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Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities
Australian government's role in the development of cities

BRAND, Ms Patricia, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Services and Resources, James Cook University

CARPENTER, Mr Alan, Director, Discovery Rise project, James Cook University

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Mr Alexander ): I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities for the inquiry into the Australian government's role in the development of cities. In accordance with the committee's resolution of Tuesday, 11 October 2016, this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website and the proof and official transcripts of proceedings will be published on the parliament's website. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I remind members of the media who may be present or listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.

I welcome representatives of James Cook University to give evidence. 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.

Ms Brand : I would like to commence by giving you some background of James Cook University and our impact here in the north, so that you understand the context within which we want to make some comments to you today. JCU is Australia's university for the tropics, established in 1970. It was established by the north, for the north. Our impact in the north is significant both in Townsville and in Cairns. What we really want to talk about today is the redevelopment of our Douglas campus, known as the Discovery Rise development project. My colleague Alan will provide some further details on that shortly.

To give you some background about James Cook University, we are ranked in the top two per cent of the world's tertiary institutions by the respected Academic Ranking of World Universities, produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. We're No. 1 in the world in marine science, we're No. 1 in Australia for environmental science, and we have many other credentials besides. The university conducts nationally significant and internationally recognised research in areas such as marine sciences, biodiversity, tropical ecology in environments, global warming, tourism, tropical medicine and public health care in underserved populations.

Since our establishment in 1970 we have expanded into a multi-campus institution, with our main campuses in the tropical cities of Cairns, Singapore and Townsville, and with smaller study centres in Mount Isa, Thursday Island and Mackay. We also have a campus in Brisbane operated by the Russo Higher Education group. We also recognise our special obligation to be relevant to our own region and have forged close linkages into the economy and social fabric of Northern Queensland. We are dedicated to ensuring that our teaching, learning and research is not only of high quality but also delivers practical benefits to the peoples and industries of the region.

We've recently released our economic impact report, updated from 2012, and I'd like to share some of the key statistics with you. Our economic impact is $827 million per annum. That's a 40 per cent growth in regional economic impact since 2012. The human capital impact of our 2016 cohort of graduates equates to $1.75 billion. We created 5,450 full-time jobs both directly and indirectly. We're a half-billion-dollar operation with an asset base of over $1.3 billion. The contribution to household income is $513 million. An additional $67 million was generated in expenditure in 2016 from students moving to North Queensland to study at JCU. We have a planned capital investment program over the next 20 years in the order of $1.9 billion. It's that particular point I'll end on and I'll hand over to my colleague Alan, who will give you greater insights into what that planned development is all about.

Mr Carpenter : I should point out that we appear here as an institutional urban development practitioner rather than as academics. We're in the practical business of being a city maker in our own right. We have to do this because universities face profound transformation going into the future, and even existential threats. The future of urban and regional campuses is problematic, we have to tell you. Unless we transform in some way, we're in difficulty.

One of our repositioning strategies is to transform our campuses from their institutional setting into a commercial and urban setting. We call the Townsville project Discovery Rise. It will be a university town in the city of Townsville—'Oxbridge in the tropics' is the shorthand that we use—where the university barrier is dissolved and we're actually in the community. We're fortunate to have 400 hectares and an adjacent tertiary hospital. It is within our grasp to create a tropical health and knowledge community of international renown. We know from national and international benchmarking that these precincts can become powerful economic engines for growth in their own right. This concept has found voice in the Townsville City Deal. In developing the plan, we have benchmarked and visited exemplar university developments in Australia and internationally. We are very clear about what is possible and what we are doing.

We think we can be an agent of change towards a more sustainable tropical urbanism, but there are difficulties. It's a sad fact that urban development in Townsville is still largely broadacre and indistinguishable from that, say, of Adelaide. Tropical urbanism, as we know, is much talked about, but not much is done in practice. I can tell you also that there's deep unhappiness in the local design development community. Despite initiatives over a decade and a half to turn around the sustainable practices—initiatives such as the centre for eastern tropical design—we collectively have failed to shift our development practices to a more sustainable future. There is an ingrained 'do loop' of established practice, which has been hard to break down.

