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2nd state of Australian cities. National conference.

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ALP - L C.1 2005



Brisbane, 1 December 2005

Australia's Future Cities

Senator Kim Carr

Shadow Minister for Housing, Urban Development, Local Government and Territories


Thank you for inviting me to speak at this second national

conference on the state of Australian cities.

Today I am releasing a discussion paper on urban

development, housing and local government issues — called

Australia's Future Cities.

The purpose of this paper is to help lift the existing policy

debate into the national sphere. These are critical national

issues and deserve better than the neglect of the Howard

Government. .

But more fundamentally, the paper is about values. It is

about family and lifestyle. It is about the right to a garden,

the right to parks, the right to get to work and the right to a

fair share of the nation's wealth.

It also reflects the fact that cities are a major driver of

Australia's economic growth and prosperity.

Our capital cities alone account for over two thirds of our

GDP. Labor understands that the more liveable they are;

the more sustainable they are; the more productive they will

be. And that will benefit all Australians.

There are some crucial issues facing our cities today.

But the Howard Government has dropped the ball on cities

policy. In ten years, it has done virtually nothing.


The Howard Government has no Minister and no

department responsible for urban development — it certainly

has no plan and no vision.

Labor has a history of recognising the importance of cities

to Australian life — not only to our prosperity, but to our

culture and to the wellbeing of our citizens.

Because Labor understands the fundamental importance of

healthy cities to Australian life, Labor understands that cities

should be at the centre of the national policy debate.

Our national dialogue on this issue has been interrupted by

the Howard Government's decade of neglect. It is time to

turn that around.

My key message today is this: Labor is putting cities policy

at the centre of its thinking.

We are rejecting the Howard Government's view that the

national government has no role. We are rejecting it


The release of Labor's Australia's Future Cities discussion

paper reflects our commitment both to cities policy and to

sound policy making processes.

Today, I want to tell you about some proposals for

Commonwealth involvement in cities policy and to raise

some questions which need to be further explored.


The context for the paper

Let me first put this paper into a broader political context.

In recent months Labor has been accused of being a policy


But the truth is that much of Labor's policy work is quite

deliberately ignored by the political insiders in favour of

juicier stories about leadership or factional tensions.

But we are Australia's alternative national government.

People want to know what our priorities are. They want to

know what will lie behind our policies at the next election.

That is why, for example, Kim Beazley has delivered four

Labor Blueprint speeches over the last few months.

About the paper

The paper I'm releasing today is an ambitious project.

Indeed, there are a dozen issues covered in the paper,

which are each — in their own right — the subject of inquiries,

reports, books, academic papers, seminars and

conferences such as this one.

But I believe there is one common theme — the need for

greater Commonwealth involvement and leadership.

Words are important — we need inquiries and forums to

share information and coordinate action.


But actions speak louder, and the Commonwealth can and

should take action in its own right.

So the aim of Australia's Future Cities is to explore the

potential for Commonwealth action in a range of areas and

to seek feedback from stakeholders.

Housing and the urban environment: square one

Our homes and our living environment are what I call

"square one".

Our living environment — our homes and their surroundings,

the services and facilities available in our neighbourhoods -are the very bedrock of our daily lives.

If you don't have a decent place to live, you lack the

necessary conditions for everything else — finding and

keeping a job, access to education and training, maintaining

your health, social connections, friends and family.

Most of our homes are in the suburbs of metropolitan

Australia. 80 per cent of us, in fact, live in cities and towns.

As well as being the foundation of our economic prosperity,

these cities provide the foundation for our quality of life.

It is the liveability of our suburbs and towns, as much as the

actual house we live in, that determines the quality of our

lives and the lives of our children.


Australia's rate of urban growth

Australia's major cities are continuing to grow.

The populations of Sydney and Melbourne are each

anticipated to increase by almost a quarter between now

and 2031: to 5.2 million and 4.5 million people respectively.

Massive growth is also expected in towns across south east

Queensland and to the north and south of Perth.

