For chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Architects, David Parken, the reaction from the audience, the Canberra bureaucrats and the organisers to the Built Environment Meets Parliament conference on 12 August, could not have been more encouraging.

“We were very pleased with the level of engagement from everyone and that spurred us on to continue that dialogue and hope to see the same in the lead up to BEMP next year – so we have the start to a conversation,” Parken told The Fifth Estate after the conference.

Held jointly by the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia, the, Australian Institute of Architects, the Green Building Council of Australia, the Planning Institute of Australia and the Property Council of Australia, the event featured a long parade of politicians (see program below) dipping in and out of the conference, minders in tow, keen to show they cared about cities.

It’s about time. Under the Howard Government, there was no interest at all. Under the Keating Government, with the Department of Urban and Regional Development, the view now tends to be that there was significant interest but that it was an idea ahead of its time.

Left to right: Peter Clarke, City of Melbourne; Adam Shor, Cundall; Simon Wild, Cundall; Elena Bondareva, Thinc Projects

Today, as Parken points out, the issue is non-political. And the Opposition – especially through Malcolm Turnbull – does give a damn, it seems.

Decidedly the planners, architects, engineers and property players also want some action –  and several delegates were vocal in showing they wanted greater participation in the ideas forum, especially in the development of the strategic planning document put up at the conference, Principles for Planning Sustainable Communities, produced by The Allen Consulting Group.

Parken says organisers will soon post the document on the public policy debate website, bangthetable.com so that it can be further developed.

Left: Tim Horton, Australian Institute of Architects SA, president; right: Dr Michael Green, Department of Innovation Industry Science and Research

“Everyone who attended BEMP will be invited to promote bangthetable.com.” There would be two to three months for wide consultation, Parken said.

“We want it to be a conversation, a talking point, so next we’re year hoping to use that tool. It’s very very positive.”

“We still call it a draft consultation. It is, in fact, a living document.”

Another message coming through, but louder from the solidly green quarter than others, was the need for urgency.

Christine Milne

Greens Senator Christine Milne was the most vocal in recognising that the clarion calls strongest for the built environment to take the biggest  action on climate change. After all, cities produce 75 per cent of all emissions, one way or another.

Among her comments:

  • “We can’t wait to 2017 to have the built environment make the contribution it needs to make and can make in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and peak oil. We have global crisis right now – we are going to see peak oil come in quite fast and once there…people are going to realise our cities are where the action is in terms of addressing this
  • Cities need to be  “redesigned around urban village linked by very good cycle transport and cycle ways…
  • “In spite of what we consume people are unhappy and they are un-healthy… There is obesity and social isolation
  • “It is going to be city regions that will drive sustainability
  • “We have to start now – and the days of photo opportunities and grabs here or there are over. We need systemic change
  • “We need deadlines, regulations and market mechanisms to get people to agree and adopt that change.
  • “Now is the time for integrated planning.”

Don Henry, executive director, Australian Conservation Foundation, was also to the point:

  • “I think there are a lot of good initiatives going on but not at the scale that’s needed. Accelerated depreciation and white certificates are essential to drive that scale
  • “We are going to need to reduce our emissions by 85-90 pe cent.There is absolutely  not time to lose.
  • “Maybe we need a sustainability council, like the Competition Council
  • “There are a lot of voices out there that for some reason don’t want change.
  • “Ross Garnaut [in the Garnaut Report] said no money should go to the electricity companies [and it has]. [But the government wanted $5 billion and the Opposition wanted $10 billion for these heavy polluters]
  • “You have to realise that’s money that is not going to go somewhere else
There was a great deal of engagement from the audience, but at bangthetable.com these ideas can soon be shared in an open forum

Among the audience at question time, the issues raised included:

  • Sydney’s food source has shifted further afield from 80 per cent sourced from the Sydney basin in the 80s to 20 per cent now.
  • How do we encourage the states and the local authorities to develop the infill (rather than urban sprawl)?

