Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities
Australian government's role in the development of cities

BOYD, Dr Steven, Member, Sunshine Coast Chamber Alliance; and President, Noosa Chamber of Commerce and Industry

LATCHFORD, Mr Simon, Chief Executive Officer, Visit Sunshine Coast

WILLIAMS, Mr Brad, Member, Sunshine Coast Business Council

ZUBRINICH, Ms Sandra, Chair, Sunshine Coast Business Council

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of the Sunshine Coast Chamber Alliance, the Sunshine Coast Business Council, Visit Sunshine Coast and the Maroochydore Chamber of Commerce to give evidence today. Do any of you have anything to say about the capacity in which you appear before the committee?

Dr Boyd : I'm appearing as a member of the Sunshine Coast Chamber Alliance.

CHAIR: Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege.

I now invite you to make an opening statement before we proceed to discussion. Would you each like to make an opening statement? Very good. Ladies first.

Ms Zubrinich : Wonderful!

CHAIR: No, sorry, that's sexist; you'll have to go last!

Ms Zubrinich : I'm very happy to go first. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear today at the public hearing on the development of cities. The Sunshine Coast Business Council has been working for the regional economy and business now since 2004. We are an independent regional economic and business advocacy group funded by our members and the events that we hold. Our boards are volunteers drawn from our business members, who are largely industry groups and the larger national and regional businesses, including important government institutions such as the university and TAFE. We advocate on issues not just to do with the regional economy but around growth, with a focus on jobs, investment and infrastructure—critically, transport infrastructure—and of course all of that touches on the growth of the Sunshine Coast, which is now recognised as Australia's ninth largest city.

The business council are known for our thought leadership. We run annual think tank sessions that look at things to do with developing the region, developing the region as a regional city and the challenges around that. We also run now what we call a combined government and business forum. That brings together probably usually around 95 per cent of the politicians and councillors in the area, with about 25 leading people from business. There we will discuss some of the issues that are facing the region, both good and bad, some of the opportunities and some of the challenges, and how we have to be out there competing as a region to grow.

I'm here today with Brad Williams, who's the regional manager of one of our leading planning organisations, RPS. I'd just like to hand over to him to add.

Mr Williams : Thanks, Sandy. As you might anticipate, the nature of the Sunshine Coast Business Council is such that our contribution to this inquiry primarily addresses the second part of the terms of reference for the inquiry. As a long-term development consultant based on the Sunshine Coast, I've been at the forefront of some of the larger master-planned communities up here in the last 10 years, developments such as the Aura development, south of Caloundra, and the Oceanside commercial and residential development around the regional hospital. I've also been involved in significant infill developments within not just the Sunshine Coast but South-East Queensland existing towns, cities and otherwise urbanised areas.

The Sunshine Coast Business Council believes that the following aspirations are the basis of promoting master planning of our Sunshine Coast communities and incentivising private investment in our regional centres and associated regional infrastructure. These are the incubation and development of a diverse and therefore resilient local economy that is capable of evolving and responding to changes in consumer trends, technology and lifestyle. In addition to this are improved communication, technology and infrastructure; dramatically improved public transport infrastructure connecting to Brisbane and within the Sunshine Coast, not just the linear coastal strip of the Sunshine Coast but incorporating all elements of the Sunshine Coast; housing diversity and choice centred around employment generators and key services; and an enhanced and protected national environment.

The above aspirations are considered by the Sunshine Coast Business Council to be key to developing sustainable community lifestyles, which are enabled by stimulating innovation in local and regional economic development; early delivery of community infrastructure, including open space; facilitating greater community collaboration and information and resource sharing; enhancing accessibility to affordable living through building design, land-use efficiencies and building product innovation; and, lastly but not least, lowering reliance on private motor vehicle usage.

At present on the Sunshine Coast, master-plan community development and urban infill development are directed by either the local authority's planning scheme or the state government regional plan, each made relevant by the state's planning act or alternative state legislation such as the Economic Development Act. Other than the funding of key regional infrastructure such as rail and roads, it is difficult for us to recognise the federal government's direct influence on newly-developing master-plan communities and regeneration of urban areas. To the purpose of the federal government becoming more directly relevant to the promotion and growth of new and re-emerging communities within regions such as the Sunshine Coast, the Sunshine Coast Business Council fully supports innovative Commonwealth government programs such as the Smart Cities Plan and subsequently identified opportunities for City Deals. These, we believe, would enable the Commonwealth to direct national targets for sustainable city development and provide direct influence on state and local government planning and development legislation through both legislative intervention and incentivising Commonwealth funding.

