30 August 2013 – The built environment will be pleased. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has promised to install a minister for cities after the 7 September election, if he wins.

This comes after years of lobbying from a host of industry associations in the built environment.

All will be bound to welcome the signal that finally recognises the federal government has a role in cities, something not seen for decades. The Planning Institute of Australia supported the announcement on Friday but also called on the Opposition to match the promise, given it’s favourite to win government.

Media reports said Rudd used the announcement to take a swipe at state governments over infrastructure reform.

Speaking in Perth, Rudd said “state governments often tried to block the attempts by local and federal  governments to reform local infrastructure,” the Brisbane Times reported.

It was ‘about time’ that the 80 per cent of Australians who live in cities ‘get a look in’,

The state governments choose to wave us to one side, [but] the people of Australia will not wait.

The minister for national cities will consider all government policy decisions from the perspective of how they relate to cities. Municipal governments usually get it, whereas many of our state governments just don’t.”

It’s where 80 per cent of Australians live. It’s about time they had a look in,” he said.

We have ministers for regional development, we have ministers for primary industries but we do not have ministers responsible for our cities, the cities that generate around 80 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product and employ three out of every four Australians and that includes not just inner cities but vast expanses of outer suburban Australia where the vast bulk of our national population lives, outer suburban areas that have their own unique planning challenges.”

Part of the deal would include more jobs and economic development in outer suburbs and better roads and public transport.

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 The Planning Institute of Australia chief executive officer Kirsty Kelly said the announcement was “music to the ears” of the planning industry.

“We have been calling for a unified strategic approach to the planning and management of the growth of our cities for a long time,” Ms Kelly said.

“Indeed the appointment of a Minister for Cities and other initiatives in today’s announcement are things we have advised the government should do as part of such a strategy.

“This announcement affirms the value of planning at a national level and demonstrates that the current Government recognises that planning matters.

“A similar commitment to the management of the growth of our cities from the Coalition before the election would be welcomed by the planning fraternity.”

Ms Kelly said the news was in line with recommendations from the National Urban Policy Forum, established by Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese in 2012.

The forum calls for better infrastructure funding for new growth areas and recommends sourcing private sector dollars through the establishment of the Urban Infrastructure Fund, Ms Kelly said.

The announcement by Mr Rudd includes an expanded Major Cities Unit in the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

“One of the big issues in planning throughout Australia is the way the outer suburbs are growing,” Ms Kelly said.

“Long commutes to work for people who live in outer suburbs will get worse unless employment opportunities in these areas are addressed.”

Consult Australia’s chief executive officer Megan Motto also supported the announcement.

“The leadership, vision and investment facilitated through a Minister for Cities will help boost productivity and jobs and provide for more sustainable growth across our urban centres,” Ms Motto said.

“This provides a missing piece of governance that will help deliver national policy priorities, support smart infrastructure investment and see better health, education, business and environmental outcomes across Australia.

“Critical to the success of Prime Minister Rudd’s initiative will be parallel investments in the infrastructure now critical to lifting productivity.

“We must move beyond the election patchwork of grants to new and innovative funding models that release new investment in infrastructure.

“An Urban Infrastructure Fund – essentially a type of infrastructure bond scheme – is exactly the type of innovative thinking urgently required.”

The Urban Coalition said the move  was a “welcome step towards realising the full potential of our cities as key drivers for jobs and productivity”.

But the coalition’s policy document, A New Deal for Urban Australia, launched in May, also called for an Urban Infrastructure Fund to meet “a backlog of more than $500 billion in infrastructure needs for Australian cities and to better manage population growth,” coalition member Property Council chief executive, Peter Verwer, said.

UDIA national president Julie Katz urged “right governance and national leadership”.

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