Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

National Growth Areas Alliance Annual Congress 2019

November 11, 2019





I acknowledge the traditional owners on the land on which we meet –  the Wadjak people - and pay my respects to elders, past and emerging.
It’s wonderful to join you here in Perth on Remembrance Day, and to carry on a conversation I’ve been having with the NGAA ever since I was first elected.
It means a lot to me that this organisation is based in the City of Whittlesea in Scullin – my own electorate – and that my great mate – Councillor Sam Alessi was your first spokesperson.
There is no greater trend in the world today than urbanisation -
By 2050 three quarters of the world’s population are expected to live in cities.
Australia is already well ahead of the trend.
Two-thirds of Australia’s population live in a capital city.
40 percent of Australia’s population live in our two biggest cities. 
Living in cities presents enormous opportunities for people – in terms of jobs, education and lifestyle.
But many of our cities are feeling the pressure of this rapid urbanisation, and this is dividing our cities: too often, a prosperous core and outer suburbs that don’t share this opportunity and amenity.
Urban sprawl, congested roads, overcrowded public transport, lack of access to childcare and schools not to mention the concentration of jobs opportunities in the inner suburbs – and these are just a few issues experienced every day by people living in Australia’s cities – especially in their rapidly growing outer suburbs. The places represented by the people in this room.
Cities policy can’t just be about Central Business Districts, in isolation.
It’s also got to be about our suburbs, and fundamentally, about the people who live in them.
One in five Australians live in the outer suburbs of our cities – and they are not getting the attention they deserve from policy-makers.
Today this matters more than ever.
Because of population growth and because of the challenges of ‘spatial income segregation’ – the geographic concentration of households with similar incomes which – has shaped “how people live their lives within cities” and how our cities are functioning.
Australia is probably the world’s most urbanised nation, but definitely the most sub-urban.
Labor gets this, in early 1970s, Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren made urban policy a national priority, by establishing the national sewage program – that connected thousands of Australian homes – suburban homes – to sewers for the first time.
As Whitlam stated in 1972: “practically every major national problem relates to cities. A national government which cuts itself off from responsibility for the nation’s cities is cutting itself off from the nation’s real life. A national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future.”
Whitlam and Uren took responsibility for ensuring that people building homes and lives on the fringes of our big cities would never be second-class citizens.
But Tony Abbott rejected this in 2013 - and we continue to pay the price for it.
Tony Abbott denied the reality of 2000s suburban Australia.
He may well feel like a king in his car but the truth is Australians are spending more and more time on the road stuck in congestion. 
Now, after grudgingly recognising that cities exist, and after five ministers in  four years we still see the needs and aspirations of the millions of Australians living in our fast growing outer suburbs peripheral at best, or neglected at worst under the Morrison government.
This may well be why he’s so keen on talking about quiet Australians.
But we can’t afford to stay quiet.
About a policy approach that is holding back communities and with this people’s lives.
That is building cynicism through a nakedly political focus on projects, rather than looking to need.
That is top down, when it needs to be bottom up. As the NGAA has made clear.
Labor is committed to turning this around. 
Under Labor, the state of our cities will always be a natural priority. As it was under Whitlam and Uren though the extraordinary contributions of Brian Howe, and more recently Anthony Albanese.
Now, as I’m sure many of you know, my predecessor in this portfolio is the now Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese.
It’s hard act to follow – I’m not going to lie.
When Labor was last in Government we established the foundations for important collaboration and alignment.
We created the Major Cities Unit and Urban Policy Forum to ensure our policy was informed by expert opinion and underpinned by an evidence base, including through the annual State of Australian Cities report.
This was supplemented by the Housing Supply Council – all of this was abolished, of course, on the election of Tony Abbott.
Labor established the Australian Council of Local Government to bring local councils into the conversation.
We also created the Centre of Excellence for Local Government at UTS to promote best practice.
Through COAG we conducted a review of capital city strategic planning systems. This process was chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe with Lucy Turnbull as Deputy Chair.
Anthony Albanese also released Australia’s first ever comprehensive National Urban Policy, which identified three key pillars of productivity, sustainability and liveability.
The original City Partnerships program was designed to build on this approach – bringing together all three levels of government through genuine collaboration, as well as with the private sector, to set out a strategic vision for our cities.
Even in Opposition Labor still lead on this issue – working with stakeholders to identify concerns and priorities. Anthony Albanese also recognised the promise of the 30 minute city, a critical question when it comes to meeting the needs of people in the suburbs.
Today I am pleased that there is now a measure of bipartisanship on the need for Federal Government engagement in our cities, after the neglect under Tony Abbott.
However I believe that the current City Deals program falls short of what is required to deliver real change.
I understand you have questions about the City Deals program, both in terms of the Government’s approach, but also in terms of where Labor’s thinking is heading on this issue.
My view is that when done right, City Deals do have something to offer, to overcome fragmented governance arrangements in the delivery of shared and clearly articulated goals.
A partnership where all levels of government work with the private sector and communities to deliver genuine structural change.
My concern, however, is that the Government has used this as a distraction from their failure to provide real investment in our nation’s cities.
Some of the deals are good deals. And I’ll say so when I see it.
For instance, the Launceston deal is a good deal, as it is driving progress toward clearly delivered, shared objectives.
However the fact is the majority of these City Deals don’t meet this standard – either in the selection of the region, or in the deal itself. 
Labor supports greater investment in our cities; we don’t support political fixes and we don’t think City Deals should just be a mechanism to fund projects the commonwealth was going to fund anyway.
Australia’s cities are in a rapid state of change.
So how do we respond to this rapid change?
There is a unique opportunity for local councils, policy makers and industry to make a difference and ensure the liveability of Australia’s cities and suburbs are enhanced for future generations.
So people don’t think that moving away from cities like Sydney or Melbourne is the only way to have a good quality of life.
We need to make sure that development in our inner and outer suburbs reflects an understanding of how people live.
What does this mean?
It means ensuring new housing developments have access to amenities like public transport so that people can get to work as well as parks and sporting facilities.
It means development that has properly considered the impact of more development on the local road networks.
It means really understanding the urban and suburban, economy of today, and imaging that of tomorrow – realising 30 minute cities.
It means three levels of government working together, and collaborating with the private sector and communities.
Today I’ve talked a bit about Labor’s record when it comes to the suburbs, the places all of us represent, and in particular the record our leader. Anthony Albanese.
The challenge of winning the hearts and minds of voters in the suburbs, especially younger people seeking to build their lives in growing communities has been well articulated by Anthony Albanese, and identified by the authors of our election review as a central, pressing political question for Labor.
But we are mindful that this political dimension is only a part of the story, and that its resolution requires policy innovation and collaboration. Simply put, people need a greater say in shaping the places in which they live.
I’ve also talked about the present government.
Both of these matter: I believe that in Labor we have set out a useful framework to continue to shape our approach to national urban policy, and I trust my critique of the Morrison Government isn’t seen as point-scoring – what I’m interested in is pointing to how we might do better for the millions of Australians who should expect better.
I’m not here to announce the detailed policies for the 2022 election, but I can say this: these policies will build on a strong record, a deep understanding and a deeper commitment to our growing suburbs.
And they will be the product of listening – in particular to the voices in this room.
Thank you and I look forward to working with you in the years ahead.