In fact, more than 20 per cent of all demand for new

dwellings over the next 25 years is expected to occur right

here in the Gold Coast-Brisbane-Sunshine Coast corridor.

As we all know, such rapid coastal and urban development

raises environmental, social, planning and infrastructure


It places pressure for infrastructure and service provision on

local governments as well as state governments.

At the same time, other local government areas find that

existing infrastructure cannot support higher population

densities — or simply that it is reaching its use-by date.

It is critical that all levels of government understand

Australia's population and settlement trends.

We must plan for these trends rather than responding in an

ad hoc or unconsidered fashion.

Ad hoc responses are environmentally risky. They are also

likely to have high economic - and potentially social - costs

in the longer term.

Choice in where and how to live

We need to understand settlement trends and plan for


But I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that a national

government should be dictating to individual Australians

where and how they should live.

Australians don't all want to live the same way or in the

same place.

We all want to live in a prosperous community, a safe

community, a socially, culturally and physically healthy

environment. We all want to feel secure.

But beyond that, we want different things from our homes.

Our homes are places of rest, recreation and reflection.

Our homes reflect our personalities, interests, ambitions

and - for some people - social status.

For those of us with children, our homes are where our kids

Many of us, if not most, want gardens and space for the

kids to play. We want the Aussie back yard.

Others, however, want to live close to the bright lights of the

city and don't want to be bothered with a garden.

We need to be sure that we are not captured by an ideology

that says greater urban consolidation — higher density living

— is the only way to reduce the environmental impact of our


Evidence shows that poorly planned consolidation leads to

worse environmental outcomes than developments on the

urban fringe.

At the same time, as our suburbs reach further out, we face

increasing demand for the provision of sustainable transport


Public transport must be provided if we are to treat those in

the outer suburbs fairly, to protect our environment and to

avoid creating pockets of social exclusion. But it is not

cheap. Someone has to pay for it.

Managing growth and settlement patterns

I can't claim to have all the answers.

But I believe the Commonwealth needs to take the lead in

working to address these issues in a coordinated way.

We need to bring together the evidence about settlement

trends and how to manage them. And we need to plan for

the future.


That is why the discussion paper I am releasing today

proposes the development of a national settlement strategy.

This idea was included in the National Action Framework

arising from the National Summit on the Future of

Australia's Cities and Towns, convened by state and

territory Planning and Local Government Ministers last year.

The House of Representatives Environment and Heritage

Committee also said — in its recent Sustainable Cities report

— that issues of population and settlement policy would

need to be addressed as part of the broader approach to


So this is hardly a radical idea — at least not for this

audience. You would all be aware of the various 'voices

calling for better management of settlement patterns.

But it is almost unimaginable that today's Howard

Government would adopt a policy that actually plans for

Australia's future needs — a policy that addresses the

challenges facing Australia's cities and towns.

The settlement strategy envisaged in the paper would:

• examine expected trends in settlement;

• identify development needs; and

• ensure that communities develop sustainably.


would look at infrastructure needs and take account of

expected changes in industry structure and employment


It may also consider the potential impacts on social

cohesion, and demand for services, from changing regional

demographic profiles.

A national settlement strategy could inform decisions about

Commonwealth support for urban development, particularly

in rapidly growing regions.

For example, maybe we could take pressure off our major

cities by supporting revitalisation in regional cities — such as

Bendigo, Ballarat and Toowoomba — where there is

demand for new development.

Of course, a key purpose of any settlement strategy would

be to examine the environmental impacts of population

growth. Such issues include:

• challenges to biodiversity;

• the demand for and supply of energy and water; and

• the effects of climate change.


Environmental challenges

While we are on the subject of environmental issues, it is

important to note that it is not only population growth which

poses challenges.

We already know, for example, that climate change will

have a profound impact on the health of our cities.

Australia cannot afford to be left unprepared for that


The Government's own Climate change: risk and

vulnerability report estimates that Australia could be two

degrees hotter by 2030.