We believe there's a role for the federal government in leading change. I have to say, we were initially excited by the emergence of the city deal concept but then disappointed in its execution. Whilst pleased with the inclusion of our health and knowledge precinct, the deal is essentially a restatement of old ideas and old initiatives, with a stadium bolted on for good measure. From our vantage point, it appears that the federal involvement has been terrific in setting this thing up. But I think there's a role for the federal government in prosecuting the thing to its conclusion, and you haven't been that visible in that sphere. We had hoped that there might be a high-level consideration of the urban economics of Townsville, its productive precincts, its social ecology and the new economy. I make that point because, again, the city deal seems to be around things we already know rather than things we could be, and I think there is a role there.

We are going to give you an example of the difficulties in shifting from old to new. We have in Townsville, on our campus, Australia's largest distributed cooling system. This is a system where you have very large industrial chillers, which make cold water overnight when energy is cheap and abundant. That chilled water is then reticulated around campus buildings during the day and converted into cold air. It is a fantastic thing, which effectively moves energy from night to day. In 2016 we initiated a plan to expand this into a global best practice distributed infrastructure facility, inclusive of wastewater treatment, water recycling, a microgrid, energy generation through gas and renewables, heat recovery for cooling and increased water and energy storage. We call that thing a distributed infrastructure facility. But fatal to the project was the water regulation and charging regime that exists. We don't want to say this is anyone's fault; it's just the circumstances that are there. They militate against, if you like, innovative things, because there is a huge investment in existing things and existing charging regimes. We can expand on that, if you want to, but there you have it. We could also talk to you about a bunch of other things, but we've kind of used up our moment. However, I will just throw back to Tricia for a moment to make a closing remark.

Ms Brand : What we wanted to present to you was the economic impact of JCU here in the north, which is significant. What we are trying to do here through the redevelopment of our Townsville campus is beneficial to not only JCU but its broader reach and impact on Townsville and the north more broadly. If JCU grows so does the north. We have developers knocking on our door, wanting to participate in these things, so we are not here looking for handouts of money or anything like that, because we are wanting to be self-sustaining on that front and working with third parties to deliver this. Where it gets really difficult, and this is where we need the three levels of government working together and why we thought City Deals was going to be a part of that solution, is that some of the things that we have had in place, policy settings and whatnot, can be quite restricted and can sink some of these projects, like the distributed infrastructure facility that Alan spoke about.

The cost of water in that project actually brought that project undone; it wasn't economically viable. So what we are thinking is that perhaps the federal government could play a role not in funding infrastructure developments of the type that we have—roads, ports and rail and things like that—but different ways of being able to release these innovative projects which speak to the future. I will just pause there.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Ms BIRD: I don't know if it'll be welcome news or not to you that the very issue you've raised has been raised with us on a number of occasions. In particular, when we were at the Darling Harbour development, some of the feedback we got there was that creating a specific development with requirements for higher level re-use, recycling and so forth enabled them to deal with some of those restrictions around regulation and existing infrastructure processes. Subsequently, we've heard from a number of people that innovation can be very problematic within our much bigger bureaucracies, which you have to deal with. It's not welcome news across the board, but I'm just saying that you're not on your own in having raised this.

One of the proposals that has been run by us on a couple of occasions is for the federal government to take a leadership role. We call it a chief planner, but they wouldn't have planning and regulatory roles; they would be coordinating innovation so that there could be a conversation at least between all levels of government about not just national but international best practice and where innovation is going. I am interested in your perspective on that, if you would see value in that, if that would help in the problems that you're talking about and if you've got any comments on how that might work or be structured.

