recognises that th e key to success in this area of public policy making is co-operation . Cons ervative governments in the UK, Europe and much of the US acknowledge this. Bodies like the Urban Policy Forum ar e vital to enabling effective co -operation. I call upon this government to make use of the forum, not to hide it away, and to embrace the challenge of develop ing more productive cities based on the best, independent sources of advice.