Dr Boyd : Thank you for this opportunity. I'm here as a member of the Sunshine Coast Chamber Alliance and the president of the Noosa chamber of commerce and industry. The Sunshine Coast Chamber Alliance is an alliance of Sunshine Coast based chambers of commerce. We work closely with Ms Zubrinich and the other business entities up here on the coast. Our focus in the past has been innovation and the development of the Sunshine Coast as an innovation capital. Particular mechanisms we've used relate to connection, having a voice, events, mentoring and business awards. The Noosa Chamber of Commerce is the peak business group for the Noosa region. It's strategy is focused around establishment of an environment for Noosa business to prosper. That is done in many ways, including independent advocacy, engagement, facilitation and partnership, mentoring programs and new skills development programs. We also initiate individual projects, and I'll share a little more on that in a moment. The chamber of commerce has contributed to public debate on the Noosa Plan and the transport strategy. We've put forward suggestions for an integrated transport system and have encouraged Noosa council and the Queensland government to consider the role the Noosa River may play in connecting our communities and enabling business development.

This advocacy role is where, I guess, our role relates to the intent of this inquiry. At the core—speaking here specifically of the Noosa Chamber of Commerce—we've encouraged the development of walkable urban environments. We work towards discouraging driveable suburban development, and that has been a core direction in our submissions. This advocacy has progressed to the promotion of a public electric linear ferry service funded in part through a form of value capture. The concept has been shared with all levels of government. The funding model has been shared with the academic community as part of a refereed presentation at the Pacific Rim Real Estate Society conference in Auckland back in January 2018. In this particular project, I do have a level of conflict of interest, so I'll probably leave my statement there and welcome any questions or queries you might have.

Mr Latchford : Thank you for the opportunity for tourism to have a representation here. Very similarly to a lot of other Queensland destinations, tourism is a very large component of employment and all industry, valued at well north of $2 billion. We're one of the largest employers and we have been for a very long time. So tourism continues to play a very large role in the overall blend.

I guess we're going through major change as well in many ways. To touch on some of the key things, technology is something that we probably don't talk about as much as we'd like to. If technology affects us in our own lives, we like the expression 'to turn the telescope around' and to think, 'If it affects us and we all complain about the mobile phones and the speed and our ability to compete, it affects regions just as much as it does metro.' More and more, you're seeing regions like the Sunshine Coast being able to compete. Take business events, for example. We are consistently winning events away from the capital cities. Why? Because people—the consumer, the buyer, the businessperson, the community—are looking for authentic experiences. They could be in a traditional convention centre. What's the difference between Boston and Melbourne? Probably not much once you get inside. When you get here it is very, very different. We're seeing a great uptake in that, and regional Australia—let alone regional Queensland and let alone the Sunshine Coast—is really able to play at that level now, and that's exciting. With technology, in a nutshell, there is the submarine internet cable—if we could have that yesterday that would be fantastic. With the fast rail project, I was just going to trick you two and leave that till second! It definitely made my day and I'm sure it will excite everybody on the Sunshine Coast and beyond—anybody with an imagination could only be nothing short of excited. Thank you for that extraordinary piece of fabulous news, and thank you to you two in particular. I can't look at two people at once, but I, of all people, can respect taking a risk, having a vision, sticking your neck out and delivering an outcome. Well done to you. You are to be congratulated—it is fabulous news.

There is internal transport, too. We have to also remember internal transport. We are doing so many projects—the Sunshine Coast Airport, for example. Again, you people have played a role in supporting that, and for that we are incredibly grateful—so there are two thanks to you guys. But we have to look ahead and over the hill and think, 'It's one thing building it; it's another thing building capacity for it.' But it's also about how we are going to interconnect all these goodies. We end up with this fabulous fast train and we end up with this fabulous and significantly improved domestic airport and international airport. That's great, but how are we going to interconnect and allow people to move through and flow through the community without causing total chaos on the roads? We need to use the opportunity that we are so lucky to have on the Sunshine Coast where, for all sorts of reasons—amalgamations, de-amalgamations—it's taken us a while to evolve to the point where we are now. We are right on the edge of something really exciting. You can smell it and you can see it. One of the fabulous opportunities I see is that we haven't wrecked the place yet. So we have this wonderful opportunity to have a group of great people—governments and all sorts of things. Our planets are aligning. Its a great opportunity to progress forward in so many different ways—sustainable development, not just development for development's sake. Do we want 50 million people here a day spending 5c, or do we want 5,000 people here a day as visitors spending $2,000 a day? I know what I would vote for.

We have that opportunity here in internal transport to develop the ability for people to be able to move around the roads freely and maintain what gives us our competitive advantage, which is that we are the Sunshine Coast. We are a very, very different collection of experiences, and the world is loving it, but we need to make sure that we don't destroy what we love.