Mr Carpenter : I'm remembering meetings with water authorities in particular. You sit there opposite each other. Effectively, you're in a trading situation: 'We'll do this, if you'll do that' sort of thing. There isn't actually anyone above that who says: 'Now, people, here's a reasonable thing. Why don't you go for that?' Instead, we have more of an 'us and them' thing. We're all friends in Townsville. We kind of get on, but, ultimately, we all have budgets to meet and targets and the rest of it. It does militate against good solutions. The frustrating thing about our infrastructure one is that we have proven that things can be done. We're not experimenting here. We're implementing something that in other parts of the world is well known, well done. In fact, Tricia, I think you've got a nice word on that, haven't you, about us leading the tropics in that territory?

Ms Brand : Absolutely. With the distributed infrastructure facility—I call it the DIF—as well as getting that up and running for our Townsville campus, it would have been on an international scale world-class. With things like this, which we use for developing the campus, it's like a living laboratory. We have our students go in and do teaching and research in those facilities as well. What we had ideas about too was, given our remit around the tropical agenda and more broadly in the tropical world, that we could perhaps put this DIF in place in Third World tropical countries that have issues with infrastructure. So it was around not only developing Townsville campus, JCU and whatnot but also more broadly taking that internationally. But we couldn't get it over the line, because of local issues. I just reiterate what Alan said: this isn't anyone's fault; it's just that this is the way it has been—

Ms BIRD: It's how the system works.

Ms Brand : Yes. To think innovatively and forwardly, we need to think differently about how we can get some of these things off the ground, because to get one off the ground then paves the way for more things. I would definitely see a role for the federal government, as you've described, to help facilitate that. I think there are some great ideas around. Other universities in Australia are doing what we're doing. We've been looking internationally at the best exemplar universities around what is being done there. As Alan said, for us to remain relevant and contemporary in a changing world of higher education, we need to do this. This is bigger than JCU. This is about the north and, indeed, Australia.

If we can bring all levels of government together to help facilitate then surely we should be able to work through that. We're working really closely with the state government. They've been very active in this space. They think what we're trying to do here is absolutely fantastic and they're trying to facilitate as well. But the City Deals process hasn't delivered what we thought it might, because it sounded like what you put to us. That's how we thought City Deals would operate.

Ms BIRD: So, potentially, you would see a role for such a leadership, whether it's a section of Infrastructure Australia or an individual person like the Chief Scientist—whatever the model—to be connected to the city deals, to be testing them and saying, 'Okay, one thing is about what you know you need and how you're going to get that, but the second thing should also be about where you want to go, the future looks like and where you can build in innovation.'

Ms Brand : And 'What are the impediments, and how might we solve them with a different approach?'.

Ms BIRD: Yes.

Ms Brand : I think there are some significant impediments there to get some of these things off the ground.

Ms BIRD: So we need innovation not only in the technology but also in the processes.

Ms Brand : That's right.

Mr Carpenter : I'm not sure if you picked up on the point that, under City Deals, it is essentially, as I said, a restatement of existing things. We need to be thinking about the new economy, the transformations that are happening all around us, rather than simply a restatement of what is.

CHAIR: I often think of that old saying, 'A prophet has no honour in his own country'—and I'd add to that: if that prophet comes from Australia! What you should have done with this innovation is ship it offshore, have them present it, and then you could've said, 'Look, you've got the latest thing from America,' and you would have had far more credibility! Is that right?

Ms Brand : It could be. I just bring you back to the fact that JCU is No. 1 in the world in marine science and various other world leading research. This is within our remit. We have the capability. We have the skills. We have the wherewithal to do it. We nearly got projects such as this up. I guess it's just having that help through the bureaucracy at various levels to get it up. Wouldn't it be a fantastic thing if we could say, 'Australia got this up'?

