September 22, 2015
22nd September 2015
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Nicole Hasham
Lucy Turnbull may have urged federal government action on city-building, but her husband’s decision to appoint a Minister for Cities is simply an idea “whose time has come”, Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams says.
Infrastructure chiefs across the nation have been buoyed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s enthusiasm for urban planning, including Jamie Briggs’ appointment as the first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment and the government’s new willingness to consider public transport investment.
The attitude is in contrast to his predecessor, Tony Abbott, who said the Commonwealth should fund motorways but not public transport projects, and reverses a traditionally minimal federal interest in cities.
In March this year Mrs Turnbull, a former Sydney lord mayor and current chairwoman of think-tank Committee for Sydney, said Australian cities were challenged by a “complex interrelationship between our levels of government” and the Commonwealth set macro-policy in areas such as immigration, tax and infrastructure “without any spatial dimension”.
The Committee for Sydney has lamented the absence of cities in federal policy-making, and Mrs Turnbull has called for personal tax reform and more flexible visa programs to improve Sydney’s economic performance.
Mr Briggs has been tasked with developing a new federal government agenda for cities in co-operation with states, councils and communities.
He is a junior minister and will not have a seat at the cabinet table. The portfolio sits in the environment ministry, however Mr Briggs is a former assistant infrastructure minister and has experience in the delivery of large projects.
Mr Williams said 82 per cent of tax collected in Sydney was funnelled to the federal government but little returned in the form of infrastructure investment.
He described the new portfolio as a “historic moment” but laughed off suggestions Mrs Turnbull inspired the move.
“Whoever originated this thinking, the most important thing is that it has arrived … this cities policy is an idea whose time has come,” he said.
He said the Sydney Metro rail project, including a second harbour rail crossing, could benefit from the federal government’s new openness to public transport funding.
Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council president Ken Maher said the portfolio would help ensure a consistent approach to urban planning across all layers of government.
Mr Maher, who has worked with the Committee for Sydney, said Mrs Turnbull was a strong city advocate and “I’m sure there have been some discussions” with the Prime Minister on the issue.
Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne said his government looked forward to working with the Commonwealth on projects such as the Melbourne Metro Rail.
“I think the Cities and Built Form portfolio will be a chance to talk about Melbourne’s future infrastructure needs, increasing affordable housing supply and improving the national construction code,” he said.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond said she was “thrilled” at the federal recognition of the importance of public transport.
She cited a study that showed the economy of the Macquarie Park area in Sydney grew by up to 2.44 per cent a year after the Epping-Chatswood rail line opened in 2009, even during the global financial crisis.
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