Bruce Highway is a personal favourite. Again, you guys are doing a great job. There's been some tremendous stuff happening. We are seeing it happen. The rate that it is growing is almost Chinese. For those of you who have been lucky enough, like I have, to spend a little bit of time working in China, the Chinese are extraordinary at building pretty much anything and building it in no time at all. You come back to Australia and, historically, we are not necessarily that good at being quick. We're good, but we not necessarily that fast at building infrastructure for, probably, some really good reasons. But it's been great to see the progress, especially the decision made. It's not just talk. You walked, and we are seeing it. We are not only seeing it; it's happening at about warp speed six. I want to focus on the positives. My only comment would be: can we just keep growing that vision, and could it be all of that Bruce Highway—with time. I respect that it's extraordinarily expensive and that you have a cake to spread over a lot of different mouths, but, please, with the Bruce Highway it is absolutely imperative that we continue the good works that are happening now and continue to grow and develop that vision out to one day, hopefully, having a seamless outcome to that.

We have quickly touched on the Sunshine Coast Airport. Again, government has been extraordinarily supportive of that, as has private enterprise. Again, we sit here today and I am trying to keep the grin off my face, but we were talking outside this morning, just five minutes ago, about how I'd love to get all the letters that were written to all sorts of people saying what couldn't be done and what was impossible. I reflected on that in Gympie the other day, when we were talking about the steam train—the reconstruction of the Mary Valley Rattler. I used 1969 as a date—but it was probably before that in 1967 or 1968—when somebody, a very well-known US President, decided that we, as mankind, were going to put man on the moon. I'm sure there were a few letters to the editor written on that day, too, suggesting we had lost our collective minds and that was never, ever going to happen. Humans surprised us all then, and there's another example today. We did it again. You did it again, and the Sunshine Coast Airport is another graphic example. It took a lot of courage and a lot of vision. It didn't just happen by magic, so thank you very much for that. We just need to be mindful that we need to keep that going down the path that it's going down, and we need to be mindful of how everything fits. It's not just about a new airport, it's not just about the Bruce Highway and it's not just about internal transport, fast rail and the technology. It's also about the infrastructure that goes with that. And I repeat that I'm very, very mindful that appropriate infrastructure is critical. We need to make it easier for people and particularly the private sector now to come on board with all the good works that governments have been doing and to be comfortable investing, and we need to make it as easy as we possibly can to invest in this region and develop in this region without destroying it. I'm very mindful that it's a delicate balance. It's easy to say and hard to do. Thank you for the opportunity.

CHAIR: Thank you, each of you.

Mr TED O'BRIEN: Thank you very much to the presenters. Mr Williams, maybe I'll start with you, in light of your background. We were hearing earlier today about some of the frustrations of cost and time that go into planning and planning approvals. We also discussed the disincentive that prolonged planning processes and uncertainty can have on investment. Do you want to share some of your views based on your experience?

Mr Williams : Some of those delays we talk about are a result of unnecessary process. I think being able to have a consistent approach to the statutory process across a much broader sphere than just our region and, certainly, our local authority would be beneficial. To the credit of the Sunshine Coast and Noosa councils, it's not necessarily the case that it's the council that's slowing things down, but there are a number of referrals to state government and, often, to federal government, depending on the complexity of the project, that are time-consuming and very process driven. That's where most projects will slow down dramatically and where opportunities, I think, are lost for economic investment as the need arises. I think the opportunity lies in having a federally guided process by which we can streamline those processes and in recognising that they can be trimmed back to the bare necessity of process while still getting the outcome that has the necessary rigour applied to it.

Mr TED O'BRIEN: So the lever you see that the federal government could pull is one of trying to harmonise a more streamlined process? Do you see a specific role for the federal government?

Mr Williams : That's one element, but I think the other element is that we're seeing these federal programs such as Smart Cities, as I mentioned, and City Deals whereby a model that can be a proven success nationwide can be applied with greater confidence within regions such as the Sunshine Coast. The opportunities that can be realised without going through a more elaborate process than is necessary are a massive opportunity, and I think that's where the federal government can take leadership and show how things can be done in that regard.

Mr WALLACE: My question is also to you, Mr Williams. You said before that there are some instances when the federal government gets involved and that grinds things down to a halt. Apart from, say, something like the EPBC Act—

Mr Williams : Which is what I had in mind.

Mr WALLACE: And I would be in furious agreement with you—what other interventions are made by the federal government generally, in your experience, that slow things down in relation to development?

Mr Williams : To be honest, I really had the EPBC in mind when I made that comment and that was to the purpose of making an example of a very elaborate process. I can understand—and I think most of us do understand—the complexities involved and why that process is fairly elaborate, but, in my experience, that is probably the one example that stands out in my mind of a federal process that directly influences project viability and timeliness.

Mr WALLACE: Is there a doubling-up of bureaucracy—even tripling—by local government, state government and federal government in relation to environmental matters?

