Address at the National Cities Summit, Melbourne

April 29, 2016

Thank you very much Lord Mayor for your very warm welcome, it’s great to be here.

This is a room of considerable talent. All of you have got a passion for cities. Every single one of you.

The Federal Ministers, Angus, of course, who opened proceedings. Paul Fletcher, Minister for Major Projects and Greg Hunt, Environment Minister - my parliamentary colleagues and all of the distinguished planners, not least of whom of course is the Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission, my dear wife, Lucy who is here with her colleague the Deputy Commissioner.

Right across the room, all of you understand that our cities are a part of our greatest economic assets. This is where most Australians live. 75 per cent of us live in our major cities and regional centres. This is where most of our GDP is derived.

Liveable cities – cities that work are enormous economic assets. They are vitally important to our strong economy and we have some of the best cities, the most liveable cities in the world. And the Lord Mayor has reminded us that Melbourne is the winner for five years and no doubt it well deserves that – it is a jewel of city.

I was reflecting on this as I went up and down Collins Street today on the tram, as is my want, and I was talking, as it happened, to a man on the tram called Damien, who is involved with projects with one of the large banks and he said he’d read about this Summit and he read in the paper about our Cities Policy and the discussion that was going to ensue and we agreed - this is a point that the Lord Mayor just made - we agreed that $1 well spent on planning can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in poor investment if you don’t know you are seeking to achieve at the outset.

Planning is absolutely critical. The ad hocery has got to stop.

We’ve got to work together coherently, cohesively - federal governments, state governments, city governments – in developing these city deals which are no more than agreeing on what we are seeking to achieve.

And what is that? Well, we want to have liveable cities.

We want to make sure that we have the public space, the green space – we want to have the trees that Greg Hunt speaks passionately about and has done so much to promote.

We want to ensure that we have the good transport infrastructure - that Paul Fletcher has been discussing with the State Government here yesterday - to ensure that people are not spending hours and hours every week, sometimes every day, tied up in traffic jams not able to get from one place to another.

The importance of the 30 minute city, which is elaborated in the paper that you have before you – it doesn’t mean of course that we should be able to get from one end of the city to another in 30 minutes – what it means is that you ensure that your cities are designed so that wherever people live they can reach within a reasonable time – 30 minutes – somewhere where they can work, somewhere where they can study, somewhere to recreate – we’ve got to ensure that our cities are not allowed to develop in a manner that results, as we have had, particularly in our own city, my own city of Sydney, where you have areas where hundreds of thousands of people leave every day to go to work because the communities they live in have been allowed to build up in an absence of mind as essentially dormitory suburbs. We’ve got to do better than that and we can do better than that. The key thing is collaboration.

Now, let me say that one of the most important things that the federal government can do is stop being an ATM. Historically, the way the federal government has operated, with respect to urban infrastructure, is to essentially respond to requests from state governments to support this project or that project. Sometimes the federal government takes the initiative where we’ve identified projects that we support. But it has essentially been an ATM approach without the ability to demand and participate and ensure that you get the urban outcomes that can be created from your investment.

You see, the critical thing that we need to do is ensure that our investments make a difference, that every dollar we spend is coordinated with the other levels of government to ensure that we get those outcomes of better open, more open space, better amenities, greater liveability, more opportunities to work close to where you live and of course and a very important issue, more affordable housing. All of those things can be built in to the plan.

I see my tutor in matters of transport economics, Peter Newman is here. Let me say to you, the point that Peter has made over many years is a vitally important one and this is where we need really a cultural gear change in the way we look at urban infrastructure.

States have tended to look - state transport departments have tended to look at linear transport infrastructure, especially the rail lines, as essentially being a challenge of how to get people from A to B. Without recognising that transport infrastructure, and this applies to roads, of course, as well as rail, transport infrastructure changes a community. It can change it for good or ill. It can unite a community or it can divide it. It can create enormous value, enormous value in real estate, enormous value in added amenity.

It has to be looked at in a complete urban context, this is why we have in response from requests from the Victorian Government to invest in the Melbourne Metro, we have welcomed the project, we do welcome the project, but the first thing we said to them was we want to make sure that the work is done to identify how this project will create value in Melbourne, and how some of that can be captured, can be brought to account to defray the cost or support the cost of constructing the rail line. In other words, how can we leverage the taxpayer’s dollar to get a better urban outcome from the investment?

