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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9246

Mr GILES (Scullin) (20:59): A couple of weeks ago the Economist Intelligence Unit announced that Melbourne had retained the ranking of word's most liveable city. I think all Melbournians welcomed this international recognition with a degree a pride. The announcement also highlighted debate about the definitions of both cities and liveability, and what they mean to different people and the importance of talking these things through—after all, the EIU's report is aimed at wealthy expats whose experience of cities varies quite dramatically from that of, say, a resident in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

This conversation about cities and liveability was on display last week at the launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Better Cities. This is a tripartisan endeavour, in which the member for Ryan and the member for Melbourne are my co-convenors. I look forward to working with them in broadening this national discussion. Judging by the wide array of stakeholders such as the Bus Industry Confederation, Real Estate Institute of Australia, Property Council, Landscape Architects, Heart Foundation, Cycling Promotion Fund and Australasian Railways Association, who were there along with member and senators, there is a hunger for this debate to be had. Everyone who spoke and to whom I spoke agreed that the challenges faced by our cities and the opportunities our cities can, with the right policies, take advantage of require a national response and national leadership.

Overseas, this conversation is on in earnest. Last week, the World Economic Forum released a report titled The competitiveness of cities. The report examined cities around the world, providing case studies of cities that had managed challenges successfully and others that had not done as well. This report is but one example of the ever-increasing body of literature and analysis that reinforce the need for governments to take cities policy seriously. Given that we are an urban nation, it is perplexing that the Abbott government has chosen to stick its head in the sand when it comes to our cities. Abolishing the Major Cities Unit and not reconvening the Urban Policy Forum have been retrograde steps. I note the comments by Ross Gittins in today's TheSydney Morning Herald,highlighting the important role that governments can and, I would say, must play in getting the most out of our cities.

It is important to state that our cities are much more than CBDs. They are also our suburbs and outer suburbs, coming together as a coherent and connected whole not divided as haves and have-nots. We must concern ourselves with how we connect the people who live in suburban Australia to jobs and broader life opportunities. One tried and tested way to do this is with urban rail. Indeed, as every report both internationally and domestically acknowledges, urban rail is a vital part of managing and making the most of population growth. Yet who could forget the Prime Minister's bizarre comments that the Commonwealth should 'stick to its knitting' when it comes to urban rail and only build roads instead, and that people were 'kings in their cars'. The irony of not spending money on urban rail is that it ends up costing us more in the long run as our cities become less productive.

We have a choice. We can look to the evidence and have regard to lived experience or fall back to prejudice at the expense of productivity as well as liveability, as this government seemingly prefers. As the Word Economic Forum report put it, 'Productivity is about the efficient use of available resources that drives economic growth' and 'Productivity has to be sustainably maintained beyond the short term and in a way that reconciles economic, environmental and social goals.'

Cities policy is about more than just a productivity challenge. It must be concerned with liveability, more broadly defined than by the Economist, as well as equity, sustainability and, fundamentally, democracy. Eighty per cent of Australians work in our cities and a similar number live in them. The lives of four in five Australians deserve the attention of our national government and the concerns of urban Australians deserve national leadership. A national cities conversation involves recognising the scope of urban Australia's challenges and opportunities, and asking two big questions. Firstly, what is our vision for Australia's cities? Secondly, how can the Commonwealth help to realise this vision? Let us, in this place, lead this conversation, engaging people in the communities in which they live and see if we can share in a common vision. Cities are places where people come together and where all the benefits of that collectivism are derived. So too I hope that the parliamentary friendship group can bring decision makers and stakeholders together and ensure it is not only Labor that places cities at the centre of our national conversation. Four in five Australians deserve nothing less.