It notes that the impact of increased temperatures and

extreme weather conditions could put centres like Cairns,

Broome, Darwin and Townsville at considerable risk. The

major capital cities in Southern Australia will face increased

pressure on natural resources, such as water.

This comes on top of other problems with our cities' water

supply and use.

Almost all Australia's major cities now face imminent crises

in their water supply and sewerage systems.

These systems were generally developed in the late

nineteenth century — when we used a third as much water


per capita as we do now and our cities' populations were

much smaller.

The current situation is unsustainable.

The good news is that Water Sensitive Urban Design

projects have shown that demand on for potable water can

be reduced by up to 80 per cent at the household level.

We need to ensure that our policy settings.and the levers

we hold at the Commonwealth level — including funding for

the. Australian Building. Codes Board and the Building Code

of Australia — encourage and support water sensitive design

and construction in both residential and commercial


Water shortages in Australia's major cities are really

something of a paradox.. Sufficient water actually falls on

each city to meet all of its needs. But most of this water is

discarded as `stormwater'.

Stormwater flows are the most significant sources of

pollution in our cities' bays, harbours and waterways. Yet

Engineers Australia, in releasing its 2005 Australian

Infrastructure Report Card expressed grave concern at the

poor state of Australia's stormwater systems, saying:

Most stormwater infrastructure is old and funds for

maintenance, repairs and renewals are lacking.


I believe this is an area where the Commonwealth should

be taking an interest.

Before losing office, the Keating Government had placed

stormwater on the national agenda through the Council of

Australian Governments. But this is another issue on which

the Howard Government has dropped the ball — claiming it

is entirely a matter for state and local governments.

Finally on the environment (although I know that far more

could be said): We need to be more efficient in our use of

energy. We need greater use of renewable energy in

homes and public buildings, as well as in industry.

Again, the Building Code is one instrument to promote

greater energy efficiency. This week the Australian Building

Codes Board took a decision to move towards mandatory

five star energy ratings for all new homes from 2006. This

move has caused some controversy. There are widely

varying estimates of the cost to new home buyers — from

$1,500 to $15,000.

I believe that Australia's. national policy goal must be to reduce household energy consumption without further

reducing housing affordability. The question is how We

achieve that goal.



poverty and accepting diversity

As the discussion paper makes clear, Labor is looking at a

concept of urban sustainability that — in line with

international practice — takes account of social and

economic health as well as environmental issues.

In this regard, I believe the national government must take

responsibility for challenging poverty and supporting

diversity in our suburbs.

We can and must address the problems of spatial inequality

that plague our major cities.

We can and must learn from the disastrous events that

have recently taken place in cities both here and — more

dramatically perhaps — abroad.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans shocked

the world. Last month in France, widespread and violent

unrest spread to. over 200 cities and towns. The authorities

seemed unable to control it.

What can we learn from these experiences about policy

priorities for our own cities?

First of all, we see in Hurricane Katrina the terrible effects -in terms of human suffering — of climate change.


Secondly, we must learn from that disaster that ageing and

inadequate urban infrastructure (like the New Orleans levy

banks) cannot be ignored. Australia has a looming problem

in this area.

We need a national strategy that works with the states and

territories and local governments to prioritise, and then to

fund, projects to replace and repair our drains, sewers,

roads and public transport systems.

Thirdly, we have to tackle head on the shameful problem of

poverty in some parts of our own cities. Just as in New

Orleans and in France, poverty in Australia is not evenly

spread. Our cities contain geographical regions of

significant economic disadvantage.

Fourth — we must do everything we can to ensure that new

arrivals are truly welcomed and that their transition to life in

Australia is a successful one. While Australia is arguably

more socially inclusive, and tolerant in terms of race,

religion and ethnicity than France, we have not always lived

up to our ideals.

This latter issue is clearly a Commonwealth responsibility

you cannot make decisions about who comes here without

taking some responsibility for how they settle in.


Labor's options for challenging poverty

Some may argue that I am overstating the case by drawing

on the examples of France and New Orleans.