CHAIR: In your opening comments, Alan, you spoke about urban development. We've been far and wide. It's a reminder of how big the country is. One day we went from Hobart to Perth. Yet we continually hear the same sad tale of lack of planning. We've had no spatial planning in this country, so we've got a huge imbalance of settlement. Our urban developments have had very little planning. Time and again, and already here today, we've heard of the urban sprawl and broadacreage development. In fact, flying in yesterday, I thought, 'Gee, the blocks of land look really big and the houses look monstrous here.' Then you have the urban spread and then congestion follows. Where is the common intelligence? Our planning is never planning; it's really just coming up with something to fix a problem we now have because we didn't plan. I think what we are looking for is a way to implement planning and urban densification and more compact cities to prevent the sins of the past. Is that what your—

Mr Carpenter : Yes. We're certainly victims of the planning regimes that were set up postwar, essentially. We sometimes use a shorthand. We talk about two-dimensional planning. The world is: you teach things over there; you have industry over there; you have commerce over there; you have schools over there. They're very kind of simplistic two-dimensional colours on a plan, and it needs a much more sophisticated organic approach. Our planning regime is just not set up for that. Rather, the planning regimes respond to what is, which is essentially current development practice. People try their best and do their best, but it's within a constrained environment.

CHAIR: What Sharon said regarding the possibility of a chief planner—we heard from Philip Davies from Infrastructure Australia, who expressed a frustration that the development of long-term planning of infrastructure, which he sees as essential, is hopeless if you are siloed away from the land planning, and that there should be a similar agency to Infrastructure Australia, a Land Planning Australia, or that it be part of the chief planner's remit—

Mr Carpenter : The view from our perspective is precisely that. Look at the array of departmental authorities, each with their own bailiwick. They're pursuing their own aims according to the best thing that they can do. But, honestly, it's just bewildering at times. Public transport's an absolute classic. There are so many people with skin in the game that it's almost impossible to achieve a uniform outcome.

CHAIR: There's the light rail project that came from our previous inquiry. We had evidence about how many light rail projects are now afoot in Australia. Every local authority was dealing independently. We asked: could the federal government possibly play a role of collectively bargaining on behalf of all light rail so we'd have the power of collective bargaining, and, if we got to a critical mass where it's actually cheaper to build the rolling stock in Australia, could we then entertain that?

Another interesting little snippet of information is that the three light rail projects in Sydney are not compatible. As Julius Sumner Miller would have said, 'Why is it so?'

It seems that as we go far and wide every region is grappling with its designs, plans and problems, but there is no overarching design collective bringing it together. While the federal government should have a role, it shouldn't be overly prescriptive but there should be a framework and information that can be gained. When we're seeking world's best practice, it's a little bit like reinventing the wheel if you've got a group from Launceston, Hobart, Fremantle and a hundred other places going to various parts of the world. There is no collection of this intelligence, which should probably be centrally done—and then the application for regional input would be very important. If you're looking at land planning, obviously it's the local council that must be the final arbiter of that, but it's the collective of those councils that affects the master plan of land use and then demands what infrastructure is needed, and then the state government has to implement that.

We keep looking at the opportunity for value capture to be a mechanism that can align the three levels of government. If the federal government can capture the uplift of the value of land created by the zoning and the input of infrastructure, then the federal government really only needs to be satisfied that there is a master plan of land use, a master plan of infrastructure—'There's the money; it's quarantined and it's hypothecated, and you have the freedom to interpret within a certain paradigm.'

Ms Brand : I think that would go a long way in assisting to break through some of the red tape and whatnot that we experience. The other consideration to that, if I go back to the DIF project, might be around some of the current pricing mechanisms that are built in based on historical infrastructure costs. When we want to think about innovation and thinking forward, I think some of those don't lend themselves to innovating. The cost of water, for example, here in North Queensland is really quite expensive. Again, it's: how can we break out of the historical things that create that sort of pricing regime to enable innovation to get off the ground? As well as the planning, I think it's some of the mechanisms that actually drive out the outcomes for development projects.

