Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Locking in Brisbane's Future

April 29, 2021





I would like to acknowledge the First Nations people as the Traditional Owners of the land on which this meeting is taking place today - I pay my respects to all Elders past and present. 
My speech today is about the city of Brisbane and the South-East Queensland City Deal.
The objectives, the progress, the hurdles and the future. 
And the role and responsibilities of a national government that’s on Brisbane’s side.
In 2013, eight years ago, the SEQ Mayors first approached KPMG to investigate the transferring of the UK City Deals concept to South-East Queensland. 
That report, Scoping a SEQ City Deal was released in October 2016. 
It was ahead of the curve. 
And yet here we are in 2021 with no signed deal and little progress to show. 
The Committee for Brisbane, and its forerunner the Brisbane Development Association, was built around the objective of engaging all levels of government, industry and the community to help make greater Brisbane a more liveable place. 
It’s that same spirit that infuses Labor’s approach to national urban policy - fostering collaboration towards shared objectives.
I was pleased to engage with the Committee’s work last year, particularly from lockdown life in Melbourne. 
As I started to think through the policy implications of the pandemic for our cities and each of them, what weaknesses it revealed and what interventions would drive a recovery that is fit for purpose.
Coming from Melbourne - I don’t need to be convinced that our CBDs have been among the hardest hit areas of our economy. 
The Committee for Brisbane’s 2020 Vitality Report made for sobering reading - reinforcing concerns expressed to me about the vulnerabilities of creative industries and hospitality, challenging the notion of a central hub of activity and experience, which is so important to a sense of place, and to rebuilding the urban economy.
To the idea of a city that is - connected, creative, enterprising and equitable, as this Committee has identified as strategic priorities.
I’m persuaded they are the right ones - and am keen to listen closely, as we build a partnership to help realise these goals.
Cities are all about connections.
It’s what they are, and how they work.
COVID, social distancing, lockdowns, and the rise of hybrid forms of work doesn’t change this - but we must reconsider some of our assumptions here.
To realise the enterprising potential of Brisbane - because congestion will be just as big a drag on productivity tomorrow as it was before we’d even heard of COVID-19.
Creativity matters, more than is generally acknowledged, when we talk about how cities work. 
As a big fan of the Go-betweens and the Saints, music is something I strongly associate with this city.
And it’s a big part in this city’s liveability, that can’t be taken for granted. So, too, is being an egalitarian place. 
Brisbane’s famed liveability has played a large part in its success to date, and this must be built upon.
One of the things that’s different about Brisbane is that, while it is a relatively large city, it’s not so big that things have not got away from you. 
Brisbane has a unique opportunity to plan for future growth and enhance the city’s liveability. 
Making Brisbane more ‘liveable’ is, of course, a policy objective of the Queensland State Government - 
And Brisbane is doing well in creating walkable neighbourhoods in the inner city and meeting its urban density targets. 
Access to public transport, connectivity and walkability in the outer suburbs remains an area for improvement, as part of a long-term city-shaping vision.
Brisbane and South-East Queensland are different to other Australian cities. 
The hills, the frangipanis, the Queenslanders - 
Partly, it’s because Queenslanders tell us Southerners constantly how different it is.
Rest assured: we listen. 
And there is truth to it. 
Queensland is a particularly decentralised state. 
And the dynamics of growth driving the great urban economy that is Brisbane, and within Brisbane, don’t replicate those found in Sydney and Melbourne.
Brisbane is more decentralised in terms of work patterns and less dependent on international migration, as a driver of population growth.
Brisbane also has a significant advantage over its counterpart cities in Australia in the form of its local government arrangements. Both the existence of the City of Brisbane, and the strength of the relationships across the region that is greater Brisbane.
The OECD has identified for some time now that fragmented governance within cities is a major handbrake on growth.
As we think about a coordinated recovery effort, this matters now more than ever.
This region's current 3.5 million population is forecast to increase to 5.3 million by mid-century, requiring an extra 800,000 homes and additional one million jobs.
These are good problems to have to solve. 
Get the solutions to these challenges right and we’ll make Brisbane and SEQ a more inclusive, vibrant and liveable region. 
Get it wrong and we’ll have more urban sprawl, worsening housing affordability and greater congestion. 
Labor wants to lock in Brisbane and SEQ’s future  – inner urban areas, outer suburbs, from the Gold Coast to Logan and from Redcliffe to Ipswich – by helping to bring together all levels of government, the private sector and community in a way that is meaningful and makes this great city a more liveable, productive and sustainable place. 
To recover, and to thrive. 
Unfortunately, South-East Queensland is currently being short-changed by the Morrison Government. 
With the exception of Melbourne, every other major city in Australia has a signed City Deal except Brisbane. 
We need to get moving on a South East Queensland City Deal - and I know the SEQ Mayors and the Queensland Government are keen to get a deal locked away in the not too distant future. 
This means we need the Commonwealth to get its act together. 
The track record of the LNP for Queensland is a disappointing one - 
One of the first acts of the Abbott Government was to cut all the funding allocated to Cross River Rail by the former Federal Labor Government - if they had not done that, the Cross River Rail project would be nearing completion.
And the reality is that under Scott Morrison - the City Deals Program, across Australia, has become a poor imitation of the UK model it seeks to replicate. 
Too often funding commitments that are determined from the top down and tied to the electoral cycle.
This can’t continue.
It’s why Anthony Albanese recently launched Labor's vision for Australian cities. 
Labor will implement six measures as we recreate cities policy in the wake of the pandemic and the recession:

  1. Transform City Deals into genuine City Partnerships;
  2. Revitalise our CBD’s;
  3. Renew the independent role of Infrastructure Australia in urban planning;
  4. Deliver a new National Urban Policy framework;
  5. Publish annual State of the Cities Report;
  6. And give local government a voice in a meaningful National Cabinet process.

Our policy is designed to be a joined-up framework for our recovery, a framework for enduring partnerships with the different levels of government and with the private sector. 
We will honour existing City Deals - and expand on them by transforming them into genuine City Partnerships. 
Labor’s City Partnerships will also build on our proud urban policy legacy.
Since World War Two, every Labor Government has made an important contribution to Australia’s urban development and progress.
In 1945 Ben Chifley commenced post-war reconstruction with large-scale investment in public housing.
Gough Whitlam connected many of our suburbs to sewerage and established the Department of Urban and Regional Development.
Paul Keating and Brian Howe invested in the Building Better Cities Program.
More recently Anthony Albanese as Minister in the Rudd and Gillard Governments established Infrastructure Australia. 
Now, in this urban century, our cities and suburbs matter more than ever - and so does the national policy framework we apply to these places where the large majority of Australians live and work, and where 80% of our GDP is generated.
Of course, I can’t give a speech about the SEQ City Deal without mentioning the Olympics. 
I welcome the state government striking a 50-50 infrastructure funding deal with the federal government for Olympic-related infrastructure, earlier this week. 
Federal Labor looks forward to continuing to work with the Queensland, Commonwealth and local governments and the Australian Olympic Committee towards an Aussie Olympics in 2032.
I want to acknowledge the work of the Committee through its Olympic and Paralympic Legacy taskforce and it’s first policy paper released in March this year. 
You are doing the important work of identifying how a successful Olympics bid can provide a legacy for the region well beyond 2032. 
In fact, it’s why you’ve called the paper “2033” – asking the right question: if you look back a year after the Olympics, what should the legacies be?
Greater connectivity and equity will no doubt be at the heart of that. 
A vision not just for the staging of a major event, but to seize that unique opportunity to better secure this city’s future.
There’s a common saying in the political world that: all politics is local
The saying is especially true in Queensland. 
Canberra is a long way away. 
It’s why Federal Labor wants local government, local businesses and local institutions - those with their ears closest to the ground here - closely engaged in a partnership. 
It’s why we are committed to listening - now, in Opposition, in government by bringing into decision-making experts and the community through a new Urban Policy Forum.
It’s why we want local government to have a real voice at the national cabinet table.
Our cities and regions are getting more complex. 
Top down, one size fits all approaches don’t work. 
By getting the processes right - processes based on enduring partnerships - we have the best chance to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable for decades to come. 
That’s Labor’s vision for our cities.