24 September 2013 — Former infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese and property leaders have slammed Coalition plans to dismantle the Major Cities Unit.
The Planning Institute of Australia, the Property Council of Australia and the Grattan Institute have all criticised the move.
Mr Albanese said the move was another backwards step by the Coalition, and that it confirmed the government had no plans to ease congestion or make cities more liveable.
He said the Major Cities Unit provided coordinated policy, planning and infrastructure advice across government, the private sector and the community, and was helping to secure economic, environmental and social wellbeing in major cities.
“The abolition of the Major Cities Unit is a retrograde step that will undermine good planning and leadership at the national level,” he said.
“Axing this unit is quite simply dumb, showing once again that the Coalition’s thinking is stuck in the past.
“We are the most urbanised country on the planet and to say the Commonwealth has no role whatsoever in our cities is an extraordinary statement from an incoming Government.”
If he were elected Opposition Leader, Mr Albanese said, a shadow minister for cities would be created.
No information from Canberra
The Deputy Prime Minister’s department, which The Fifth Estate contacted in the absence of any phone number or media contact available on the Prime Minster’s website, did not return phone calls on this issue.
The Planning Institute of Australia labelled the axing of the Major Cities Unit as “disappointing”.
PIA chief executive Kirsty Kelly said advice given by the body on the future development of the country’s 18 biggest cities informed planning policy in the light of unprecedented growth, change and urbanisation.
“The Major Cities Unit has been monitoring established and emerging trends and collaborating with stakeholders to develop a national urban policy,” Ms Kelly said.
“This approach to a cohesive long-term planning strategy for Australia has been seen by planners as an indispensable tool in preparing cities for the future.
“It’s disappointing that the Major Cities Unit will be dismantled but it’s crucial that the work this unit has been doing is carried on somewhere within the Federal Government.”
The Major Cities Unit has a staff of around 10 and its budget for 2012–13 was $1.48 million. It was responsible for creating the popular State of Australian Cities report, which Mr Albanese told a press conference in Adelaide had been downloaded more than three million times.
See our article Heatwave deaths predicted in State of Australian Cities report
Jane-Frances Kelly and Paul Donegan from the Grattan Institute today wrote in The Conversation that the reported dismantling of the Major Cities Unit suggested the Federal Government did not understand how urgent city reform was for the economy.
They also called the Prime Minister’s view that federal government should not fund urban rail as “troubling”, saying roads alone could not overcome the cost of congestion and poor access to transport.
The Property Council
The Property Council of Australia chief executive officer Peter Verwer said, “Scrapping the Major Cities Unit removes a vital source of intelligence for a Federal Government that wishes to drive national improvements in productivity.”
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, which PIA is a member of, had previously called for the Major Cities Unit to be elevated and for a Minister of Cities to be appointed.
ASBEC did not comment on the dismantling of the Major Cities Unit when contacted.
– with Tina Perinotto