And that is not a new idea - it’s a very old one. It is actually how many rail lines, rail networks were funded to date, and in facts it’s how almost all of them were funded when the railways began, some of the biggest land owners in Japan and indeed North America are still railway companies.

So that’s why we have allocated $50 million to project development to support the work of a financing team,  a specialist financing team that will assemble in the Federal Government to build the business cases and project delivery models applying innovative finance approaches and value capture.

Now, while we genuinely need to invest in more Infrastructure, Infrastructure Australia recently reported what Lucy’s father, Tom Hughes QC, would call a penetrating glimpse of the obvious, but we recently reported what successive reviews have told us, that throwing more money at the problem won't solve it.

Change can only be delivered by addressing the policy and regulatory settings through which cities and infrastructure are governed, planned, funded, constructed and operated. And much of those reforms must be undertaken by the states and territories and local government. We're not suggesting the Federal Government should be running cities. So this is why the city deals are so important.

They would be a contract between all the stakeholders, government, business, industry and the community, an agreement, if you like, that identifies a clear and measurable goal for a city or a region, and agrees on a coordinated investment plan. They'd ensure that our financial contributions, for example, a more strategic and incentivised reform.

Reforms to improve strategic planning, strengthen city governments, unblock impediments to housing supply in planning systems, and enable more competition in the provision of goods and services across boundaries.

And on this issue of planning, let me offer another penetrating glimpse of the obvious. There's been a lot of debate about housing affordability, as there should be, it's a huge issue. But the one thing we all know, and this again has been the subject of every analysis for years, including from the Reserve Bank. Why is housing less affordable than we would like it?

Because we aren't building enough dwellings. It is a supply problem. The supply is not keeping up with the demand and that is the challenge and one of the achievements that we can deliver is by agreeing with state and local government in a city deal, on measures that will ensure that planning does accommodate the need for additional dwellings, and often that ability of the national government to provide some leverage, some leadership, will make it easier for state governments and local governments to deal with their own stakeholders.

Now, this is early days in the development of this - of this policy. We're releasing this today and we are seeking to work in a very collaborative way and we're looking forward to the input from you. But you can see already that the Australian Government, under my leadership as Prime Minister, is charting a very different course in its approach to cities than my predecessors have done.

For example, we are strongly supporting public transport infrastructure. As you know, we've already provided support to the extension of the Gold Coast light rail, a really transformative piece of rail infrastructure on that very long, strung out urban development of the Gold Coast, which clearly needed a link to tie it together and that has added enormously to the amenity and indeed, as the Mayor reminds me, the rateable value of the properties along the route.

I can confirm, as the Western Australian Premier mentioned yesterday, noted yesterday, that we will be partnering with the West Australian Government in their Forrestfield airport link. This is a rail link to the Perth airport. So we will investment $490 million into that and that will provide a quick and efficient connection between the CBD and the Perth airport, improving the public transport network, relieving traffic congestion.

It's not just a transport project. The airport link boosts growth, it promotes new and existing housing and employment centres, around three new stations and transport exchanges, including at Belmont, adjacent to the airport, the international terminal and Forrestfield. And it will create additional value to the airport, and to surrounding centres made more accessible by the link.

To realise the full value of the investment, we're inviting the West Australian Government to make this the centrepiece of a new city deal, to harness our collective strength and resources and partner with the private sector to improve the liveability, accessibility and productivity of Perth and the state economy.

So the other element that I hope you will be discussing, I'm sure you will be discussing today, is the way in which we can make better use of that technology to solve the challenges we face in planning our cities. Now we’ve already seen disruptive technology transform transport through Uber, and other car share applications. What other city problems can we find the answer for through similar innovation?

A better use of a wide range of data already being collected will also transform the way we plan to deliver the infrastructure that is vital for better cities. Whether its date or related to traffic marking spaces, travel times, public transport timetables, all of these make an enormous difference.