But we only need to look at the riots early this year in

Macquarie Fields in Sydney's outer west to see that

Australia's cities are not immune from the problems caused

by concentrated unemployment and welfare dependency.

We need only look at Redfern a year earlier — and at Palm

Island — to know that race can be a burning issue in our

own community.

Labor is the party of social justice. It should not be

surprising that we are thinking hard about these issues,

while a conservative Government sits on its hands.

But what can we do?

For a start, housing policy must aim to make it easier for

disadvantaged Australians to live close to employment


There is growing evidence that the Government's rent

assistance policies don't achieve this goal — and we are

looking very carefully at this issue.

But the fact is that not everyone can actually live in the

desirable inner suburbs.


So it is also critical that Australians living in our outer

suburbs are not out of sight and out of mind.

As a nation, we simply cannot have a situation where poor

people are confined to suburbs defined by poor services.

Some local and state governments have recently

undertaken effective urban revitalisation projects to tackle

the problems of concentrated disadvantage.

The Victorian Labor Government's Neighbourhood Renewal

program, for example, demonstrates what can be achieved

when the ideas and resources of governments, local

communities, businesses and the not-for-profit sector are

brought together.

In Tasmania, a program driven from the grass roots —

Bridgewater-Gagebrook Urban Renewal Program — has

completely changed the image of the Bridgewater-Gagebrook area in Tasmania. It has made a real difference

to people's lives — reducing vandalism and crime rates and

creating a visible improvement community pride.

To date, Commonwealth Government involvement in these

strategies and projects has been limited.

Labor believes it is time for the Commonwealth Government

to show leadership and to work with state and local

governments, and local communities, to address the

problems of spatial inequality in our cities.


This is not just Labor's view or the view of a bunch of social


The Allen Consulting Group, in a report for the Property

Council of Australia in 2003, found that issues of social

exclusion arising from concentrations of poverty: .

... are issues which bear significantly on social capital

in cities. Furthermore, they are ... issues where there

is a degree of Commonwealth responsibility for policy

action .... Most importantly, it is likely that many

solutions are to be found by looking at the problems

from a ... spatial perspective, taking into account the

opportunities and needs presented by specific ...


The emergence of neighbourhoods and districts of social

exclusion has also been identified by the Planning Institute

of Australia as a problem that is "clearly national in scope"

and "could be advanced through inter-jurisdictional

partnerships in urban policy".

The success of any such programs will depend on targeting

the causes of disadvantage as well as addressing the


Unemployment is far and away the most critical underlying

issue for Australia's poorest neighbourhoods — and it is an


area where the Commonwealth has an unambiguous


Local jobs are fundamental to social and economic participation — as are affordable services to support employment, such as childcare and adult education and training.

And we must not forget the impact of public transport quality on social and economic inclusion and exclusion.

In simultaneously targeting the causes of disadvantage and blockages to particip on, we should heed the lessons of successful past prog S.

At the Commonweal level, this should include taking another look at B Cities. I don't advocate replicating Better Cities, but I acknowledge. that it achieved some very good outcomes.

One of its focus areas was urban renewal in Australia's inner cities. The suc a starting point for d current state, territo

If we can learn the and combine this worked in other co

ssful projects it initiated may provide eloping new programs — alongside and local government initiatives.

ons of success, avoid the pitfalls, e with what we know has tries, there is potential to make a real and positive difference in our cities.


The discussion paper proposes that the national

government — in collaboration with states, territories, local

governments, the business and not for profit sectors and

local communities — establish an urban development

program to revitalise Australia's most disadvantaged


Such a program could be supported by the establishment of

a network of Commonwealth Urban Development Offices,

which I will talk more about in a couple of minutes.

Of course, in an environment of scarce resources, only a

limited number of regions could receive intensive

Commonwealth Government support.

How should we pick those regions?

Would it be appropriate to adopt a strictly objective way of

identifying them? For example, by looking at statistical data

on household incomes and unemployment levels? Or are

there more subjective measures that we should use?

