A Federal focus on our cities is needed if we are to avoid a nightmare future of transport gridlock, rising greenhouse gas emissions and eroded quality of life in our cities, which are home to 80 per cent of all Australians.
Now, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has acknowledged what many in the building sector have been saying for years – our cities have been ‘overlooked’ by Federal governments despite projected population growth and continuing urbanisation meaning more and more Australians will call them home.
To address this, one of Turnbull’s first acts as PM was to appoint Jamie Briggs as Australia’s first ever Federal Minister for Cities and the Built Environment. The Cities portfolio will form part of the Environment portfolio and Briggs will work alongside Environment Minister Greg Hunt.
Turnbull has been engaged with Australian cities for years, frequently posting his public transport experiences on social media. In a key signal about where his priorities lie, PM Turnbull called for the ideology to be taken out of infrastructure decisions, with funding for proposed projects to be decided on their merits rather than by ‘road versus rail’ bias. Each proposed infrastructure project should be ‘assessed objectively and rationally on its merits’ to ensure ‘the best outcome in our cities.’
The building sector has welcomed Briggs’ historic appointment.
With our cities the site of much of our economic activity, many have felt that addressing the issues in our cities is a vital part of maintaining our prosperity. The Property Council noted the new role was a ‘key economic appointment’ as many of Australia’s productivity issues will need to be solved in our cities. Similarly, Consult Australia has recognised the importance of cities to Australia’s economy.
The Planning Institute of Australia welcomed the new spirit of collaboration between different levels of government signalled by the appointment, along with the emphasis on planning as a means of solving problems. The Australian Institute of Architects reacted similarly, welcoming the chance to ‘better connect built environment policies and programs across all levels of government,’ while the Facility Managers Association welcomed ‘a much needed focus on the built environment.’
This appointment will also help to address key environmental challenges. The Green Building Council of Australia feels a Minister for Cities would help to tackle problems including climate change, population growth, and an ageing Australia. The CRC for Low Carbon commented that innovation to mitigate the impacts of carbon is ‘important not only for the environment, but also for the future of Australian industry.’
There was also a positive reaction from beyond the sector, with the Heart Foundation welcoming Briggs’ appointment and hoping the new minister would help to create ‘healthier urban environments that foster physical activity’ to improve the health of city dwellers.
ASBEC believes the new Minister now has some urgent policy tasks ahead.
There are urgent gaps in the way we develop our cities that can only be addressed by increasing cooperation between state and territory governments – something the new Federal Minister is uniquely placed to do.
One priority is data collection and research, which will enable measurement and reporting of progress over time.
Then there is evidence-based investment to drive productivity, and new financing arrangements that leverage the strengths of every sphere of government to help deliver more productive, liveable and sustainable cities.
The Minister should work with every sphere of government, industry, academia and the community to create resilient cities that can withstand the shocks and stresses of hazards like climate change and extreme weather events.
Finally, the Minister should support and champion the principles of the Urban Design Protocol, which were originally developed through a collaborative effort between government, industry and community sectors. The Protocol outlines principles that deliver sustainable, productive and liveable spaces through design excellence.
I am excited about the potential for this portfolio and can’t wait to work with the new Minister and Australian Government to ensure we continue to deliver the world’s most liveable cities.