Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Shaping Our Future Cities

November 21, 2019



I acknowledge the traditional owners on the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to elders, past and emerging.
Thanks to:
· Philip Davies from Deloitte for hosting us today;
· Phillip Graus, Director, Western Sydney City Deal.
· Gabriel Metcalf, CEO, Committee for Sydney – for their work in putting together today’s event.
I also want to acknowledge my many parliamentary colleagues from Western Sydney – including the local member Julie Owens.
Standing here as a Melbournian, I’m very grateful for their advice and guidance.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today in Parramatta – Sydney’s second CBD - as Labor’s Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure.
I’m very conscious that I follow in the footsteps of the Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, in this critically important portfolio.

Conscious of his body of work, intellectual and practical, in shaping our approach to urban policy and to infrastructure more broadly.
Of his passion for this work, and for this city.
In this speech – and in this role – I want to start to set out a framework for a national approach to secure cities that are more productive, liveable and sustainable, building on Anthony’s work and in collaboration with the full range of stakeholders.
A framework that drives a long-term, bottom-up approach, seeing shared visions realised through collaborations, which recognise that communities should be speaking for themselves through wider policy settings which enable this.
A framework with a clear sense of the role of national government, and of complementary roles for the states and territories, and local government – as well as, of course, the private sector.

I believe that the Commonwealth Government can and must do more to shape our cities.
Almost 90 per cent of all Australians live in urban areas.
And our biggest cities are growing at break neck speed.
Infrastructure Australia predicts that by 2031 the populations of our four largest capitals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – will have increased by 46 per cent.
Sydney is expected to reach 8 million residents by mid-century.
Western Sydney is already home to two million people, and is our third largest economy.
It will add another one million residents over the next 20 years.
The drivers of this rapid growth are good things– greater employment and educational opportunities to name just two.
But there are also significant challenges that we have to acknowledge, and respond to.
We recognise in particular the impacts of urban sprawl, growing congestion on our roads, and an unequal distribution of employment opportunities, particularly in outer suburbs and growth areas.
Where we live shapes almost every aspect of our lives, but it shouldn’t - can’t - confine the lives of millions of Australians, nor present a further hand brake on growth.
As Gough Whitlam stated back 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.”
Of course, it’s no accident that Gough, the member for Werriwa, said this in Blacktown.
It was Whitlam with Tom Uren that established the national sewage program – that connected thousands of Australian homes – many of them in Western Sydney – to sewers for the first time.
I’ve already touched on how important Western Sydney is, not just to the millions living here, and the millions to come join them, but to our nation.
Infrastructure in Western Sydney, including of course social infrastructure, hasn’t kept up with demand – or need.
My colleagues and friends in the caucus who represent this part of the world have highlighted these gaps, and their consequences.
There remains a divide, across too many measures, between Western Sydney and the eastern suburbs.
That this persists has to be a national call to action - to ensure that people in this dynamic region have every chance to fulfil their potential, and that we can all reap the benefits of this.
So, what’s the Federal Government’s role?
Yesterday the Prime Minister made an announcement on infrastructure.
There was a lot of rhetoric, a lot of blame shifting – but not a lot of new money.
This illuminates the real choice here, as we grapple how to respond to the with fragmented governance – do we choose to cooperate, focusing on working towards those things we agree on?
Or do we carry on down the low road, looking to divide, allocating blame rather than working to bring people together.
I do acknowledge the Morrison Government’s participation in urban policy, particularly when compared to the neglect of this area during Tony Abbott’s tenure.
The reality is, however, that their City Deals Program is a pale imitation of the UK model it seeks to emulate, with funding commitments that are determined from the top down and tied to the electoral cycle.
That’s why Anthony Albanese committed to overhaul and replace the Coalition Government’s City Deals program with a new, more rigorous program called City Partnerships, at the last election.
The choice of language here isn’t mere semantics – it’s attempt to reconceptualise what we are talking about, away from a project focus to addressing the central issue: fragmented governance, as a barrier to realising our infrastructure objectives, in the broadest sense.
The OECD has consistently highlighted the negative consequences of this in major cities, in terms of growth, productivity and also equity. They have referred to Sydney, in this context.
I note that Infrastructure Australia has taken this up and indeed has called for metropolitan-scale governance of Australia’s largest cities.
Let me be clear – I’m not calling for this to be imposed!
Our cities must continue to be democratic spaces, as well as efficient ones.
To me, this means that for Sydney, and in particular Western Sydney genuine City Partnerships are of critical importance.
They can bridge the gaps left by the fragmented formal governance arrangements - and only be limited by the imaginative and collaborative capacities of their partners.
The need for a coherent strategy that takes into account planning, transport, health, education and other vital infrastructure is obvious.
And this has to be over the long-term, not driven by the different electoral cycles of local, state and federal politics.
We do need to recognise the role that the Greater Sydney Commission is playing in this regard, which should be more complementary to, and complemented by, a national urban policy that is fit for purpose and ready for the future.
