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Monday, 9 November 2015
Page: 12537

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (12:44): I am pleased to speak on this motion and recognise the member for Ryan, and recall the work that we did in forming the sustainable cities task force when we first joined this place. The settlement of Australia has occurred in the absence of planning, resulting in a constant of measures being undertaken to address the challenging situations that have evolved. This random behaviour has produced a full spectrum of challenges, from regional and rural settlement and the learning of the meaning of the tyranny of distance to the recent counter-trend of ever-increasing urbanisation.

The rapid concentration of settlement in our cities has created some serious challenges that must be overcome for us to maintain optimal growth, productivity, competitiveness and quality of life. The imbalance of settlement has produced an extraordinary imbalance of cost of living. Our biggest cities rate as amongst the most expensive in the world to buy land—an extraordinary situation when you consider that our greatest asset is land. However, all is not good in these most expensive cities, born in part out of the decay and decline of our regions because of the lack of planning for and commitment to infrastructure. Their capacity is limited and therefore the capacity for growth of Australia is compromised. It is overdue to replace the pattern of random settlement and infrastructure programs produced in haste to react to a situation as a constant catch-up emergency management with long-term planning for our cities and strategic settlement to restore balance.

The Prime Minister should be recognised for his initiative in appointing a dedicated Minister for Cities and the Built Environment. In his position of holding office, the decision to form a parliamentary standing committee is the most genuine demonstration of the importance of cities to our future and the fact that it is essential to form a common strategy to build an unshakeable foundation through planning and timely commitment to infrastructure that will survive any government. The task now before the minister and the standing committee is to develop policy that addresses the imbalance between our cities and our regions—that combines to relieve the cities of growth beyond their infrastructure capability through strategic decentralisation.

I have long been on the record to champion decentralisation. It is difficult to retrofit infrastructure into our major cities while they are bearing the full load of growth—to put out the fire while you are adding more fuel. The strategy must combine the retrofitting of infrastructure into our major cities with planning, while a plan for strategic decentralisation is undertaken. In the work done with the member for Ryan on the sustainable cities project, it became very clear that cities are not islands—that they need connectivity—and that the imbalance of cost of living in our major cities compared to the decay of regional areas needs to be addressed.

One of the most misunderstood pieces of infrastructure—which has long been debated in this place, without much success—is the role of high-speed rail, the purpose of high-speed rail. The Sydney to Melbourne air route is the third busiest in the world in terms of flights, the fourth busiest in terms of passengers. So there is a role for high-speed rail to connect those two cities. But that is missing the point. The worldwide experience with high-speed rail is that it is the most essential piece of infrastructure to strategically decentralise—to take the pressure off major cities and allow regional areas to grow. With high-speed rail, cities outside the southern highlands, around the Goulburn area, around Shepparton and around Albury Wodonga could to grow to be significant cities. Their land prices would be competing with the very high cost of land in Sydney and Melbourne. When you bring into the strategy the opportunity of value capture there is a perfect storm to effect a value capture of the uplift in property values created by high-speed rail to fund the high-speed rail and to effect a plan of decentralisation to optimise the growth of Australia.