CHAIR: It almost should be, in thinking about what you're saying, that there is a certain amount of funding and that some amount should be set aside for innovation—to experiment with a certain portion of the funding. It's almost like going to the races; you're going to bet on the favourites for a while, but you're going to have a long shot with a small amount of money that you can afford to lose. That sort of concept doesn't seem to be alive and well. We don't seem to be willing to take risks. Often, when we're asked for innovation, when you come up with an innovative idea our superiors then say, 'Where has it been done before?' We seem to have lost our pioneering spirit or our confidence, but we are a great innovating country.

Ms Brand : Yes, that's right. Maybe a mindset change to a company that the innovation agenda is not necessarily around thinking about investment in roads, rail and ports, though they're important too, but some of the other mechanisms that enable innovation to get off the ground here in Australia—still around the infrastructure agenda, but around those sorts of things that I talked about: pricing mechanisms and whatnot. The local council will be challenged by changes in—if we were to get the DIF project going, for example, then the Townsville City Council would have reduced revenue through us not paying the water rates. That creates a problem for Townsville City Council. How do we solve that problem as a city region? It's those sorts of things that are creating some challenges to getting innovation off the ground.

Ms BIRD: That has been raised with us in the energy sector. The market becomes more fragmented as people go for—the obvious example—their own homes being powered by solar and battery. There are challenges to the structural format. But, as you say, if their pricing has an inherent driver to stay the same in order to protect their own base then it means that innovation becomes very difficult.

Ms Brand : That's exactly the point.

Mr Carpenter : It really hit home last year when we had the drought in North Queensland and we basically ran out of water for irrigation. The whole idea was to process our own sewage to make water and put it on our sports fields so that they would be nice and green and look good to everyone. But, of course, if we treat our own sewage, it means we don't pay council to do it. That's a problem. They rely on those moneys, so I don't blame them.

Ms BIRD: A lot of those systems are based on a mass roll-out model. They are large investments in infrastructure, and you can understand why they're concerned that the potential for returns on that infrastructure will start to dwindle as the system becomes more atomised, with people doing their own thing. But the reality of our cities being liveable and sustainable is going to mean that we're going to have to come to grips with that.

Ms Brand : Continued investment in in-ground infrastructure like sewerage and so on is becoming cost prohibitive. Thinking differently about self-sustained communities and things like that is a solution to it. So, it is about how we can break through the historical regimes to think innovatively about how we get those sorts of things off the ground. Certainly, we are of the view that, if we can break through with one sort of demonstration, it paves the way then for more and more. You think the first one is the hardest.

Ms BIRD: Absolutely.

CHAIR: I have coined a new phrase 'structural obstruction'. That's virtually what you are saying. Because of the way that business has been conducted, even though it is now obsolete, non-productive, you've got a council wanting to hang on to it to protect their revenues, although that is stopping the progress of something that would serve the community better and enable or facilitate growth. Maybe we've got to have a way of addressing that. Usually it would be in the form of 'funding is dependent on these things not being in place'. If you say, 'We've got a value capture pool of money and you don't get that until you fix up this obstruction that you have,' it could be a condition, because it is the long-term planning issue that is frustrating.

Ms Brand : It is. That's right.

Mr Carpenter : We are really envious of Singapore. We are very active there. We have got a significant campus, as Tricia mentioned. Tricia, can you talk about Singapore in the last 50 years.

Ms Brand : As I mentioned—

CHAIR: In five minutes.

Ms Brand : I will be really quick, Senator.

CHAIR: No; take your time.

