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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11237

Mr BEVIS (2:04 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the importance of strategic planning in major cities for Australia’s future economic growth?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Brisbane for his question. He represents one of the Federation seats and therefore an Australian capital city, a city that will experience long-term population growth and will therefore need long-term, proper, city-wide planning. Last night I addressed the Business Council of Australia, an organisation with a strong interest in infrastructure reform and infrastructure investment. The government agrees with the business community that infrastructure reform and infrastructure investment are critical to addressing Australia’s long-term economic needs (1) to boost productivity growth, (2) to tackle climate change and (3) to accommodate the 35 million we are advised will require support, the delivery of services, places to live and places to work by the time we reach mid-century, given that our current population stands at 22 million. When we reflect upon the particular implications for cities like Brisbane, this puts into stark relief the long-term planning that is necessary to ensure that our cities have the infrastructure and the planned infrastructure to meet those needs.

Think about Sydney and Melbourne alone. We are advised that the populations of those two great cities will rise by mid-century to seven million each. Furthermore, the city of Brisbane will double its population to four million. The city of Perth will nearly triple its population to something like 3½ million. The other major cities of Australia are growing as well. As I have said before, I believe very much in a big Australia. But the time to prepare for that big Australia is now. We have to prepare for long-term infrastructure needs and infrastructure growth.

This dovetails with the productivity needs of the Australian economy. The productivity needs of the Australian economy stare us in the face. We saw a decline in productivity growth over the period that those opposite were in government. We saw some 20 separate warnings from the Reserve Bank of Australia about the problems of not investing in infrastructure or in skills and about the consequent impact of that on capacity constraints in the economy and on inflationary pressures as well. The challenges facing the government are these. How do you overcome a decade of neglect when it comes to productivity growth? What is necessary on the infrastructure front, the skills front and the planning front to deal with these challenges for the future?

The government has been active across the last 18 months, since its election, with, first of all, the establishment of Infrastructure Australia; secondly, within that, the Major Cities Unit; thirdly, of course, the capital cities task force of COAG itself; fourthly, its engagement with the Australian Council of Local Government; fifthly, the first Commonwealth investments in urban public transport; sixthly, the first Commonwealth investments in urban water projects; and, seventhly, the biggest ever investment in social housing.

The next step in this partnership with the states and territories of Australia is our proposal to develop the first national criteria for the future strategic planning of our largest cities. The Commonwealth will now consider linking all future infrastructure funding to the states and territories to compliance with these planning criteria. Those criteria would include such items as follow. First is the planned and sequenced land release for the future in order to meet the needs of our growing population. This will mean that developers would be able to provide more housing when people need it, making housing more affordable. Second is balancing infill and greenfield development. This will mean more opportunities for urban renewal in built-up areas and fewer dilapidated buildings in disused sites. Third is addressing climate change, meaning people have houses with greater energy efficiency and more public transport. Fourth is providing for nationally significant infrastructure, such as transport corridors, intermodal connections, and communications and utilities networks. This will mean people having greater job opportunities in cities and with higher levels of productivity. The final criterion is world standard design for our cities as well. We will also need new Commonwealth-state arrangements to jointly assess performance against these criteria and to advise on how these performance criteria can be improved in the future. We intend to take this forward through the Council of Australian Governments in 2010.

A good example of where this becomes a very practical question indeed is the strategic planning needs of the people of Western Sydney. Western Sydney is already home to more than two million Australians, and it will rapidly expand as the population of Sydney itself grows to seven million by 2049. We want Western Sydney to be an even better place to live in the future, with better jobs, better infrastructure, better opportunities for local people as well as better housing and more affordable housing. That is the challenge for the future—and it will not happen just like that, with a snap of one’s fingers; it has to be planned.

To make that vision a reality we need to get on with long-term planning for Western Sydney, an area where the Australian government in the past has chosen to be absent from the field. That is not our approach. In areas like Penrith and Liverpool, there are other critical decisions in planning for their future infrastructure needs. There is also an opportunity to support growth outside the Sydney CBD, in other urban centres like Parramatta, Blacktown, Penrith, Campbelltown, Liverpool and Bankstown. Western Sydney will need new infrastructure investment, better transport links, hubs of innovation—such as our investment already in Macquarie University and the University of Western Sydney—and better health infrastructure, of the type we are now putting into Nepean Hospital and elsewhere.

The point is this: with sound planning and greater public and private investment in infrastructure, we can make an area like Western Sydney a better place to live in the future, a better place to work in the future and, critically, a greater contributor to this nation’s long-term productivity growth. So the government’s strategy is clear. We cannot just wash our hands of the national planning needs of our largest cities—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr RUDD —I hear the interjection from those opposite that we have washed our hands for two years! We have washed our hands for two years. What did they do for 12 years? Can we hear those clear statements of policy on our cities’ infrastructure from those opposite for 12 years? What were they? I cannot recall a huge list. What I do remember is the former Treasurer standing in this place and saying: ‘When it comes to urban water, don’t look at us; that’s a responsibility of the states. When you look at infrastructure in general, don’t look at us; that’s a responsibility of the states. Future needs of the hospitals? Don’t look at us; look at the states.’

The people of Australia expect us to rise to this challenge and partner with the states and territories to get on with the business of building the best cities for the future. The nation needs a productivity revolution to build the big Australia we all need and want for tomorrow.