Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese addressed the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects Living Cities workshop in Canberra today (Wednesday). Following are highlights from his speech.
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to address the Living Cities Workshop.
The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, and in particular their CEO Shahana McKenzie, have worked hard to ensure today is a success.
I also want to recognise their ongoing contribution to the cities policy agenda in Australia.
AILA are serious leaders in the urban policy space and I think the fact we have gathered here from around the nation today is testimony of this.
I also understand that AILA is launching the Living Cities Alliance this afternoon.
This initiative is an important opportunity for industry leaders to collaborate on what they think an urban policy agenda for the nation should look like.
Can I also be so bold as to suggest the national urban policy framework adopted by the former Labor government Our Cities Our Future as a starting point?
I have no doubt this launch will be a success and I look forward to hearing from the Living Cities Alliance about their policy direction in the months ahead.
Before I continue I do wish to comment on the quite remarkable statement by Minister Fletcher on behalf of the Coalition Government this morning.
In it he said:
“If our cities are pretty good by world standards, then, why is there a need for federal government involvement in cities policy?
“After all, previous attempts at such involvement – the grand schemes of the Whitlam years, for example, or the “cities unit’’ Anthony Albanese created as Minister for Infrastructure. – have not made much difference’’.
Such a statement before this audience shows a complete ignorance of this policy area and an absolute lack of political judgement.
People here know full well the positive difference that Commonwealth involvement in our cities during the periods of Labor government has had.
Indeed, our collaborative approach through the Major Cities Unit, the Urban Policy Forum and the COAG Process under Brian Howe and Lucy Turnbull, engaged many of you in this room.
Creating living cities
I am glad AILA has chosen this topic today, because in the face of climate change, creating green living cities is critical.
Living cities are undoubtedly healthier cities that are better equipped to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.
Importantly, living cities are resilient cities and play an important role in addressing the shift to a carbon-constrained economy.
In a time of significant change, this matters now more than ever before.
Today, four out of every five Australians live in cities.
By 2031 the population of our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 per cent.
The other capitals – Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin – are expected to grow by nearly 30 per cent.
Urbanisation has transformed our way of life.
And Labor understands that people depend on the healthy functioning of our cities for their own functioning.
The design of our cities shapes the lives people lead.
It impacts issues of congestion, how our suburbs respond to heatwaves and whether people choose to cycle and walk around their neighbourhoods.
This is why the Federal government has a critical role to play when it comes to showing leadership and investing in our cities.
In doing so, we ensure cities across the nation are more productive, sustainable and liveable.
Urban design is at the core of living cities.
But as our cities buckle from the demands of unchecked urban sprawl, government and industry alike must ensure sustainable urban design is at the forefront of all consideration.
We must prioritise the health of our parks, open spaces and urban waterways.
In doing so we not only better tackle issues associated with climate change, but we also make our cities better places to live.
Labor’s ongoing commitment to cities
Labor has always focused on investment that supports people in our society.
When I was Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, we lifted infrastructure spending to record levels.
When we took office, Australia was 20th among OECD nations when it came to infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP.
When we left office, Australia was first.
We doubled the roads budget and, importantly, we allocated more investment to public transport than all other governments combined since Federation.
We established Infrastructure Australia, which conducted an audit and identified a national infrastructure priority list.
We set up the Major Cities Unit and the Urban Policy Forum.
We produced the annual State of Australian Cities report, which was downloaded more than three million times in 2013 and we released Australia’s first national urban policy.
We also created the nation’s first Urban Design Protocol, which was developed with industry and included a checklist for designers to ensure they took into account a range of quality-of-life issues including heat.
In contrast, the Coalition has disbanded the Major Cities Unit, failed to convene the Urban Policy Forum and overseen a 20 per cent decline in public infrastructure investment.
Like you, I supported the appointment of a Minister for Cities.
The problem is that the minister was put in with no budget, no department and given no job to do.
The fact that the position has been vacant for two months says a lot about this.
Malcolm Turnbull should move quickly to appoint a new Minister for Cities to replace Jamie Briggs if he is serious about his claim to want to champion the productivity, sustainability and liveability of the nation’s cities.
The Prime Minister should also place the new minister within the infrastructure and regional development portfolio, rather than the environment portfolio.
Since he became Prime Minister last September, Mr Turnbull has talked up his interest in urban policy, incessantly staging photo opportunities of himself riding in trains, trams and buses to create the impression of policy engagement.
But Mr Turnbull has done nothing concrete on urban policy.
He has failed to re-establish the Major Cities Unit abolished by his predecessor Tony Abbott or to reverse Mr Abbott’s refusal to fund public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro or Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.
In Australia, commercial and residential buildings alone are responsible for approximately 23 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions.