Ms Brand : We have got a significant campus in Singapore. We deliver Australian education, and we do research and the whole bit. We are one of the few Australian universities operating in Singapore that is recognised by the Singapore government as delivering a standard of a Singaporean university. Other universities are not recognised in the way that we are. We are over there a lot. Singapore had its 50th birthday a couple of years ago. If you look at the pictures of Singapore of 50 years ago, it was just a small dirt island. If you then look at Singapore now, 50 years later, you think: 'Wow! With no resources or anything, how did you get from that to that in 50 years?' It's just remarkable. Because we are there visiting a lot and doing work, we bring these ideas back from Singapore and say, 'How can we do this in Australia?' It's really quite an exemplar country to look at how they have innovated. Because they are a country-city arrangement, the equivalent of the federal government, the driving change agenda is from that level as opposed to what we have in Australia, where we've maybe got three levels of government sometimes working against parts of each other.

CHAIR: That's optimistic. We're always working against you! The one thing that keeps coming out of the cities deal is that there is an alignment between the three levels of government, and that is what we have recommended to us all the time. Let's look at funding: where you've got an opportunity to value capture, whether you are looking at our urban areas and the retrofitting of infrastructure or the zoning and densification of the land, the land goes up in value. If you are going to have strategic decentralisation and high-speed rail bringing people from what was a two-hour drive to 15 minutes or something from the city, you uplift the land enormously. When you spend your infrastructure dollars and create that uplift, it is silly not to capitalise on that. Those opportunities are alive and well. It is better in some places than others, but it should be part of the revenue mix, because it is so equitable and fair. Tim Williams gave evidence to that effect. He had been involved in the value capture funding of the cross city rail project and was more recently involved—

Mr Carpenter : We believe there is a fantastic opportunity for Townsville in that space, with the way the city is arranged, with our own employment hub, the hospital, the CBD and the rest of it, but it doesn't actually connect up terribly well. With a city-making, enabling, value uplifting project such as you describe, it could be done. I will just deviate slightly—I know time is short. In Townsville, there is an anxiety about the CBD, like there is in a lot of places. It is hollowing out and people are saying, 'What do we do about this?' There have been many, many interventions: 'We'll put some capital there, and we'll put some capital here and somewhere else.' It still hasn't done it. The kinds of projects you're talking about say that maybe the problem is not with the CBD itself but with how it connects to the city. That might the problem.

CHAIR: Holistic planning—

Mr Carpenter : Yes.

Ms Brand : Absolutely.

CHAIR: It is the master planning of the infrastructure, the land use around it and the planning for a long way down the track. When we went to Newcastle, one of the discussions centred around the opportunity of Newcastle being a bigger urban area than Sydney, which, for me, is obvious in time, because there are no physical boundaries. With the opportunity of high-speed rail connectivity, the traffic would go one way to begin with, but would equal out over a period of time. You've got to be looking 50 years or further down the track. If you were to look at this region of Townsville, Mackay and Cairns, why wouldn't you be thinking about a high-speed rail connectivity between these three urban areas at some time in the future. They would get to a critical mass. If we were to put the three cities together when each city was at a third of its critical mass, we would have a critical mass to expand as a common destination, and that would facilitate the growth of all sorts of things.

But you've then got to come back to today, with greater clarity, to say: 'This is what's happening in the future. This is how we need to plan this city today. This is where the growth happens. This is where the densification should happen.' Because, as with Newcastle, you have the same building blocks of a great education facility—which is key; it is much easier to build on something that is already there—and other very varied industries, lifestyles and the competitive advantage of cost of living. I notice in some of the submissions that there is the discussion of the lower cost of housing here and also the slightly lower level of wages. If you were to put a 17 per cent reduction on the cost of housing compared to South-East Queensland and have five per cent lower wages and then bring that into an index and put it into a ranking, it would rank this area as far more desirable. There used to be a saying: 'I've lived in Atlanta Georgia in the US and the good news is I've got a raise and I'm going to New York. The bad news is the house in New York is like five times more expensive! So I'm worse off.' That trend actually switched around, and Atlanta became a town which had the headquarters of companies for those very reasons. It had a competitive advantage for the companies and for those who worked for those companies. The same opportunity exists here in spades. There is your proximity to our markets, the unique tourism collateral and the industry.

