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Launch of Australian Davos Connection cities report: enhancing liveability, Sydney



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LAUNCH OF AUSTRALIAN DAVOS CONNECTION CITIES REPORT: ENHANCING LIVEABILITY CUSTOMS HOUSE, SYDNEY 22 OCTOBER 2010

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Introduction

From Year 5, when I was 10 years old, I attended St Mary’s Cathedral School, not far from here, and smack in the middle of the city.

After school, I’d sell copies of The Sun and Daily Mirror for 7 cents each on the corner of Market and Castlereagh Streets.

In my first experience of wage bargaining, I secured an increase in wages from $10 a week to $12 a week by defecting to the seller on the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets.

I’ve seen this great global city grow over four decades, as I’m sure many of you here have too.

Today, Australian cities are bigger, more dynamic, more innovative and more global than they ever were.

Even more so now than then, Australian cities are places of opportunity.

What the Gillard Government’s cities agenda is about is managing change positively, to make our cities liveable, sustainable, and above all, more productive.

This Government believes that for Australia, the most urbanised country on the planet, the national government has a responsibility to be engaged in cities.

Ongoing Commitment to Cities

For Labor Governments, productivity is a means to an end. It is about lifting economic activity, in order to improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the nation.

The Prime Minister last week set out this Government’s ongoing commitment to productivity and economic reform.

She spoke of how opportunity and a fair go stem from a strong economy...that a partnership between a productive community and a progressive Government delivers tangible benefits - jobs, business investment, and resilience to global shocks.

The Government’s development of a national urban policy is one such reform partnership.

The urban policy will identify what we can do to strengthen partnerships between tiers of government and engage the community in order to make our cities more productive, liveable, and sustainable.

For this reason, I’m pleased to be here to launch this report today - it captures all of these issues and more, and has a thoughtfully developed policy framework for our cities. No doubt policy makers will find much here to consider as we grapple to develop the national urban policy.

The Prime Minister also made clear that while we remain rock-solid in our commitment to reform, we also remain rock-solid about fiscal responsibility.

This means that we have set ourselves the ambitious task of doing more, within the constraints of our fiscal rules and disciplines.

It is in this context that the Labor Government will develop a comprehensive national urban policy.

What we have achieved so far

From the time of our election in 2007, we have re-engaged the national government with our cities.

In our first year of government, we provided $75 million to the States to undertake a series of extensive studies on projects to deal with urban congestion in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.

We have made record investments in productive infrastructure in our cities, including some $18 billion in urban rail and road infrastructure commitments.

We are now working on a major urban rail project in every state capital city on the mainland:

• Noarlunga to Seaford rail extension and Gawler Line in Adelaide;

• The Northbridge Link in Perth;

• Moreton Bay Rail line in Brisbane;

• Regional Rail Link in Melbourne;

• The Parramatta to Epping line in Sydney;

• As well as the Gold Coast Rapid Transit Project.

These are the most significant investments by an Australian Government in urban transport and are critical infrastructure for the future of our growing urban centres.

It is more than just a change in the level of Commonwealth investment. It represents a different approach to Commonwealth engagement in our cities.

Compare this to what we saw under the previous government, which retreated from any engagement in our cities. This is best demonstrated by the abolition of the successful Better Cities Program.

The Gillard Government’s view is we cannot afford disinterest in our cities. It would defy the basic fact that cities drive 80 per cent of our real economy.

A focus on cities therefore has far reaching implications for Commonwealth leadership and infrastructure policy.

Let me give you three more small examples, which I think demonstrate our cooperative approach on urban policy.

...In aviation, we are working with NSW on a landmark joint planning study of Sydney airport capacity.

...Last month, I took the 2011 National Cycling Strategy to the Australian Transport Council. The Strategy sets out a range of measures aimed at doubling the number of cyclists over the next six years.

...And we secured agreement through COAG to national criteria that will underpin long term strategic planning systems in our capital cities, tied to future investment priorities, and with the ability to implement national goals with a particular focus on that city.

Brian Howe is leading our work in this area.

It is rightly described in the ADC report as a potential watershed, in terms of tackling the issues our cities face in a coordinated way.

What we need to achieve in coming months

Our cities policy is a long term reform program that has three pillars.

- First, these long term strategic city plans, to coordinate planning, set shared priorities and target investment on the ground - this is now agreed, with implementation by 1 January 2012; and

- Second, a national system for measuring the performance of our cities - the State of Australian Cities Report, which I launched earlier this year. This underscores our commitment to evidence based policy;

- And third, a National Urban Policy, the overarching framework for these plans and reports - and a policy road map that aims to improve coordination, planning and productivity reform. This will have broad directions that are of relevance to all 18 cities with populations over 100,000 people.

Given the significant role cities play in modern society, there has been a groundswell of interest in this topic.

It is a daunting policy agenda, and not one we take on lightly.

But we believe that this reform work is critical to the national interest.

I value the ADC Report’s reminder that a vision of how to develop our cities requires community buy-in on the vision-setting process.

In particular, the Inclusive City working group says this work ‘must begin with leadership and vision from government, but...be guided by wider consultation and engagement with communities.’

Before the end of the year, I will formally kick-start a national consultation on the draft urban policy.

The Australian Government will release a discussion paper that sets out the key issues and ways to tackle these.

Importantly, the document will seek to generate discussion and community feedback.

But for those who think a national urban policy is a Commonwealth take-over, think again.

This is about getting our collective policy settings right for the future, and ensuring the contributions of levels of government complement each other in a way that is consistent with the objective of productive, liveable and sustainable cities.

Importantly, the title Major Cities Unit rather than capital cities unit is deliberate.

When considering our major cities, it is not just the capitals. We must also engage with regional cities such as Newcastle, Townsville and Geelong.

Our final Urban Policy will be released next year, in advance of COAG capital city plans commencing.

Ultimately, if we get the architecture of a national urban policy right, city residents can expect their governments to move beyond what the ADC report identifies as the ‘impacts of partisan politics and staggered electoral cycles’ on our cities.

But I don’t underestimate the significant issues that the Government is tackling, nor the important cross-portfolio nature of this work.

The Minister for the Environment, Water and Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, has begun work on how Governments can better manage the impacts of growth on our environment, on regions, on housing. Tony is also pushing on with preparing our cities for a drier climate, through desalination, water recycling & stormwater harvesting projects.

The Minister for Energy and Resources is leading vital reforms to help Australian households move to renewable energy, delivering more than 100,000 solar panels and more than 170,000 solar hot water systems.

These issues as well as many others will all need to be considered in finalising our National Urban Policy.

Conclusion

I want to finish by recording my appreciation of the work that the Australian Davos Connection does in infrastructure, and in our cities.

This report that I launch today is another such comprehensive, credible, and important contribution to national debate and to infrastructure policy development. I commend the ADC for their contribution.

There is much that I agree with, and some ideas that I would need convincing on, but that is the point.

It is important that we promote discussion in order to develop solutions.

The transformation of our cities will require national leadership, working with other responsible levels of government.

What is also clear is that such a transformation will require active community engagement and dialogue from the bottom up.

Work such as this is valuable input to this transformation.

A key element of our engagement on cities is harnessing the best ideas across sectors, and across the country, to make our cities liveable, sustainable, productive.

It is driven by a belief that we can craft a vision of our cities together.

Thank you for having me here today.

[ends]