Labor leads on cities policy - speech in Parliament

I am very pleased to be able to participate in what is a very important debate, and I thank the member for Ryan for bringing this matter before the Federation Chamber. In part this is a motion that is appropriately bipartisan. But there are some matters, as my friend the member for Lalor touched upon, where there remain key and important distinctions between the positions of the major political parties, notwithstanding the change in attitude following the change of Prime Minister that we have seen.

The motion before the House notes the work of the bipartisan Parliamentary Friendship Group for Better Cities, a group that I co-chair with the member for Ryan and the member for Melbourne. I think it is appropriate that the work of this group is recognised in terms of the role it has played in elevating the discussion in this place and more broadly in public discourse around urban policy. The Parliamentary Friendship Group for Better Cities has brought together a diverse range of stakeholders linked by a common concern for urban Australia, the places where 80 per cent of us live and where more than 80 per cent of our GDP is generated. The health and wellbeing of our cities is vital to the health and wellbeing of Australians, and the diversity of involvement in the better cities group has been an exemplar of how this public policy debate should play out in the future. We have seen the involvement of not only stakeholders that might be traditionally associated with urban policy, such as those concerned with infrastructure, but also groups like the landscape architects and the Heart Foundation as well as groups concerned with active transport options, looking at the health and wellbeing of those who live in urban Australia as well as some of the more traditional bricks-and-mortar aspects of urban policy.

Urban policy is of course an evolving area of public policy and of national government responsibility. Labor's story has recognised since the sixties the critical role of national government in shaping the environment in which most Australians live, particularly in the most urbanised nation in the world, a nation I like to think of as perhaps the world's most suburban nation. My friend the member for Lalor talked about the drive-in drive-out suburbs, a concern that goes to the heart of Labor's engagement with the shape of our cities, particularly rapidly growing major cities like Melbourne and Sydney where, increasingly, affordable housing is located a long way from employment opportunities and from social and leisure opportunities for people to enjoy. This poses real questions for quality of life as well as questions for productivity—looking, at one level, at the depth of labour markets that are on offer. This is a matter of great concern to me. I think of a conversation I had only the other day with the executive members of a residents' association at the northern end of my electorate. One of them, an accountant from Deloitte, explained to me that she was no longer able to continue in her work simply because the commuting time, combined with her responsibilities for her children, meant that it was not no longer viable. What a loss to her and what a loss to our community. Similar stories can be told across my electorate, and I know they are also told in the electorate of Lalor and right across suburban Australia. This is why it is so important that we do more than mouth the words about an interest in cities policy.

The words the Prime Minister has delivered and the appointment of a Minister for Cities and the Built Environment are of course to be welcomed, but they open up the conversation that the parliamentary friendship group has been leading. It has not been leading this conversation in isolation. Labor has continued since leaving government in September 2013 to set an agenda for urban Australia. The shadow minister, the member for Grayndler, has set out a 10-point plan for urban Australia and the role of national government. We have also very recently announced an innovative approach to infrastructure funding. In respect of both of these critical announcements we are yet to hear the view of the government. Indeed, there are many signals that we should still be concerned. While the Prime Minister has spoken about evidence based decision making, we have not seen that in respect of a range of significant infrastructure announcements in Victoria, where there still seems to be an enthusiasm for the East West Link despite the evidence coming in. It is one thing to talk about an enthusiasm for public transport—and indeed to be fond of a selfie on a tram. It is another to think about the role and responsibility of national government in ensuring everyone has an opportunity to live in productive, livable and sustainable cities.

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