That is, a framework that can be more comprehensive, and more responsive than the ad-hoc, top-down present arrangements.
Again, the OECD provides food for thought.
Its recent report, Making Cities Work for All – Data and Actions for Inclusive Growth, set out five pillars of a national urban policy framework to secure inclusive growth: money, place, people, connections and institutions.
Five pillars, where we seem too often here to only to speaking of two, or three at best.
Seen through this lens, the ambition of Australia’s current City Deals seems pretty limited.
I would say, unduly so.
When organisations like the Committee for Sydney, Property Council and KPMG came together to advocate for consideration of City Deals in Australia they did so on the basis of an assessment of the UK model that recognised it as having brought together local governments, and driven increased investment to maximise economic growth.
It’s this which risks getting lost where City Deals become ribbons tied around particular infrastructure projects, rather than city-shaping, productivity boosting partnerships.
I want to touch, briefly, on the existing Western Sydney City Deal, and proposals for a central city arrangement. Both have great potential.
The Western Sydney MOU was signed without local government and continues to exclude Blacktown City Council.
We think it’s a mistake to exclude Blacktown.
You can’t exclude a local government area that is home to nearly 340,000 people, and tell them they have no part to play in a massive regional City Deal that is designed to deliver better transport connectivity, better community amenity to the area.
It just doesn’t make sense and neither does the failure to have and provide a bigger role for local government in the process.
On the positive side – the first stage of Sydney Metro Greater West (formerly the North-South Rail Link) from St Marys to Western Sydney Airport is a genuine city-shaping project.
We just wish the Morrison Government would get on with funding it.
It was noticeable that Mr Morrison couldn’t find any money in yesterday’s infrastructure announcement for Sydney Metro Greater West. 
Regarding the Western Sydney Airport - it’s clear that the continued strong bipartisan support for Western Sydney Airport is providing the confidence for a massive investment pipeline in the Aerotropolis.
If we get it right the Western Sydney Airport will provide unprecedented opportunities for communities in Western Sydney.
That means jobs – and importantly high value jobs for the people of Western Sydney.
In this light, we need to give more consideration to the extent to which schools and TAFEs in Western Sydney are equipped to prepare today’s young people for the apprenticeship job opportunities that will emerge as a result of this massive development.
This can be done by collaborating with TAFE colleges and the University of Western Sydney to encourage them to focus more heavily on the skills that will be needed for the jobs generated by this development.
And all this takes us back to the question: is the present deal all it could, and should be, if what we are trying to do is something more than build an airport?
Of course, this is the present Western Sydney City Deal.
It would be remiss of me, here in Parramatta, not to recognise the push for a Central Sydney City Deal too.
I was thrilled to be at the launch of the "Stuck in the Middle" report, authored by the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue.
This report makes a strong case for engagement, which demands serious consideration – and a response from the Commonwealth.
We can’t allow there to be a missing middle of this great city. As the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue have pointed out:
“Over the next 20 years, the Central City will take on half of Greater Sydney’s population growth and it needs a plan to coordinate efforts across all levels of government to ensure there is a hefty community dividend flowing from the wave of investment in the region.”
In this speech I’ve attempted to set out the central elements of Labor’s thinking in respect of urban policy, and how this relates to the particular set of challenges and opportunities faced by people and businesses in Western Sydney.
I’ve done so intending to start a dialogue, to boost growth and productivity, through greater cooperation - which will shape our approach that we take to the next election.
In focusing on a policy framework, there are many important issues I haven’t specifically touched on.
This doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of discussion – fast rail and affordable housing just name two.
This framework isn’t just about physical infrastructure in isolation, as I hope I’ve made clear.
It’s the people of Western Sydney who have to be at the centre of our focus if our national policy settings are to achieve their objectives.
It’s their voices, experiences, hopes and dreams which we have to better connect to the work we do.
I’m also Labor’s Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs.
This portfolio relates closely to my responsibilities in the Cities space, nowhere more so than here in Western Sydney, where of course immigration has been and will continue to be the major driver of population growth.
We need to continue to celebrate the transformative contribution of immigration and multiculturalism to this region, and focus on making sure we fully realise the potential of inclusion - for individuals, and across the economy.
Ideas like relocating the headquarters of the SBS to Bankstown, as we proposed at the last election, symbolise our concern to bring together our sense of and belief in modern Australia with our place-shaping agenda.
Whitlam made the case for the national government to become more involved in shaping our cities, 50 years ago.
So, as we approach the 50th anniversary of this transformative statement, where better to honour its intent, and Gough’s ambition than here in Western Sydney.
Could he have dreamt of a Parramatta like that of today?
I’m not sure of this, but I am confident he’d want us to follow his example, in bringing together a bold national policy approach with a confidence in the capacities of Australians, in their communities to shape their futures, building on strengths, overcoming obstacles to growth.
I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’m looking forward to working with you all in the years ahead.