Mr Williams : Yes, I believe so. Although, in saying that, I also recognise that there may be a greater level of expertise at the federal level and probably greater nationwide—and perhaps global—experience in how that legislation's administered and interpreted. However, I'm a big advocate of the local experience and knowledge that goes into particular environmental concerns. Whilst I recognise the EPBC Act does make it of national significance, the local context in which it should be considered, I think, is paramount.

Mr WALLACE: Your glaring omission there was in relation to state—do you not see a role for state in environmental assessments for development?

Mr Williams : I probably don't, no. I see it as the two tiers at the federal level, which, hopefully would rely more on local experience and knowledge and therefore perhaps enable a quicker and more streamlined process to occur without the state being involved.

Mr WALLACE: So, a quicker and streamlined process doesn't generally get used in the same sentence as federal, or Commonwealth, government. Do you see a potential role for a chief federal government planner or office of the chief planner—call it what you like—who has the ability to steer or masterplan our country?

Mr Williams : I do, and I think that that role would rely very much on local expertise and experience within a region within a local authority while still being able to adjudicate on issues of national importance.

Mr WALLACE: What involvement do you see in relation to the terms of reference for the decentralisation of government departments?

Mr Williams : I think the opportunity for decentralisation is, as I alluded to earlier, a greater reliance on local knowledge and local officers who have experience and on-the-ground expertise.

Mr WALLACE: I guess I was referring more to decentralisation of a government department—as in being sent from Canberra to the regions, rather than Canberra being the epicentre of all wisdom.

Mr Williams : I understand that. What I was envisaging was more that some of those people who might otherwise work for the federal government might find themselves working for a local authority whereby it would be far more location specific than a national body.

Mr WALLACE: Thank you.

Ms BIRD: Thank you very much for your presentations. Several of you made the comment that—and it was raised with us this morning—one of the drivers of tourism and people wanting to live here and so forth is the marvellous environment in which you live. I think a number of you made the comment that planning needs to consider movement of people and the pressures with that while not killing the goose that laid the golden egg. I come from Wollongong, so we have much the same dilemma: people relocating because of lifestyle. Part of the discussion gets consumed by transport infrastructure—the big player in the room—but an important part of cities is their sustainability and liveability. If there are particular things that you think federal governments could be more involved in or do better—and we have heard on many occasions today about the undersea cable and the opportunities there, which is a great example of thinking outside the square.

If there are other areas that you want to alert us to, I want to give you an opportunity. Just to give you an idea, when we were in Western Sydney they were talking about the fact that cultural activity—performing arts spaces and those sorts of things—often becomes financially beyond a local government. But there are no programs really, and the federal government's not in that space, whether they should be or not. That was an opportunity to have a conversation about that. This is our chance to pick your brains as we develop this report about what you think could constructively help in that area.

Ms Zubrinich : Sometimes in these roles we find ourselves talking on behalf of our organisations instead of ourselves. Maybe this is one of those times for me. At a board meeting today we were talking about population. We have board members who consistently challenge the need for a population of 500,000 by a particular period of time. If you add to that the complexity of migration and immigration, I think that is something that the federal government could be leading on more and therefore help that trickle-down effect.

Ms BIRD: Managing population settlement—

Ms Zubrinich : Yes, and talking about, in a way that's visionary, what the plans for the population are. Is there a cap on population at all in 10 years time? What is the ideal? I can remember when I was at university being told by a demographer that 24 million was the ideal population. That was it. So clearly things have changed. If we look at it at a regional level, it almost seems as though a population is bestowed, and it feels like a trickle-down effect from federal to state, and then we're told at a regional level what we're planning for. Whether that's the case or not, that's how it feels. Certainly I know that there's a lot of discussion within the region about the population targets. So, I think a little bit of clarity around population as we go forward, and how we're expecting our regions to handle that population growth—I personally don't have that problem, because I can see that there's a lot of clarity coming around the cities: what constitutes a great city, what constitutes a great region and the sort of infrastructure we need. But culture, the population and all sorts of softer arguments do tend to get a bit lost.

Ms BIRD: Certainly, particularly in Victoria, a number of key people working in densification and so forth made exactly that point to us, which is why we're thinking of the role of chief planner as being not only a regulatory planner but also a thought leader—to actually have somebody leading a national conversation about different settlement patterns, what makes a great city and how governments contribute to that.

Ms Zubrinich : We're about to have a second think tank, and it's almost as though we can't get off the topic. That really is looking at the population and what that means in terms of the type of housing, the density and the community housing—all of those sorts of issues. Yet sometimes I get a feeling that we don't really have enough clarity around very important decisions to come to rest with some of that.

Ms BIRD: Yes, because it's not just the size of the population; it's also the demographic make-up of the population and how that's changing.

Ms Zubrinich : It is, exactly—and the affordability and all of those sorts of issues.