Ms Brand : And the aquaculture industry up here and the food bowl—all of that stuff. And there is our reach into Asia—certainly through JCU, but more broadly. The university has been leading some delegations to Singapore with local business from here in Townsville and in Cairns to develop stronger links with Singapore, so that they can get the trade going on as well. We've got the education thing happening, so it's about broadening that out. I think you hit on a really important point about the connectedness. That's a key to making all of this stuff work, whether that's in Townsville—because I think we've got a real issue in Townsville about connecting up the various precincts—or, as you say, more broadly across Mackay to Cairns.

CHAIR: One of the papers talked about the billions of dollars that is being spent on various rail projects. In Sydney alone it's something like $75 billion—monstrous amounts. In Melbourne there are similar amounts. Yet, for a relatively modest amount, you're looking after quite a large cohort here to create that connectivity. There is no cost of resuming land. One of the bits of evidence that we got recently was that every year we delay in reserving the corridor for high-speed rail adds $3 billion to the cost. The reserving of corridors here would be very little in comparison. If you're planning 50 years in advance, you can do it now at virtually no cost—

Ms Brand : Absolutely.

CHAIR: and then at the appropriate time roll it out. But the other thing that comes out time and again is that, in master planning, business can then expand to effect better critical mass, because there is a continuity of work. The biggest cost in this industry is when you have to gear up for one project and nothing follows—the gearing up and gearing down is all a portion of that one project, so it makes it much more expensive. That's why there has to be a continuum. I dare say some of the thinking has been—which I'd appreciate your comments on—that inquiries like this need to provide our findings and recommendations directly to agencies who can move them along into policy and planning with less political interference. So the idea of ad hoc pork-barrelling can be a thing of the past and not an impediment to fulfilling our potential.

Ms Brand : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Could you put that into better language, so we can have it as part of our—

Mr Carpenter : Particularly with transport, and roads in particular, we are often surprised at the money spent on roads and particular aspects of that. You ask yourself: 'How does this happen? How was that decision made to spend that money there?' It's really mostly to do with established practice. We have road engineers planning for roads; therefore we make more roads. That's just the way it goes. I think there is a role for some senior authority in the federal government to question what the best way of moving people around Australia is, how that can best happen and how resources are best allocated. I love the example of many billions of dollars spent in Sydney on light rail, and not a lot spent here.

Ms BIRD: One of the issues that was put to us is about the current way we assess infrastructure projects as a standalone thing—a particular road or a particular rail goes up and is assessed. Some issues have been raised with us about the indicators that are used sometimes being unrealistic in the current economic situation. Consistently, a number of people have said, 'They don't consider how that piece of infrastructure might interact with the other proposed piece of infrastructure, and, therefore, how would that test actually determine which one might be a better option?' Is that the sort of thing you're talking about?

Ms Brand : Yes, absolutely.

Mr Carpenter : Indeed. Roads in particular is an odd one, because you can do a cost-benefit analysis that shows that if every one of a million vehicle journeys saves a dollar, you've saved a million dollars. But where does that benefit accrue? I'm not convinced it's the right kind of analysis for it. I'm sure others have talked about that.

Ms Brand : That investment might deliver bigger returns on something else if, as you say, you line up all the various areas of infrastructure, rather than looking at it from a silo perspective.

Ms BIRD: I'm based in Wollongong. We have this constant struggle because we've got some key rail links that we're looking to progress but they always get pushed back because of the imperative on road. It frustrates me that government organisations look at, saying, 'Here's the road project. How much will it cost? What will it do?' But they don't say, 'Do know what? We might not need to do 70 per cent of that if we actually expand the rail projects.' So there's real frustration between—

CHAIR: Break down the silos.

Ms BIRD: Yes, the silos. Exactly.