By greening our infrastructure we can go part of the way to ameliorating this.
Internationally, a number of cities are leading the way.
Copenhagen has announced its plan to become a carbon neutral city by 2025.
It’s the first Scandinavian city to adopt a policy that requires green roofs for all new buildings with roof slopes of less than 30 degrees.
France, similarly, has legislated that rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones must be partially covered in plants or solar panels.
Here in Australia, our urban planners and architects are increasingly incorporating sustainability into their design.
The Green Building Council of Australia certified 218 Green Star projects in 2015, compared with 156 in 2014 – an increase of 40 per cent.
City councils, such as the City of Sydney, are also taking action.
In 2014 the City of Sydney implemented a Green Roofs and Walls Policy, the first of its kind in Australia.
They are also working to lift their tree canopy in public areas from the existing 15.5 per cent to 23.5 per cent by 2030.
While both of these measures go some of the way to addressing the important problem of the heat island effect, it also achieves something else.
Recent research has suggested greener cities make people happier and healthier.
And in turn the productivity of our cities is improved.
Although most of these policies are implemented at an industry or local government level, there is room for involvement by the Commonwealth.
I believe the federal government has a role to play in identifying and encouraging best practice, as well as facilitating and investing in its replication where appropriate across the nation.
Best practice urban design
When in government I released the nation’s first Urban Design Protocol.
It sets out the common sense principles which underpin good, sustainable urban design.
It also provides sound, practical advice for avoiding the planning mistakes which too often create neighbourhoods characterised by high crime rates, poor health outcomes, social isolation, joblessness, poor housing and a lack of basic services.
I hold the view that best practice and sustainable urban design must be considered for any development that bears upon liveability.
Badgerys Creek Airport is the perfect example of how this should work.
We only need look to our international counterparts to understand this.
In the green fields around Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, authorities have been thinking laterally when it comes to mitigating aircraft noise.
Noise has dropped by half by digging 150 symmetrical furrows in a nearby 32 hectare green belt, which also functions as a recreational park.
Because Badgerys Creek is a greenfield site, it’s even more important that it implement best environmental practice.
We’ll only get one chance to build Sydney’s second airport.
We need to get it right to guarantee maximum economic benefit, while also ensuring sustainable environmental outcomes.
It’s a principle that should apply to all elements of urban planning.
And as our cities expand we should also be thinking creatively about how we incorporate green design into new projects.
This includes protection of pre-existing parks, open spaces and urban waterways.
Unchecked growth has the potential to devastate these valuable resources.
I fear that if sustainability is not a priority when we consider new projects, then we put all our urban environment amenities at great risk.
Living cities are more active cities.
The Federal government should be implementing measures that encourage Australians to consider greener, healthier ways of getting around.
With better planning, new infrastructure and lifestyle changes we can also identify ways to reduce the community’s high dependence on cars.
Part of this includes looking at how transport systems are linked to smaller scale transport dynamics like active transport.
In many places around the country this is already occurring.
For instance, in Perth as part of the Citylink project, you can leave your bike at a u-rail on the platform.
Bike hubs and lockers are also provided at a number of stations.
Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, which was funded by the former Labor government, offers secure bike parking at new stations including Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.
Yet this only goes part of the way to targeting Australia’s biggest urban challenge – the development of drive-in, drive-out suburbs on the edges of cities where people can afford homes but where there are few jobs.
With too many Australians forced to commute long distances to work as jobs growth shifts to the inner suburbs of our cities, we need a co-ordinated response addressing housing affordability, public transport and urban planning, including consideration of greater population densities along established public transport corridors.
Sydney’s food basin
When we think of living cities, we don’t always consider our food bowl.
But in the Sydney Morning Herald last week we saw that Sydney’s food basin is under threat from urban sprawl and rising land prices.
According to the Sydney Food Futures project, the share of Sydney’s vegetables grown within the city’s food basin will crash to just one per cent in the next 15 years.
The project also found that farmers around Sydney produced around 20 per cent of the city’s agricultural food needs in 2011.
This will drop to six per cent by 2031 if agriculture is not prioritised in the outer areas of Sydney.
To adequately deal with these issues, the Federal Government must take a holistic approach that reflects an understanding of the diverse needs of our cities.
This means working with local governments and industries to determine the most appropriate response.
Creating green, living cities is a shared responsibility.
Labor is committed to working with all levels of government and the relevant industries to ensure our cities are productive, sustainable and liveable.
In the face of climate change we must recognise that without sustainable urban design and planning at the core of each project, our cities, and the people living in them, will suffer.
That’s why Labor’s cities policy agenda includes broad collaboration, proper independent planning processes and creative thinking around financing and investment.