House of Representatives Speech- Urban Planning

As someone who is deeply interested in the future of our cities, and who believes that the forms of our cities play a critical role in the sorts of lives we are able to lead, I am pleased to support this motion. The forms our cities take are important. They have a profound influence on our economic prosperity, on the impact we have on our unique environment, on the level of social exclusion and inequality experienced in our communities and on the quality of life Australians and their families are able to enjoy. Well-thought-out urban planning fosters the free flow of people and goods through major areas of economic activity and service delivery. Good urban planning connects communities with the labour markets, educational institutions and community networks needed in order for them to flourish.

As someone who is deeply interested in the future of our cities, and who believes that the forms of our cities play a critical role in the sorts of lives we are able to lead, I am pleased to support this motion. The forms our cities take are important. They have a profound influence on our economic prosperity, on the impact we have on our unique environment, on the level of social exclusion and inequality experienced in our communities and on the quality of life Australians and their families are able to enjoy. Well-thought-out urban planning fosters the free flow of people and goods through major areas of economic activity and service delivery. Good urban planning connects communities with the labour markets, educational institutions and community networks needed in order for them to flourish.

The great majority of Australians live in our major cities. You need only look to greater Melbourne or south-east Queensland to see the rapid expansion of our urban periphery. Our local community in my electorate of Isaacs, in Melbourne’s south-east growth corridor, is part of that expansion. We have young families looking for affordable low-density housing in new estates in Keysborough, Sandhurst, Carrum Downs and Skye. We have retirees moving from family homes to smaller properties in newer, denser developments by the beach in Chelsea, Carrum and Mentone. We have the growing industrial areas in Dandenong South and Braeside. And in the middle of my electorate we have a large green wedge. Previous far-sighted planning has preserved this green wedge, which provides our community with a semirural area close to home.

Urban policy in growth areas like my electorate demands careful planning for the needs of a community which is as diverse in age and occupation as it is in income and cultural heritage. Urban policy permeates every level of government involvement in public life. More than most other areas of policy, urban planning calls for an active role from government because we have a collective interest in the form of our cities. All governments have legitimate policy objectives in areas like economic prosperity, social justice and environmental stability. These objectives can be facilitated by the structure of our cities or they can be ignored. Decisions about industry and innovation, migration, public transport, housing and infrastructure all affect the form and function of our cities. To act as if urban planning is not a federal issue does not lessen its federal implications; it simply results in poor policy outcomes. Government must be involved in and must lead the planning of our cities. This extends to the federal government as well as to state and local governments.

The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has created a major cities unit in his department. This major cities unit enables cities and agencies responsible for urban issues to have a single point of contact within the federal government. It is appalling that, for almost 12 years under the previous government, Australia had no Minister for Housing and no major cities strategy. We need to remember that the Labor government that left office in 1996 had created a Better Cities program and a Better Cities strategy, the objective of which was to address a number of challenges facing Australian cities. Those included rapid growth and a demand for infrastructure investment on the fringes of major cities, loss of population and under-use of facilities and services in established urban areas and the increasing social, environmental and economic cost of poorly planned and managed cities. After the 12 years of inaction of the Howard government these are still among the challenges of urban planning that face Australia today.

The Rudd government is responding to these challenges through the major cities unit and a coordinated whole-of-government approach to urban planning. Given the significance of urban planning to our economic prosperity and social structure, the future of our cities demands national leadership, which the Rudd government is providing. I look forward, in the coming years, to seeing more being done at a federal level in relation to the urban fabric of our cities, because the federal government is in the position of being able to provide the leadership which is needed, the leadership that was sorely lacking during the whole of the period of the former Howard government.