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Address to the annual dinner of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies, Canberra



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ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT, HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, THE HON.'RAY GROOM, M.P., TO THE ANNUAL DINNER OF THE AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF URBAN STUDIES, CANBERRA. 26 OCTOBER, 1978

Mr Hayden, Sir MacFarlane Burnett, Mr Barrington, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome this opportunity to make some brief comments on some aspects of the Commonwealth role in urban affairs.

Before doing so, I want to congratulate your organisation for the very real contribution it has made to a deeper appreciation of our urban issues. Over the past 10 years the institute has developed as a unique forum for. objective bi-partisan discussion of those issues and has been the real source Of a number of initiatives credited to certain governments and developers.

I commend the Institute on its latest project the publication of Christopher Jay's timely and thought provoking and one would hope "policy provoking" report. Its title "Towards Urban Strategies for Australia" is a broad and challenging theme and one in which the Commonwealth obviously has an important interest. Mr Jay clearly spells out in his report how Commonwealth decisions in such areas

as immigration, energy policy, trade, industry assistance, public employment and public investment have a major impact on cities, towns and regions in very fundamental ways. Those decisions strongly influence which cities and regions will grow, what their income levels will be, and what

resources they will need for the provision of adequate public facilities.

When we speak of. "urban affairs" I believe we should be concerned about each person who lives in one of our cities or towns: the whole person, not merely with part of the person. In other words, "urban affairs" is an all embracing

term and an area affected by almost every government decision.

In my brief address to you tonight, I would likl; to touch on three elements in the Commonwealth's role in urban affairs: namely, the Federal financial framework, the Commonwealth as an urban dweller in its own right, and as a catalyst for action through information and research.

Clearly, one of the most important urban roles for the Commonwealth is to provide a general financial frame­ work within which urban affairs can be addressed in a Sensitive and flexible manner. Our Federalism must even

out disparities between States without imposing unreasonable restraints. To create financial equity as between States

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and residents of States is more important than any objection we may have to the priorities, planning methods and controls determined by State or local government.

Because we live in a dynamic world characterised by continuous change, our Federal system for allocating national resources and making decisions must be stable and yet capable of responding to changing needs.

Mr Jay emphasised in his report the need for "fail safe" cities. One of the most important elements in any "fail safe" urban system is to ensure that we have machinery to deliver resources to the areas o#> greatest need without damaging incentives for fiscal self discipline.

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Under the Federalism policy, the proportion of funds available to the State and loc:al governments as united revenues has increased dramatically. The Grants Commission has continued to play an important role in evening out

fiscal disparities. . . v

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; Above all qur Federalism policy has meant that while States and local government .have increased certainty and flexibility in their use of untied fundentheir citizens are given, grater control over their own priorities. They

have the opportunity through their governments to choose more dirbctly than before the bundle of expenditure programs and taxes they want. ,

Our. system of urban public finance is in sharp contrast to many overseas countries where a larger proportion of all publip services are provided at the municipal level and paid for from property taxes. .

We all. know how systems of this type have pre­ cipitated crises in urban financing, led to the flight of investors and middle income earners from the cities and contributed to widespread social segregation, decay and abandonment ; t of properties in once proud cities. New York . iri the best known example.

That this has not happened in Australia can in substantial part be attributed to our framework for financing and decision making.^ .

This objective of flexibility and local responsibility has been pursued through brie of our major urban programs, the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement,

Under the new Agreement we are seeking to facilitate innovation by the States,. particularly in some of the directions favoured by Mr Jay, for example, consolidation of urban areas and the rehabilitation and more efficient

use of the existing;urban stock. The new funding arrange­ ments allow the States more directly to establish priorities in housing and urban development. .

Another major aim of the Commonwealth is to be a good urban citizen when deciding on tstie location and manage­ ment of services and facilities provided directly by it. This involves extensive consultation With State Governments.

For example, all significant changes in the location of Commonwealth employment are closely scrutinised for their impact on the urban environment; recent changes include significant moves by CSIRQ, Telecom and the Taxation Offices. You will all be aware of the encouragement the Commonwealth has given to growth in Albury/Wodonga by decisions on the

location of taxation and army employment.

The location and operation of major airports have a significant impact on metropolitan regions. The Common­ wealth has mounted one of the most extensive urban research projects ever undertaken in this country to: help inform

itself and the State Government on the major airport needs of Sydney. Airport development studies are also being conducted.in other mainland capitals. .

Similarly, all envirohmentally significant proposals which require a Commonwealth decision are subject to the procedures of environmental impact assessment. Examples include the proposed second Hobart Bridge.

' · I need hardly remind the AIUS, with its impressive list of publications; about the importance of co-ordinated information and research. .

The Housing Costs Inquiry of course represents a major initiative in this field and I will return to it in a moment. . . .

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My Department has published a major urban renewal task force report, and will soon publish a review of the Glebe Project which will document the project's range of technical and managerial innovations. . .

The Glebe Project demonstrates an option in urban renewal - a subject highly relevant to Mr Jay!s proposals for urban consolidation; .

The Glebe, WOolloomooloo and Inveresk Projects, all have this major demonstration theme. Innovative projects with Commonwealth funding can pave the way for general State adoption of new policies.

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The Housing Costs Inquiry is a major example of the Commonwealth playing a catalytic role in an area of common concern, where principal responsibility rests with the States.

Although many of the issues considered by the Housing Costs Inquiry were the responsibility of State Governments, I'm pleased to say there was complete co­ operation in the establishment and proceedings of the

Inquiry. . . . '

‘ Two themes run through the Report. First, housing and housing costs are inextricably intertwined with urban policy and planning - through design and locational preferences as driving forces in development, and through the controlling effects of development processes on the delivery of housing and effective use of existing infrastructure. Secondly,

in the longer term, changes to institutions, improved information and the manner in which decisions are made,.will be gf ultimate importance in holding down housing costs.

The Committee has called for public discussion - a recommendation we have endorsed - and for the Commonwealth and the States to.review many of their programs in the light of its recommendations.

The Commonwealth Government for its part is subjecting its programs, to the closest scrutiny in the light of the Report. It has set up an Interdepartmental Committee, chaired by my Department, to examine the Inquiry's recommendations.-:in detail and identify the options available to the Commonwealth.

It has also begun a series of discussions.with the States and consultations between government, industry and the community. . .

The Housing Costs Inquiry's recognition of the fundamental importance in urban policy of getting the overall framework and institutions right can be seen in the second of the 36 recommendations if. has made:

"Each State should establish a ministerial portfolio responsible for urban and housing policy in its fullest sense. The Minister would have the primary task of co-ordinating the activities of other related portfolios with responsibility for

issues affecting urban needs and the urban environment and for liaison with other levels of government and the private sector."

The AIDS follow-up to the Jay Repdrt has already drawn attention to fundamental economic and social changes. These will require considerable flexibility in our thinking

and above all systems that will allow a richness and variety of response to problems that differ from city to city. My Government is committed to the enhancement of those systems.

I am pleased to be associated with your Institute and its work and again commend you for the efforts you have made to ensure that governments do give proper consideration to our major urban issues.