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. As you know I am keen catcher of trains, trams, ferries, and other public transport. Now if you go back 10, 20 years in the transport literature you would find people saying that for a public transport system to be really effective, well used, you need to have services sufficiently regular that somebody doesn’t have to look at a timetable to know when the next train, or tram or bus or ferry is coming. Whether it is five minutes or ten minutes, it’s obviously not every half hour. Okay that is fair enough.

Look at what technology has done. Nowadays because I live in Sydney I use the TripView application I can see at any time where every bus and every train is, and tram is in real time. So I know whether the 9.04 train is on time or if it is three minutes late. That is not so important with trains they tend to be fairly reliable but with buses it is very relevant. Your bus could be early or it could late.

It’s a dynamic operating environment with congestion. All of that makes an enormous difference. That one application which cost the State Government nothing, has added enormously to ride ship and to commuter amenity.

What did government have to do to deliver that? Simply create an open API for its real time data. So open data is the key. I might say in terms of Federal Government’s open data, which obviously does not include public transport schedules, about 85 per cent of all of the data sets that are now made open by the Federal Government were made since the election of the Coalition and my incoming Communication Minister. It is a great passion of mine - open data.

It's a great passion of mine, open data, and then we can make available the more we can then rely on the ingenuity of application developers to provide the solutions for our residents.

So these are exciting times for cities.

You know, Ed Glaeser the great American economist, wrote a book, a very famous book recently which Lucy and I have given to many people, called the Triumph of the City. And what Glaeser identifies there is something of a paradox.

When the internet arrived 20 plus years ago, a lot of people said this will be the death of cities. People won't want to go into the city anymore everyone will stay spread out, you know, telecommuting, working online, people will be on an island or in a remote mountain site somewhere, a mountaintop somewhere.

Yet what has happened is that the arrival of this extraordinary transformative technology, and it is, if you think about it, in the space of a generation, we've got to the point where most of the people in the developed world and shortly most of the people in the whole world will have in their pocket a smart phone which has the processing power of a 1990s super computer and the ability to connect to anyone and just about anyone and just about everything in the world. This is an extraordinary transformation. That's happened in a generation.

But what it has done is actually made cities and centres, whether they are big cities like Melbourne or regional centres, it's made them more important than ever. This is the point that Glaeser identifies, the triumph of the city, because at the end of the day, technology cannot defeat our humanity.

By our nature, we are social animals. We are at our most productive, our most creative, our most innovative when we are together, when we get together and that is why an efficient city, a liveable city, is absolutely critical to the development, to the growth of our economy.

You see, every lever of my Government's policy, whether it's our cities policy, whether it is in our innovation policy, whether it is in our investment in defence industries, which is investing massive investments in the most cutting edge technologies in the world today.

All of those investments, all of those policies, the tax policies you will see next week in the budget, all of that is pulling in one direction which is greater opportunities, stronger growth, more and better jobs because these are the most exciting times in human history.

They - this is a time of unprecedented change. We have never seen in all of human history, such change at a pace and scale of the kind we have today. The transformation, the internet, all in a generation. China 40 years ago not part of the global economy at all, now by most measures, the second largest economy in the world and shortly to be the largest.

This has all happened in the twinkling of an eye in the time frame of history. It's happened in the lifetimes of almost everybody in this room and that pace of change requires great cities, liveable cities with great connectivity that enable people to get together, to innovate, to work, to enjoy their lives and enjoy their work in a way that draws the talent in.

You see, Robert put his finger on a very important point. He discarded, he disabused us of any notion that he would be a marriage consultant. He said he couldn't help us choosing our life partner. That's good to know, Your Worship, most of us are already long committed, I imagine, so we don't need your assistance. But he made the point; a big question is where do I want to live? And in this global economy, the world's talent have many options.

Our liveable cities, this brilliant city, my city, Sydney, all of the great cities and centres around Australia are incredible magnets for talent. Magnets for talent to come and magnets for talent to stay. We can make them greater still.

Working together, focused on ensuring that we deliver smart cities, liveable cities, and that every dollar we spend as Governments is based on sound planning, long-range planning and that we know what we're seeking to achieve; liveability, amenity, strong growth, opportunity.

These are all the things that we can achieve with good city planning and I know surveying all the expertise in this room, this summit will come up with some great conclusions, which will be of enormous assistance to the Government as we further promote the greatest cities in the world here, in Australia.

Thank you very much.


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