Ms BIRD: Yes. Does anybody else want to put something on the table while you've got the opportunity?

Dr Boyd : On the transport side of things, it seems that we pigeonhole. We talk transport and we make the connection to buses and other traditional forms of transport, which really caps our opportunity of looking at it in a better way. We can see transport and the way that we move in between areas as an opportunity—as part of experiencing that region. All too often we get consumed with the idea that it's rail, a car or whatever it is. A lot of our systems appear to be in place, so they do restrict that opportunity and innovation in thinking. So, it would be wonderful if there were a more open or free-flowing process where some kind of new way was initiated, or a new way of people moving around could be supported in an easier manner.

There's no real easy answer to it except for looking into some of our public transport routes. If we can start to look into more creative ways of moving people around, and if we can use similar systems and things that we've got in practice to overlay into that space, it would be wonderful. At a recent transport forum that we had up at Noosa it was brought up that our particular state level of funding for TransLink fees had some sort of connection back to rubber on the road. And it's just frightful today to think that there might be particular things, whether it's taxation through the ATO or other things, that are encouraging people to continue down a traditional, less-engaging form of transport when we can look at other options.

Ms BIRD: It's hopefully reassuring that what you're saying is certainly what we've heard in other places. Somebody raised with us that the way we assess infrastructure is as a standalone project. We don't really say, 'Well, okay, here's the case for this particular rail line, but what are the alternatives?' If we improve telecommunications into that place, would they require less travel—actually understanding the nature of that travel and how you deal with it. And the other example was in the city of Sydney, where they're grappling with all this disaggregated freight that people expect to be delivered to their front door, because they're all shopping online. So, the old model of everything coming to one major centre and then the retailers accessing it from there means that there are a whole lot of little vans looking for parking in Sydney streets for 10 or 15 minutes to deliver something, and it's creating major problems. We’ve had lots of people thinking outside the square and raising it with us and actually looking at how people are living and what they're doing in that planning process.

Mr TED O'BRIEN: If I could just follow up on that: Dr Boyd, you were talking about the discussion in Noosa. Can you give us some examples of some of those innovative options?

Dr Boyd : The Noosa forum I was talking about was one conducted by RDA—Regional Development Australia. It was a wonderful opportunity specifically focused around businesses and looking into the role of public transport and other options. The presenters explored different options, including those in the greater area of Sydney, where Optus looked to move their headquarters from within a closer area of the city to another and how they tried to retain the idea of people using walking and other facilities to retain that access. It was focused around different ways things could be managed. So, there were many different technologies, many different interventions incorporated to see how they can take away the idea of people travelling by road to that space. It wasn't all a success story, but there were a couple of ideas that we certainly need to look at and some case studies across there that we need to encourage our local, state and federal side of things to look into.

With a specific personal interest—and I don't know whether you'd like me to extend into that with the ferry option—with regard to the ferry option we had particular practices in place to encourage a public transport route along the Noosa River system. That has the potential to take people off the road. And if it's delivered in the right manner it could be an example of a modal shift, a reason people don't drive from Tewantin to Hastings Street. If it was priced in the right manner and if it provided that experience of, rather than just being in a car, what the Noosa River's like, it could be one of those catalytic modal-shift changes. We've seen examples in Brisbane of that, with the introduction of the CityCats. We saw a substantial change in areas around Bulimba and Hawthorne, where, along with people changing their mode of transport, there was also a substantial uplift in land value. That's all been researched and documented. It's just something where I guess we haven't taken the learnings from those and applied them in how we look at future provisions of transport.

What I mean is that the land capture and value capture are often discussed. With an academic hat on, it's often confused. We have a really confused public as to what this idea and concept is, when at its core it's incredibly simple, and one might even argue that we already do it. Through the state system, we do have land tax. Land tax is affected by site value. Site value is impacted by the introduction of the right kind of infrastructure. So, we already have a system that claws back an element of that infrastructure spend, but we don't seem to report it, share it or otherwise—whether it's something we're scared of in the conversation about affordability or whether it's something that has other tangents attached to it. It seems like an obvious connection and consideration for funding projects, but we don't seem to have that public debate about how land tax is recouped, and I guess in that position how the entity or the government that recoups that land tax should be ultimately responsible for some of the benefit, too.

CHAIR: Good points. Dr Boyd, you're talking my language!

Mr TED O'BRIEN: We knew that Chair would get excited—value capture!

CHAIR: Yes—in particular when you talked about the uplift of the value of land around a ferry wharf, because of some work we did in Victoria some time ago. Often, as you said, it's the lack of understanding of what value capture is. We hear time and again that value capture can never fund an infrastructure project. That's written somewhere and it's been repeated a thousand times, and it's so totally incorrect. The example with the ferry wharf in Victoria was that the government actually owned the land and then there was surrounding land that you could capture if you had a value-capture mechanism in place. Obviously, the uplift was going to more than fund the cost of the building of the wharf. So that was a blatant example of that and of those opportunities that exist around rail stations.

