Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that Labor would appoint a new minister for cities to improve planning and infrastructure , saying it was about time the 80 per cent of Australians who live in cities "get a look in."
He argued that local and federal governments were currently being blocked by state governments in their effort to reform local infrastructure.
”The minister for national cities will consider all government policy decisions from the perspective of how they relate to cities. Municipal governments usually get it, whereas many of our state governments just don’t,” he said.
”We have ministers for regional development, we have ministers for primary industries but we do not have ministers responsible for our cities, the cities that generate around 80 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product and employ three out of every four Australians, and that includes not just inner cities but vast expanses of outer suburban Australia where the vast bulk of our national population lives, outer suburban areas that have their own unique planning challenges.”
The move has been welcomed by those working in the built environment sector with Consult Australia declaring it “a missing piece for cities.”
Consult Australia CEO Megan Motto said the move is an important step toward realising the full potential of cities as key drivers for jobs and productivity and demands bi-partisan support.
“The leadership, vision and investment facilitated through a Minister for Cities will help boost productivity and jobs and provide for more sustainable growth across our urban centres,” she said. “It would be naive of anyone to criticise the creation of a Federal Minister for Cities as treading on the patch of local or state government.”
“This provides a missing piece of governance that will help deliver national policy priorities, support smart infrastructure investment and see better health, education, business and environmental outcomes across Australia.
As part of the Urban Coalition of 10 leading industry bodies, Consult Australia has consistently lobbied for the appointment of a Minister for Cities and the establishment of a National Urban Fund to unlock private sector finance for infrastructure investment.
The move was also welcomed by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), which has called on a similar commitment from the Coalition.
“A Minister for Cities will ensure a more integrated and collaborative approach to planning and delivery of critical infrastructure, and will drive the reforms needed to connect urban built environment policies and programs across all levels of government,” said GBCA chief operating officer, Robin Mellon. “A coordinated approach to urban policy development is required to meet Australians’ desire for sustainable, resilient and liveable cities, and to maximise the opportunities of our cities as drivers of Australia’s productivity and innovation.”
A re-elected Rudd Labor Government would also commit to establishing an Outer Suburban Growth Taskforce to develop a comprehensive jobs and growth strategy to address issues facing people living in the outer suburbs – such as transport congestion and limited job opportunities.
This promise has also been welcomed by the GBCA, though they have asked for more detail on what this would entail and called on both parties to provide fully costed polices to support more sustainable cities and communities.
Other key industry bodies, which make up part of the Urban Coalition, also added their support yet highlighted the critical need for more infrastructure funding support.
“A Minister for Cities is a positive step, but even more critical is how we fund the productivity-boosting urban infrastructure that will make our cities work more efficiently,” said Property Council chief executive Peter Verwer.
UDIA National President Julie Katz said a key factor in deliveringing better cities is “ensuring both the right governance and national leadership is in place, as well as getting better infrastructure funding for new growth areas.”
Planning Institute of Australia CEO Kirsty Kelly also pointed out that the election provides a chance to improve city planning.
“There is an opportunity here now to drive smarter long-term integrated strategic planning in urban areas across Australia,” she said. “But this must be supported by a clear platform for investment.”
National Growth Areas Alliance executive officer Ruth Spielman was pleased with Rudd’s promise to focus more on cities and the outer suburbs in particular.
“We also strongly support the commitment to appoint a Minister for Cities and to expand the Major Cities Unit,” she said. “The creation of an Urban Investment Fund is still required to reduce the backlog in infrastructure and meet the need of Australia’s rapidly growing population.”