The Elephant in the IGR - Australian Cities

The Elephant in the IGR - Australian Cities. By Andrew Giles MP.

Published by the Chifley Research Centre online on 20 March 2015.

There’s much not to like about Joe Hockey’s Inter-Generational Report. It is a profoundly backwards-looking, as well as deeply political document, anchored in the failures of last year’s budget – not the challenges of the next 40 years.

In particular, it confirms the malign neglect by the Abbott Government of our cities. And that they are blind to the consequences of this.

The jobs of the future and population growth will continue to be located in our major cities – but where are policies to manage and facilitate this? The Abbott Government is in denial about these trends and what to do about them.

Under Labor, the previous IGR was mindful of the role cities play in our present, and will play in our future.

Yet cities barely rate a mention in this Treasurer’s report, despite 80 per cent of our national GDP being generated, and four out of five people living, in our cities.

Getting cities policy right can ensure our living standards are maintained. We can boost productivity through getting our urban policy settings right. This is a surer, and fairer, path than the Tories’ tired ideological canards around workplace ‘reform’ – making people work harder, for longer.

As Jennifer Westacott of the BCA has put it, we need to think of our cities, ‘competing with Singapore, with Chengdu, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Dallas, and (have) the policy settings that will allow us to do this.’

With this in mind, we must manage the changing nature of our cities or this will manage us. Decisions we fail to take shape our cities just as much of those we do – think of the impact of the Commonwealth refusal to fund urban rail.

As the most recent State of Australian Cities report found, ‘major cities have experienced a large increase in their number of knowledge-intensive jobs, which have tended to be concentrated in central areas.

‘These jobs are increasingly important to the productivity of cities and they increase employment opportunities and salaries.

‘However, an increasing number of people are living further away from city centres in major cities while higher-skill, higher-paying jobs, are becoming concentrated in central areas.’

This has led to the rise of the drive-in, drive-out workforce – people can no longer afford to live close to where they work. This misallocation of scare resources comes at a cost to individuals, society and our economy.

Competitive and productive cities create more and better jobs, now and into the future, and connecting people to these jobs will lift Australia’s productivity. A whole of cities approach is necessary to adapt to this changing environment.

The State of Australian Cities report identified ways to do this: by bringing workplaces closer to homes; by increasing the number of dwellings in areas that have the greatest number of jobs so that people can live closer to work; and by improving transport links between work and home.

The underlying purpose of these options is a recognition that improving productivity isn’t an end in itself – it’s about improving people’s quality of life with shorter commuting times so that they can spend more time with their family and friends. And live more sustainably.

In Australia, only the Commonwealth Government has the scope and the capacity to coordinate resources across Australia’s 18 cities to ensure that they remain the productive engines of our economy. Today, and into the future.

Labor gets this. That’s why in Government, apart from the biggest infrastructure spend in Australian history, Labor established the Major Cities Unit, started the publication of the State of Australian Cities report and convened the Urban Policy Forum.

And, should Labor win the next election, Anthony Albanese will be Australia’s first Minister for Cities giving our cities a strong voice at the centre of Government.

But this needn’t be a partisan issue.

Current and future generations in our metropolitan cities face unprecedented challenges, but also opportunities. Australia just needs a Government that can allow us to make the most of them.

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