Angus Taylor

Malcolm Turnbull’s in China for two days and while he’s there we hope he picks up some hints on how to do better urban planning.

Because China is about to do to its urban planning what it’s done to its energy policy.

We’ve brought you a translation of its Guidelines for Strengthening Urban Planning and Development produced by the Urban Land Institute Asia and if you’ve got any doubts about its prospects for success then maybe wind the clock back a few years and recall what it’s done with energy and coal.

Among its proposals are satellite surveillance to pick up errant developments, but the rest looks pretty much like text book urban planning of the better kind.

Come to think of it’s the satellite surveillance is not so bad either, given we’ve skipped compliance altogether in this country.

Given there’s so much hype around a possible double dissolution election and everyone’s in election mode, it’s worth taking at look at Turnbull’s track record with cities and planning.

It’s not inspiring.

We lost a minister for the built environment early in the piece and last month Angus Taylor, the man appointed to replace him in the cities (but not built environment space), was embroiled in the political donations fiasco that made him too look wobbly.

Now to misquote Oscar Wilde to lose one minister for cities is a tragedy but to lose two is careless.

We’ll add to that. To lose a Major Cities Unit (under Abbott) and not restore it as soon as possible is verging on the outright reckless, given that unit’s assembly of some of the best talent in the country on urban planning, its highly regarded work output and its frugal budget.

Scott Ludlam, The Monthly, in campaign mode
Scott Ludlam, The Monthly, in campaign mode

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam who’s featured at two of our WA events and recently starred on the cover of The Monthly has just prised from the Feds what the exact cost/savings were from axing the unit – a measly $1.7 million which, given how much we squander on helicopter rides and free lunches for Google, is more insult than saving.

Which was precisely the point of course.

But Turnbull has been in a position to rectify things for an embarrassingly long time now.

He won office largely on the back of cute upward glances on QandA and hustings-style snaps of his riding buses and trains. But following his celebrity sweep into the Lodge he’s been a  Fast Eddy on rhetoric and a Slow Hand Luke on action (to misquote again).

Let’s look to see if Angus Taylor is the man that can make it all good again.

Again, jury’s out.

In late March he mentioned cities. The federal government was “not an ATM”, he said and it was “looking hard” at value capture to fund transport, translated in the Murdoch press as “land revaluation”.

But see what clever innovative high tech solution he proposed on how to solve the funding issue for a potential rail link to the proposed airport at Badgerys Creek.

“Badgerys Creek is a very, very special opportunity because we have got a lot of land and there’s going to be a lot of development,” he said in one report.

He told The AFR that the long-awaited discussion paper on Australian cities could include independent authorities to streamline the planning of projects endorsed by Infrastructure Australia.

Now here’s a good idea. But guess what, the Feds could probably save a lot of money by looking at what the Major Cities Unit left behind as its people were shoved out the door.

In the next breath Taylor reveals more clearly who’s been getting in his ear.

“There could also be discussion about developer incentives for housing supply.” It shows that even Rhodes scholars and former McKinsey & Co consultants, as Taylor is, need some wily reformed property developers on their strategic advisers payroll to let them in on the secrets of how the property market really works. Rule No 1: it will NOT provide cheaper housing just because you provide incentives either to the developer or the buyer. The market takes care of that. It ups the price on impact. And then some.

Then, the assistant minister sadly shows he’s been out to lunch with a few developers.

“We want affordability in the west by allowing supply to respond,” Taylor says, “The west has land and we have a responsibility to make sure that is released fast enough and to make sure there is affordable housing.” Has Taylor seen the reports of tens of thousands of empty dwellings waiting for a value uplift of their own?

Has anyone showed Taylor “that” Utopia episode on the topic?

Please, someone, do him a favour.

There’s an election on the way.

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