News that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had appointed Australia’s first minister for cities and the built environment was greeted with open arms by the sustainability and property industries. Whether Jamie Briggs will deliver on expectations is till an open book, but for now, the mood is positive.

From Mr Turnbull himself came these comments that showed he had a firm grasp of the agenda:

“Liveable, vibrant cities are absolutely critical to our prosperity,” Mr Turnbull said. “Historically the federal government has had a limited engagement with cities and yet that is where most Australians live, it is where the bulk of our economic growth can be found.

“We often overlook the fact that liveable cities, efficient, productive cities, the environment of cities, are economic assets. You know, making sure that Australia is a wonderful place to live in, that our cities and indeed our regional centres are wonderful places to live, is an absolutely key priority of every level of government. Because the most valuable capital in the world today is not financial capital, there’s plenty of that and it’s very mobile.

“The most valuable capital today is human capital. Men and women like ourselves who can choose to live anywhere. We have to ensure for our prosperity, for our future, for our competitiveness, that every level of government works together, constructively and creatively to ensure that our cities progress. That federal funding of infrastructure in cities for example is tied to outcomes that will promote housing affordability.

“Integration is critical. We shouldn’t be discriminating between one form of transit and another. There is no… roads are not better than mass transit or vice versa, each of them has their place. Infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits. There is no place for ideology here at all. The critical thing is to ensure that we get the best outcome in our cities.”

And some thoughts generated by questions

“I can also guarantee you that if we feel that policy is not effective, or could be improved, we’ll change it. And I know that seems curious to say in a political environment, most politicians don’t stay things like that, but if you talk to people in the street or around about, it’s common sense, we are in a rapidly changing environment and we have to be prepared every day, every single day, to ask ourselves: Will we remain competitive if we keep doing things the way we did yesterday? We’ve got to remain on the balls of our feet  – that’s absolutely critical.

“We do a lot of great research and development, a lot of great science. One of the things we do not do well at all is the collaboration between primary research, typically in universities, and business. We’re actually the second worst in the OECD, so… that is a very, very important priority to make a change to that.”

Following are highlights of reactions to the appointment of Mr Briggs.

The Property Council

More than any other industry group the Property Council will be most vindicated at Sunday’s declaration of Jamie Briggs as Australia’s first minister for cities and the built environment.

Chief executive Ken Morrison said the move acknowledged cities’ role in productivity for the nation.

“Make no mistake about it, this is a key economic appointment,” Mr Morrison said.

“The move recognises that in the most urbanised country in the world Australia’s productivity challenges are going to need to be met in our cities.”

The property industry employed 1.1 million people, more than mining and manufacturing combined, and accounted for one-ninth of the GDP, he said.

The appointment was a nice bipartisan touch, given Anthony Albanese was appointed shadow minister for cities by the Labor Party.

Mr Morrison also noted that new treasurer Scott Morrison was a former head of research for the Property Council in the 1990s, and could well be another excellent ally to the cities and built environment at the very senior levels of cabinet.

Scott Morrison had a “razor sharp policy brain and understands our industry and its importance to the economy like no other”, Mr  Morrison said.

Other commentators said the minister also had an ultra tough image that he needed to shake off, after his debut as immigration minister.

The Green Building Council of Australia

Another tireless advocate of the cities agenda has been the Green Building Council of Australia.

Chief executive Romilly Madew said GBCA members were “delighted” at the announcement.

“This appointment recognises not only the importance of our cities as the engine room of the nation’s productivity and prosperity, but also the central role the built environment plays in tackling many of Australia’s greatest challenges,” Ms Madew said.

“Around 80 per cent of Australians live in our capital cities – and this is expected to grow as an additional 10 million people call our cities home over the next 40 years.

“Prime Minister Turnbull has been actively engaged in the cities space for many years and acknowledges that cities, long overlooked by federal governments, are home to our most valuable economic assets – our people.

“Minister Briggs’ long-awaited appointment will enable us to better tackle the challenges we face – challenges such as climate change, population growth, ageing demographics, congestion, housing affordability, liveability and social inclusion.”

Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council

ASBEC congratulated the Prime Minister on his appointment.

Cities and urban communities were the “economic drivers of the nation: providing homes for millions, delivering and exporting our goods and services, creating jobs, providing centres of cultural and social exchange and a door to the rest of the world,” executive director Suzanne Toumbourou said.

“ASBEC and its members have long called for a minister for cities. We very much look forward to working closely with Minister Briggs to leverage the strengths of industry and every sphere of government in helping to deliver more productive, liveable and sustainable cities.”

The Australian Institute of Architects

The Australian Institute of Architects has been another strong campaigner for a cities agenda.

Institute CEO, David Parken, welcomed the news.

“A federal champion is crucial in driving reforms that better connect built environment policies and programs across all levels of government. The federal government can now play a key role in ensuring Australia’s built environment will function as well as it can.

 ‘This role should drive reform and champion quality design. Priorities for the department should include:

  • strategic planning for our built environment to promote globally competitive, sustainable and socially inclusive urban centres and towns
  • increasing density through design – to capitalise on the role of good design to accommodate urban growth
  • championing world-class urban design and architecture to help solve our urban growth challenges and enhance our international design reputation
  • the adoption of an urban design policy
  • the appointment of a federal government architect to further promote high quality buildings and public spaces, and provide expert, high level strategic advice.’
  • The Institute will seek a meeting with the Minister to ensure that the profession is represented in policy development.

The Planning Institute of Australia

PIA chief executive Kirsty Kelly said the announcement of the cities and built environment portfolio flagged the new PM’s intent for all spheres of government to collaborate in planning for Australia’s growth.

“In announcing his new team the Prime Minister demonstrated his belief that effective future planning for our cities is central to Australia’s economic future, its liveability and its environmental sustainability,” Ms Kelly said.

“This is a significant change in government policy and one we warmly welcome.

“PIA always has and always will argue that good planning is the best way to manage urban growth and to secure essential infrastructure investment, so we are heartened that the new Prime Minister has re-committed the federal government to objective decision making processes for infrastructure investments.”

Urban Taskforce

Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson welcomed Mr Briggs’ appointment but said the federal government should not “confuse the key role that state governments have in planning and managing cities and their growth”.

“As the major collector of taxes, however, the federal government should allocate funds based on pro-growth policies of state and local government,” Mr Johnson said.

“With Australian cities becoming more urban with a big swing to apartment living there is a need to ensure that public transport systems and other amenities are able to support the urban growth.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Victoria

The Australian Conservation Foundation and Environment Victoria said the potential for a new era had opened up and the most urgent issue for Turnbull was to protect the tax status of the groups that advocate to protect the environment on behalf of all.

“From John Howard’s expansion of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, to Bob Hawke’s rejection of mining in Antarctica, to Malcolm Fraser’s ending of sand mining on Fraser Island, to Julia Gillard’s Murray-Darling Basin Plan, governments from both sides of politics have made good environmental decisions that only happened as a result of advocacy campaigns,” ACF chief executive officer Kelly O’Shanassy said.

Environment Victoria chief executive Mark Wakeham said: “In recent months there has been a serious attempt made to muzzle conservation groups. First initiated by the mining lobby and extreme right-wing think tanks, there is now a political push to strip the tax deductible status of Australian conservation groups if they engage in public debate to encourage better government policies.

“Prime Minister Turnbull now has the opportunity to reset the Coalition’s environment policies and relationships with the sector by dropping the deeply unpopular attacks on environment and community groups and working collaboratively with the broad community to shape a healthier environment and economy.”

Consult Australia

Consult Australia chief executive Megan Motto pointed to the new cabinet as building a foundation for “strong evidence-based policy development supporting productivity, jobs and business confidence”.

The new ministry would “help co-ordinate and lead evidence-based policy nationally, and support collaboration across our states, territories and local government for more productive, sustainable and liveable cities”, Motto said.

She welcomed the continued focused on a strong infrastructure agenda and the show of diversity with greater numbers of women appointed to the cabinet.

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