Mr Carpenter : Apologies for the interjection, but we haven't even mentioned technology, and we play rather big in this space. Coming out of Cairns, we've got Australia's first degree specialising in the internet of things. What our guru on this would say is: 'Think of a world where you can put more traffic in the same road.' It's a technologically driven solution, and you have to have those thoughts in your mind when you're planning transport. Or, if it's a railway line, you can get more trains on the same railway line, rather than build more of them, through smart technology.

CHAIR: One of the pieces of evidence we got at a previous inquiry was from a world authority on autonomous vehicles, whose claim was that a standard road would have eight times the capacity if the vehicles were autonomous. His view was that within 10 years—and this was a couple of years ago, so we'll have to get our running shoes on—to drive in peak hour traffic in Sydney you would have to have an autonomously equipped vehicle. Now, even if he is way off and it's 20 years, we don't seem to be accommodating that technology that really is here and now and available. We're reluctant. There are those who oppose it, and every time there's a crash with an autonomous vehicle it's a headline, but the 1,000 deaths a year that happen with humans driving doesn't really rate.

Ms Brand : We've been playing around in the autonomous vehicle space. Curtin University in Perth are doing research in this space, and City of Perth have an autonomous bus going around. We've been talking with the city council, through the City Deals project, about the transport links between the CBD and our campus out at Douglas. This gets back to connectivity, which could be enhanced quite substantially in Townsville. We're looking at a smart link, and then we were playing around with the autonomous bus idea. Why couldn't Townsville—and the university too, in terms of the research contribution—be a test bed around that? It's early days, but it's things like that that we need to be thinking about now for the future.

Ms BIRD: Particularly, when we're spending billions on infrastructure, if we're not planning for what might be the future demand.

CHAIR: That embracing of technology and willingness to move forward has to be part of it. Even currently, when car parks are being designed, they're being designed to be retrofitted for other uses because, with autonomous vehicles, they won't be required for car parking anymore. It's a whole new world that's producing a lot of the answers, and with our group in Bennelong, which is the innovation capital of Australia—

Ms BIRD: Yes, I have heard that on a few occasions in this inquiry!

CHAIR: Hyundai have autonomously controlled hydrogen-powered vehicles. The hydrogen power comes from solar panel things that pull the hydrogen out of the air and put it in a tank, and it goes into the vehicle, so there are zero emissions and there is autonomy to these vehicles. It's happening so quickly.

Ms BIRD: With this sort of thing, if you've got a chief scientist type of role in the planning space, they can actually lead a national conversation and bring these various levels of organisation together by saying, 'How are you addressing this? This is where things are going, state governments. What are you doing?'

CHAIR: Often, when you have political argument, they entrench on one corner and the other, where common sense lies in between. It's the art of transition, so you say, 'Okay, we'll have autonomously controlled vehicle lanes or times and gradually move it into the system until it seamlessly takes over.' Thinking has to be done along those lines. There are opportunities for regional areas to pilot test such things really actively and meaningfully.

Mr Carpenter : Well, have we got a deal for you!

CHAIR: You sounded like Donald Trump—'Have I got a deal for you!' Unfortunately, we are out of time. Is there anything more that you'd like to add?

Ms Brand : No. Thank you very much for listening to us today.

Ms BIRD: Thank you. It was very interesting.

CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance here today. If you've been asked to provide any additional information, would you please forward it to the secretary by Friday, 11 May. You'll be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. If there is anything that you'd like to volunteer that we haven't actually requested, feel free to do that. That would be appreciated.

Ms Brand : Thank you very much.

Ms BIRD: Perhaps we could seek a submission of your most recent economic impact statement.

Ms Brand : Yes.

Ms BIRD: Those figures were really interesting, but I couldn't write them down quickly enough.

Ms Brand : I've got one right here. I'll leave it.

Ms BIRD: If you can provide that, thank you.

Ms Brand : I certainly will.

CHAIR: Thank you again.

Ms Brand : Thank you very much.

Mr Carpenter : Thank you.