We heard evidence given by Tim Williams, who was instrumental in the cross-city rail value-capture model, which is largely applauded. His opening comment was that he had stuffed up royally by not capturing the uplift of the value of the land that was created by this infrastructure in London. And then there was what happened at Castle Hill and Rouse Hill in Sydney, where property owners were able to sell their properties for 20, 30 or 40 times the value and not pay one penny towards the infrastructure cost that gave the uplift. That should be a thing of the past.

So I think there is a great opportunity, and I think that's where—and I'd be interested to hear if you agree—the federal government can assist with the alignment of the three levels of government if they put in place a federal value-capture model on the basis that the local councils contribute to the land plan and state governments are prevailed upon to develop the infrastructure plan. It has to be long-term and it has to be related, and the federal government releases the value-capture models to fund. Therefore you would have the federal government really playing the overseeing role without too much prescription, leaving local councils to determine their fate. But, literally, they're collecting the money and quarantining and hypothecating it towards the purposes of that region. Does that make sense to you?

Dr Boyd : It does make sense for many projects. For some projects I think it's even simpler. For some projects out there we can see very clear uplift for smaller outlays. It might be a project that has a sustainable tilt that creates a great experience and that's situated in a small environment that has an incredibly high underlying land value, such as Noosa, for example. The threshold there between paying land tax and not paying land tax is pretty shallow, meaning that if there is a small increase in underlying land value then quite a few people under the existing state system will move into a bracket of paying land tax. In addition to that, those already paying land tax will escalate up that system quite quickly.

There are pockets around Australia, depending on the state based system of capture, where you can actually see a great return for a relatively small investment. No areas are made equal; it will be dependent on the project and the particular region. But there are already some systems in place that you could actually model. That was one of the exercises out of this research—to provide a great return.

Having an Australia-wide model could definitely make sense, but it would need to consider the current value recapture take—whether that's from local government or state government—and also the underlying characteristics of that area, because it might be a very simple exercise and it might already be done for us.

CHAIR: Yes. Evidence that's been given time and time again is that we should be moving away from stamp duty and towards a land tax because that's such a good partner. While there are cases where you'll create huge capital uplift through infrastructure and zoning changes, the ongoing benefit should also be captured. So anyone who has an unearned benefit should contribute that unearned benefit. It's the federal government receiving this capital gains tax—or cousin of it—that should be contributing to the cost of the infrastructure. If it's a state government receiving a land tax, or even a council receiving more rates, that should be contributed to so that we're all in alignment.

Just while it occurs to me; would you be able to provide that paper you mentioned to us? That would be good.

Mr WALLACE: Mr Williams, we've heard a fair bit about the cost of infrastructure today. How would you describe the cost of infrastructure in relation to development on the Sunshine Coast compared to other areas in South-East Queensland?

Mr Williams : I'd like to link it back to the discussion on value capture. Whilst I understand the principles of value capture and endorse it, I fear how that may impact affordability over time and the enabling of some communities—for example, Noosa—in having that diversity of demographics and economic diversity. In answer to your question directly, I feel that infrastructure costs, particularly when we're starting from a low base, do impact on housing affordability and the ability of new developments to deliver an affordable product to the market. Notwithstanding caps on infrastructure charges regimes and the like, it does provide a limitation. If the cost of infrastructure delivery is too high, it's probably because it's out of sequence with a good developments scenario for a regional centre—it's too far removed from the existing services and areas that enable development to occur.

Very careful consideration has to be given to infrastructure delivery priorities. If you have to build a rail line from somewhere that’s a satellite city to a major centre it would not, I expect, be financially feasible and there would be a good reason for that. The prioritising of infrastructure and the costs related to it is a key driver as to the prioritising of areas for development. Not neglecting issues such as the natural environment that may have an impact on a green developing areas, the sequencing of infrastructure provision is a very large component to the affordability of that development over time.

Mr WALLACE: That doesn't quite answer my question. Perhaps I didn't phrase it very well. What I'm after is comparatively speaking with other areas. You operate in areas other than just the Sunshine Coast.

Mr Williams : Yes.

Mr WALLACE: How do the infrastructure costs for headworks et cetera that developers have to pay on the Sunshine Coast—which ultimately means that the punter has to pay when they buy a block—compare with other areas?

Mr Williams : Quite well, in that respect. As I said in my opening address, I've been involved with some master plan areas that are very well located to existing centres. That goes back to what I was trying to say earlier. When you have a master plan community around a regional hospital and very close to a major centre—or two major centres, such as Caloundra and Maroochydore—the essential services are there in a very good capacity that enables further development to occur. So that cost isn't transferred to the purchaser of a new land development or site and they have the benefit of being in close proximity to major services, such as a regional hospital—albeit nearly developing. So, in that respect, I think it compares quite well.