And from the official media release:

Peter Verwer, chief executive of the Property Council of Australia:

  • “Australia needs a new ‘joined up’ framework to design its cities and communities.
  • “We can’t rely on traditional, outdated, uncoordinated plans from the last century as we move into a future dominated by new technology and driven by new economic and environmental demands.??“Fundamentally, good outcomes require good planning. Designing cities can not be left to chance or spread across disparate agencies working in isolation from one another.
Left to Right: Steve Johnston, Planning Institute of Australia; Michael Zorbas, Stockland; Romilly Madew, Green Building Council, David Parken, Institute of Architects; Peter Verwer, Property Council of Australia

Steve Johnston, chief executive officer, Planning Institute of Australia:

  • “Recent Federal Government activity to fund nation building infrastructure has revealed a lack of integration between land use and infrastructure planning.
  • “We need to rectify this so that land use and infrastructure plans are aligned and complementary. COAG’s review of Australia’s planning arrangements is welcomed by the planning profession as a valuable first step.

Romilly Madew, chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia:

  • “Australia was not alone in tackling the issue of designing modern cities.??“The Obama Administration has shown leadership in adopting a comprehensive approach to urban policy development.
  • “This means bringing together housing, transport, energy, labour, education and environmental policy, rather than approaching them as separate policy issues. Sustainability, of course, must be at the heart of all our efforts.”

David Parken, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Architects:

  • “We should draw from Australia’s successful experience implementing National Competition Policy reforms.
  • “The NCP experience provides a useful example and demonstrates that Australian governments can work together to successfully reform complex issues. ??“A key step is getting governments Australia-wide to sign up. We need a new Intergovernmental Agreement between the Commonwealth, States and Territories and local Government acknowledging their respective roles and responsibilities for planning to achieve well designed, prosperous, liveable and sustainable communities.”

Megan Motto, chief executive officer of the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia:

  • “Ideally, we should have Urban Action Plans developed for every major city and regional area across Australia.
  • “These plans should reflect local stakeholder input and set out clear targets and performance measures to guide and ultimately gauge the effectiveness of the plans.
  • “An Urban Action Plan should enable people to see and understand how their local area will grow and change in coming years and how economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities will be tackled or harnessed.

Speakers at the Built Environment Meets Parliament (BEMP) Summit

Peter Verwer, CEO, Property Council of Australia
Megan Motto, CEO, Association of Consulting Engineers Australia
Keynote  – The Hon Lindsay Tanner MP, Minister for Finance and Deregulation
Panel   – John Tabart, CEO, Barangaroo Delivery Authority
– Sue Holliday, Chair, Built Environment Industry Innovation Council
– Chris Murphy, Principal, KPMG Econtech
– Mr Bernie Ripoll MP, Federal Member for Oxley, Australian Labor Party
– The Hon Bruce Billson MP, Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development
and Cities
10:30am – 11:50am Sustainability
Romilly Madew, CE, Green Building Council of Australia
Keynote  – The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts
Panel   – Don Henry, Executive Director, Australian Conservation Foundation
– John Connor, CEO, The Climate Institute
– David Atkin, CEO, Cbus
– Senator Christine Milne, Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens
– The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Shadow Minister for Climate Change,
Environment and Water
11.50am – 1.00pm Liveability
Stephen Johnston, CEO, Planning Institute of Australia
Keynote  – The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for Housing; Minister for the
Status of Women
Panel   – Kerry Barwise
– Brendan Gleeson, Urban Research Program, Griffith University
– The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and
Children’s Services; Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire
Reconstruction
– Scott Morrison MP, Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government
2.00pm – 3.00pm Principles for Sustainable Communities
Peter Verwer, CEO, Property Council of Australia
3.30pm – 4.30pm Partnerships and Actions
David Parken, CEO, Australian Institute of Architects
Keynote  – Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science
and Research
Panel   – Kerry Barwise
– Brendan Lyon, Executive Director, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia
– Sharan Burrow, President, Australian Council of Trade Unions
– Mark Dreyfus QC, MP, Member for Isaacs, Australian Labor Party
– The Hon Bruce Billson MP, Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development and Cities
– Senator Scott Ludlam, Senator for Western Australia, Australian Greens
4.30pm – 5.00pm Wrap up
Session will be led by: Peter Verwer, CEO, Property Council of Australia