These are the types of questions I'm posing in the paper — if

we want our cities to be more liveable and more

sustainable, how do we go about it in a practical sense?

What is the role for the Commonwealth and how can we set

policy at the Commonwealth level to best meet our



Public transport

Now I want to turn to public transport.

The Howard Government clearly considers that it has no

role to play in helping he states to improve their public

transport systems.

Its primary land transport funding mechanism — AusLink — is

focused on freight transport but is based on the unrealistic

premise that the freig network operates entirely

independently from p senger transport.

The reality is that the high reliance on private cars in

Australian cities is partly a result of poorly performing public

transport. According to the Business Council , of Australia,

this is a significant contributor to increased road congestion

— leading in turn to lost productivity.

Reliable and accessible public transport was a major issue

for the House of Representatives Sustainable Cities inquiry.

Its report highlights the benefits of improved urban rail

infrastructure (whic

fund directly).

It also looks at envi

when residential d

public transport.

the Commonwealth currently does not

nmental and social problems arising

;lopments have insufficient access to


Sustainable Cities

recommended that the Commonwealth

boost its funding for public transport — particularly rail. It

also recommended specific funding to support sustainable

public transport infrastructure for developments on the outer

fringes of our cities.

We must provide people living in the outer regions of our

cities with safe and reliable public transport.

In 2004 Labor stated that a national Labor Government

would take an interest in the passenger transport system.

That commitment remains.

Labor's discussion paper also proposes a more flexible

approach to transport funding for local government.

This would give councils greater scope to meet the needs of

their own communities, rather than having their hands tied

by the criteria for local roads funding.

Bringing it all together

I believe that the issues I have talked about today — and the

many others raised in the discussion paper — are crucial to

our lives and our collective futures.

The national government has to get involved in them.

We could make a start by establishing a Commonwealth

Department that brings together responsibility for housing,

urban development, local government and related issues.


Complementing the Department, a Taskforce of senior

officials from relevant

oversee and coordina

Commonwealth activi

The paper also prop

establish a network

)mmonwealth departments could

policy development in areas of

that affect our cities.

es that the national Government

Commonwealth Urban Development

Offices in key areas - for example, areas of rapid growth or

severe disadvantage.

The purpose of these; offices would be:

• to improve the coordination of Commonwealth urban

development and service delivery responsibilities at a

regional level; and

• to promote partnerships between the Commonwealth;

state, territory and local governments; the business and

not for profit sectors; and local communities.

Working with other levels of government will be critical.

At the highest level jthe state of our cities should be a

standing item on the Council of Australian Governments'


Using this forum, th Commonwealth should develop, with

the states and territ l ries, a national sustainability charter.


Such a charter would set key national targets across a

number of areas which impact on Australia's environmental,

social and economic sustainability.

If is to be effective, however, it must be monitored.

Appropriate mechanisms will need to be in place in all

jurisdictions to assess the impact of new policies or

programs against the charter.

We must also consider how a national sustainability charter

would align with the proposed national settlement strategy.

In addition, the National Summit on the Future of Australia's

Cities and Towns recommended the development of a

National Cities and Towns Policy. The objectives of this

policy appear to overlap with those that would be pursued

under a sustainability charter and/or settlement strategy.

So there is a question of how to manage such overlap.

There is also a potential role for a National Sustainability

Commissioner or Council to monitor Australia's progress in

meeting its sustainability targets.


In conclusion, let me reiterate: Labor believes there must

be national leadership in urban development, housing and

local government issues.


Australia needs a national government committed to

concrete policies designed to take us forward in partnership with state, territory and local governments.

The health of our cities — environmental, social and economic — underpins the health of the nation.

John F Kennedy said

We will neglect Our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation.

The Howard Governrnent has shamefully neglected

Australia's cities.

A Labor Government would turn that around.

I look forward to working with everyone who is interested in helping us to develop sound policy to do just that.

I invite you to consider the discussion paper I have released today as a starting point for a new national debate on the future of Australia's (cities.



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