CHAIR: Just a minute ago you said something about affordability being a concern if there was a value capture model in place. The work that we've done to this point has been around trying to make things more affordable. We just had a developer from Stockland give evidence and heard that there was basically 10 years in getting planning approvals and jumping through hoops and a further 10 years of development. The idea that we've been working on is that, if there was master planning of infrastructure and if that infrastructure was attached to a land use plan, the developer could buy the land with absolute certainty of the infrastructure—when it was going to be put in and what the zoning was—and certainty of rapid planning approval. So their risk and cost of holding would be greatly reduced. They would pay for that land in line with—hopefully, there would be quite a significant saving and, therefore, lower costs. We find, all the time, with developers—right where our office is in Sydney—who have bought up land over a 25-year period, when it gets closer to the infrastructure coming onsite the hold outs and mammoth prices they pay for the last few, and the risk, the holding cost, the uncertainty, add enormously to the end cost.

We're working with this idea of whether there's a way the federal government can assist with certainty, so there's an alignment with the three levels of government. There is the stakeholder landowner, so they are never left out or unwittingly have their property bought from a developer because they didn't know of the prospect of infrastructure and rezoning possibilities, and there is the actual development, the developer themselves, so all are better served by something that is structured.

I think what you said before, Steven, that sometimes these things are in place—they have happened. But we haven't really captured them and tried to put them into a structure of alignment of the three levels of government and have each level of government play an appropriate role. Often developers think, 'You're just trying to hit us with another tax. It's going to be worse.' No. It's really a simplification of taxing, what I think we're trying to push. Do you have any more questions?

Ms BIRD: No, it's good.

CHAIR: Steven, I think you've got more things to offer. You talked about an electric ferry, was it?

Dr Boyd : Yes. That was a specifically targeted solution for the Noosa River. It was basically an example of a different form of transport. Our particular shaping of it was that it would meet the needs of the particular stakeholders, including those affected by the river operations. The idea and the concept was not the chamber's alone. It had been put together in previous documents, with regard to the Noosa River, but the novelty of it being an electric ferry service was one which developed over time.

It was basically building on previous work that came through past federal government funding, even back to the time of the Sydney Olympics. We took a leading role in electric ferry transport, including solar operated ferries. It's been a bit of a shame of late that a lot of that intellectual property has been taken offshore and that we've seen a development now of electric ferries in Europe and, in particular, around Hong Kong that are up and running. Even in the US areas we're finding quite a few electric ferries operating now. It was an opportunity to try to reclaim some of that territory back and operate it in Noosa.

Mr TED O'BRIEN: I think Mr Latchford said it aptly: Sunshine Coast has enjoyed growth but we haven't wrecked the place. I have a more general question for any of you who wish to answer. As we look to continue to develop our cities, particularly the Sunshine Coast, what is the one thing that you think we need to do or not do to ensure we don't wreck the place, that we maintain our natural competitive advantage while growing infrastructure, population and the like? Who would like to start?

Mr Latchford : I've wrecked a place, so I've seen what growth for growth's sake is like. I won't nominate the place. People know my background. You can figure it out for yourself. If I have a regret in my personal and professional life it would be that. It would be that at the time tourism, we know, was the biggest industry. It still is in that location. We knew we had to grow. We had to develop. We had to put in hotels. We had to do all sorts of infrastructure. And we did it. We didn't have a plan, to answer your question. It was just growth for growth's sake and, almost, that was the measure.

I'll share a very silly but short example with you. It came to a head in this northern region. Main Roads came to us and said, 'We need to put traffic-calming devices in.' Remember, this is some years ago, a long time ago. The community went, 'What's a traffic-calming device?' Main Roads said, 'Traffic lights.' This northern region community had a heart attack and said, 'You are putting traffic lights into'—let's just go with it—'Airlie Beach over our dead bodies.' We had a big argument about that, I can tell you. There were protests in the street, for what it was worth, because Airlie Beach is a little population. But we felt very passionately about it. So we thought, 'Let's compromise and get roundabouts.' If you're familiar with the bottom of the hill as you turn into the marina, it is not just a simple roundabout, particularly when you're coming down the road in, say, a public bus. Long story short, we got traffic lights.

Without going into it, the big lesson that I learnt from that as just one person who was in a position to be able to was that I could have possibly, in retrospect, played more of a role, going: 'Growth is great, but, seriously, can we manage this growth? What do we want this to look like in five, 10 or 20 years time? What do we want to be handing over to our children and our children's children? What is our competitive advantage?' Sandy and I have talked to this at length: who are we? We say we don't want to be the Gold Coast—that's great. I think the mayor's been quoted, and I agree with him, as saying, 'But, what do you want to be?' We're at that point.

