It’s been a few months since new PM Malcolm Turnbull appointed Jamie Briggs as Australia’s first federal Minister for Cities. This historic appointment is a huge breakthrough for our cities, but what does the new Minister need to focus on?

Australia’s cities face a number of challenges which, if not addressed, could threaten their famous liveability. Our population is growing rapidly, at the same time as it is ageing. Climate change is forecast to bring higher temperatures, changing sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events. Much of our travel infrastructure is out of date or needs investment.

Over the last few years, ASBEC has conducted exhaustive research and expert consultation with our members across the building sector. We know what our cities need to keep them world-class.

Here’s where we think the new Minister needs to act:

  1. Lead on data and research. The new Minister should lead the development of an Intergovernmental Agreement with the states and territories and local government supporting better data collection and research to understand our cities; evidence-based investment to drive productivity; and new financing arrangements that leverage the strengths of every sphere of government helping to deliver more productive liveable and sustainable cities.
  2. Measure and report success. We need to adopt transparent and consistent indicators to measure and report success across all of our major cities. Flagship indicators could include economic prosperity, sustainable land use and transport, greenhouse gas emissions, and health and liveability, among others.
  3. Understand infrastructure. More comprehensive business case assessments of infrastructure projects will help us understand exactly what their effect is. Improved data collection would allow us to truly understand the benefits brought by investment in infrastructure. Once we’ve got new data, we then need to embrace new methodologies for interpreting it, and build business cases for investment that reflect the true benefits it brings.
  4. Support the creation of places for people. The national Urban Design Protocol (Creating Places for People) is a how-to guide for delivering best practice urban environments. It provides 12 broadly agreed principles that take into account the unique characteristics of a location, and people’s experience and well-being. It uses these markers to encourage excellence and collaboration in the design and custodianship of urban places. The Minister‘s support could help the protocol become an established framework supported by industry and across government.
  5. Incentivise the building sector to cut emissions. Buildings contribute 23 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, so they are a vital part of the emissions reduction effort. Energy efficiency measures and tax breaks for green buildings would make a significant difference here.
  6. Develop and deliver a National Policy Adaptation Framework. With climate change bringing new shocks and stresses to our buildings, infrastructure and communities, we need to improve their resilience. The new Minister should lead the development and delivery of a National Adaptation Policy Framework to coordinate the nation’s resilience and adaptation initiatives, through consultation, engagement, research and regulatory review.

One extra factor underpins everything above. Coordination between all levels of government – federal, state and local – is vital, as well as coordination between federal portfolios like Environment and the new Cities and the Built Environment ministry. The new Federal Minister is uniquely placed to facilitate this coordination.

This is an exciting time for Australian cities. The appointment of the new minister signals a huge shift in the way our cities are viewed by the federal government. We’ve got a great chance now to coordinate and plan the work we need to do to keep our cities liveable.