To answer to your question, the great news is we haven't done that yet and that we have a lot of people in the community now that have the want, need, desire and, to be blunt, experience and intellect to be able to stop—and I don't mean stop doing anything but take a breath and go, 'We can keep moving forward positively. Let's establish and agree who we are. Let's establish and agree what our key competitive points of difference are.' I can tell you what they are, if you're interested, but there isn't enough time. All you need to know, and anybody who lives here knows—that's why we live here—is we can have our cake and eat it too. I believe we can have intelligent growth, we can move forward very progressively and we can be a leader in the regional space in Australia. We certainly have a council with the courage, desire, vision and sheer grunt to do that, and we're lucky enough to have people like you two here today, just as an example, able to deliver those sorts of things.

Mr WALLACE: Don't cut him short, Chair.

CHAIR: No, I know. He said something complimentary. I do want to—

Mr Latchford : It's about getting together and coming up with a cohesive plan. It's a plan; we need a cohesive plan.

CHAIR: Planning is very important, and that's what we haven't done in this country. There's never been a plan of settlement.

Mr Latchford : No.

CHAIR: What this inquiry is about is to look at the imbalance of settlement that has happened because there has been no plan, and how we strategically decentralise to create a better plan. When you're talking about immigration, that obviously should be tuned finely to our capacity to provide housing and jobs, and you can only do that if you've got a better plan.

Interestingly, when we were in Newcastle and talking about high-speed rail—genuine high-speed rail between Newcastle and Sydney, linking Gosford and that region as well—initially 90 per cent of the traffic would be people commuting and going to Sydney. The idea that developed over the day of the hearing was that, as these places grew to critical mass and companies were formed and located there, because of the competitive advantages of it being much cheaper to live in—with housing a quarter of the price of Sydney but only 30 minutes from the CBD—there would be more two-way traffic. It was even explored that, in time, Newcastle could become a bigger city than Sydney because it has no geographic boundaries, and the high-speed rail would, of course, go north and it would have a whole region to itself. When you're looking at high-speed rail here as a first piece of infrastructure, initially, yes, people will be going towards Brisbane, but at some point in time the critical mass from those living, working and playing here, and having access to Brisbane but not having to live there, would evolve. It would become a regional centre, and also further north. Is that something you would see as desirable in the long term?

Ms Zubrinich : I think that's where our planning has been since 2012. I would disagree with the notion that we haven't got any planning. I think that the planning for this region has strengthened quite a bit over the last three —

CHAIR: That's the best we've heard, by the way, from your council this morning.

Ms Zubrinich : I'm not going to necessarily agree it's the best, because I don't know, but it certainly has improved from what it was. We do have a lot of federal members who are on board. We've got two energised councils. The business council sees that the missing link is when we have a state government—or a federal government, sometimes—change policies. We will have planning and everything lined up and then there is a change of government and we go back to square one. None of that is very useful, and it is very expensive. It's just—

CHAIR: I will just jump in there. One of the strong recommendations has been that, when we have these bipartisan committees, our recommendations should be going straight to the agencies and that agencies should be developing the infrastructure plan and land use plan with less interference from the political cycle as such. So the opposition would be taking more of the argument to the government—'Here's the plan; why aren't you implementing it?' So the sideline politics of it—

Ms Zubrinich : One of the other things from your discussion about the creation of regional centres and how they will evolve over a period of time is that in the last two or three months I was in Brisbane at a conference and the CEO of the Grattan Institute was speaking. He was pointing out very strongly that it was going to be very hard to get people to move from the major cities. Regardless of the infrastructure problems they are experiencing, it is going to be very hard to get the population to move to centres such as Newcastle or particularly the Sunshine Coast. It's very difficult to get people moving outside major cities, so there has to be some intervention, I would think, by government to make that happen. Certainly that institute says it will not happen.

CHAIR: I would very much disagree. If that person had walked in our shoes, I don't think he'd hold the same opinion. People will be moved by an index that should be created between wages, cost of living and lifestyle. Having the choice between living in an apartment in Brisbane and living in a house here and having a five-minute commute to work, the latter would be far more desirable.

Ms Zubrinich : You would think it would be more desirable.

CHAIR: I can promise you—

Ms Zubrinich : It's no cheaper here. It costs the same as in Brisbane.

CHAIR: It's different in regard to the Newcastle region and going right through to Maitland, Lake Macquarie and Salamander Bay. There are enormous amounts of incredibly affordable housing available. There is a huge opportunity for uplift and it would still be affordable. Capturing that uplift to fund the infrastructure would be a pretty good model. Thank you for your attendance today. You've been great. As you've been asked to provide some additional information, would you please forward it to the secretariat by Friday, 11 May. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors.