The new Federal ministry – a gain for Transport but is it a downgrade for Cities?
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a major reshuffle of the Federal ministry on 14 February. Among the changes particularly relevant to cities, infrastructure and transport, the Infrastructure and Regional Development Ministry previously held by retiring Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss has been split.
Senator Fiona Nash has been appointed Minister Regional Development and Darren Chester MP Minister for Infrastructure and Transport – the latter portfolio not specifically allocated in the outgoing ministry. Paul Fletcher MP retains his ministry but the order of portfolios has been reversed – now he is responsible for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government instead of the other way around. Greg Hunt remains as Minister for the Environment.
While Transport has been given a place in the new ministry the Cities portfolio seems on the surface at least to have suffered a demotion. In the initial Turnbull Ministry there was a degree of fanfare around the appointment of Jamie Briggs as Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, only for him to resign three months later following a late night incident in a Hong Kong bar.
The new ministry no longer has a stand-alone Cities portfolio but instead an Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor MP. Echoing criticism from Labor politicians, Malcolm Farr claimed that the PM had “suddenly downgraded the concern he once offered to the millions of voters struggling with big city life”, noting that Mr Taylor “who now will be tending to issues affecting 15 million Australians residing in capitals, has his office 200km into the bush in the seat of Hume” and that he also has to look after “digital transformation”.
Alan Davis put the counter argument, noting that the previous Cities minister had been in the outer ministry with limited powers and budget, inviting “the suspicion it was a largely powerless institution designed for looks rather than action.”
He went on to note: “Cities policy now falls under the direct responsibility of Mr Turnbull, who as well as being Prime Minister is chair of Cabinet. He’s well placed to shape the agenda for cities policy, the pace of change, and coordination with other portfolios. He won’t have to negotiate with a senior Minister and a junior Minister anymore.”
Sian Johnson backed that view, noting the PM’s claim that the cities portfolio had “in reality been promoted.”
“Because it has a whole of government impact, it really needs to be in the central agency, the most important agency in the government, which is, of course, the Prime Minister’s own department,” Turnbull is quoted as stating.
First district appointments to Greater Sydney Commission
The NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has announced the names of four of the district commissioners who will represent local communities on the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC).
The appointments were nominated by the councils which comprise four of the six of the planning districts established as part of the GSC structure. Most of initial appointments are familiar faces in the NSW planning scene; Dr Deborah Dearing has been appointed North District Commissioner, Ms Maria Atkinson Central District Commissioner, MrSean O’Toole West District Commissioner and Professor Edward Blakely West Central District Commissioner.
“These men and women are renowned experts in their fields and I look forward to partnering with them and their communities to make sure that, as Sydney grows, the public reaps the benefits of that growth,” Mr Stokes said.
“For the first time, the local districts of Sydney will have a seat at the table during major planning and infrastructure decisions. By working together, we can ensure our planning decisions make people’s lives better now and into the future.”
The Minister said that appointments were yet to be finalised for the South and South West districts.
NSW council mergers – consider Queensland’s mistakes say former ministers…
Two former Queensland government Ministers, David Crisafulli and Simon Finn, have stressed that data is the “key to community support” in a report prepared for the Glentworth consulting firm which reflects on the amalgamation experience in Queensland .
They claim that the case for amalgamation was based largely on an economic assessment which stressed economies of scale – but that this approach “risks inadequate consideration of the closeness of local governments to their communities or the direct impacts that these reforms can have on the provision of services”.
In their view, arguments for council amalgamation should be based instead on efficiencies that “provide tangible benefits to the community, such as lower rates and improved services” which also contribute to community cohesion, noting that the greatest resistance to amalgamation came from smaller communities fearful at the loss of services and a local voice. These fears were realised when local customer service centres were closed.
“While the economic assessment made sense, the changes immediately impacted on the proposition of a united region and sowed the seeds for ongoing distrust of the new Queensland local governments,” the authors state.
While they stress that some amalgamations “must happen” as small council areas “do not make sense in the long term”, they say the process “must involve more than just an economic rationalist argument”.
“Economic benefits derived by amalgamation need to be realised over the long term, not the short term. Local governments should not seek to realise economic benefits immediately at the expense of creating a new cohesive community. There will be no long-term economic benefits if the communities are ungovernable because of division”, Crisafulli and Finn conclude.
… while the bush says mergers are all about the city…
Meanwhile Snowy River Shire Mayor Clr John Cahill, has claimed in an media report that there is a widespread view that the NSW council merger process is “really all about Sydney and that rural communities should be left alone.”
Speaking after community consultations about the proposed merger of Bombala, Cooma-Monaro, and Snowy River Shires, Clr Cahill said that the government’s rejection of proposals to remain independent meant that the three councils “had no practical choice but to accept the Government’s merger recommendation.
“We would receive no further grants, and we wouldn’t be eligible for loan funding. That’s the life blood. That goes some way between what we receive in rates and what expenditures are,” he said.
Clr Cahill dismissed claims that the merger would result in savings of “more than $13 million in net financial savings over 20 years” as “nine-tenths of bugger-all”
“I think they’ve determined that they’re going to do this in the city. But the bush is quite different,” Clr Cahill said.
… but will they result in full-time councillors?
An article in Government News has suggested that the NSW council mergers could have one side-effect – the emergence of full-time councillors.
“With the dawning of a new age of super councils looking increasingly likely, those councillors left standing from the state’s 1,500 councillors will represent a much greater number of ratepayers – up to three or four times as many – and cover a larger geographical area. They will also need to be across a lot more issues”, the article notes.
Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades is quoted as indicating that councillors were currently underpaid and that there had been “absolute silence” from the government about whether councillors would be paid more if the mergers progressed.
Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) and the UTS:Centre for Local Government Director Associate Professor Roberta Ryan said she could see “both sides of the debate.”
“It’s not about councillors having the skills to run a council,” Ms Ryan said. “Their role is to be strategic and to reflect the ambitions and desires of their community, to be able to account for what happens and get involved in the strategic planning. It’s not their job to manage the organisation on a day-to-day basis.”
Local Government Act reviews underway in three states
In a rare coincidence three states – NSW, Tasmania and Victoria – are currently undertaking reviews of their Local Government Acts. The three reviews are not linked however and are at different phases:
In 2012 the then NSW Minister for Local Government appointed a Taskforce to review the Local Government Act 1993 and the City of Sydney Act 1988. The Taskforce looked at ways to modernise the legislation, to ensure that it would meet the future needs of councils and communities.
The Taskforce completed its work in late 2013 and its final report and recommendations were exhibited for public comment in early 2014. The NSW Government delivered its response to the Taskforce recommendations in September 2014.
The government supported the bulk of the Taskforce recommendations and has decided to proceed with the development of a new Act through a phased process. Phase 1 will strengthen the local government system, “supporting councils to connect with their communities and build their capability”. In particular it will clarify roles and responsibilities of councillors, mayors, administrators and general managers, introduce new guiding principles and improve the standard of governance. The government is seeking feedback via a survey form.
Tasmanian Minister for Planning and Local Government Peter Gutwein has announced a “targeted review” of the state’s Local Government Act 1993, referring to “current community concern over how some councils are managing their affairs”
The Minister said the review would be undertaken by a Steering Committee chaired by the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet Rebekah Burton, with representatives from the Department’s Local Government Division, the Local Government Association of Tasmania and the Local Government Professionals Australia (Tasmania).
“This targeted review of the Local Government Act will ensure the legislative framework for local government is effective and efficient, with a focus on governance improvement,” the Minister said, indicating that he wanted “everyone interested in local government to have their say and be consulted”.
A discussion paper will be released based on the review, with any resulting amendments to the Act to be introduced to Parliament by May 2017. Further information on the review can be found here.
The Victorian Government is conducting “the first comprehensive review of the Local Government Act 1989 in a quarter of a century”. This review has arisen partly because of the impacts of hundreds of amendments made to the Act as a result of other legislation and as a result consideration will be given to “all other legislation for which the Minister for Local Government has responsibility”.
A discussion paper was prepared for which submissions closed in December 2015. All submissions are available online along with a series of background papers:
- Imagining Local Government in the 21st Century, Yehudi Blacher
- The Rights of Ratepayers, Campbell Duncan
- Streamlining Council Financial Requirements, John Comrie
- Towards Victoria’s New Local Government Act: Experience and Ideas from Other Jurisdictions, Graham Sansom
Further opportunities to participate in the review will be provided throughout 2016 including online input and a series of community forums. In addition people will be able to make a submission regarding a Directions Paper to be released later this year. “This review provides us with the opportunity to refresh the role of local government in Victoria – and the relationship between councils and the state government,” Ms Hutchins said.
The Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins has urged all Victorians to become involved.
It should be noted that while they obviously focus on the Victorian reforms all the discussion papers and in particular the one prepared by Graham Sansom contain material that would be relevant in other jurisdictions.
Report paints mixed picture of growth in Australia’s cities and regions
SGS Economics and Planning (SGS) has released a report which has used ABS national and state accounting data to develop estimates of economic activity for each major capital city, along with the regional balance of each state.
SGS states that the statistics provide “improved insights into the relative economic performance of each of Australia’s major capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth), the Northern Territory, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. They also highlight the productivity challenge facing our cities.”
In 2014/15 the strongest growing regions were the Northern Territory (10.5%), Regional Western Australia (7.5%), Melbourne (3.%) and Sydney (3.0%). The other regions mostly experienced below-average growth with regional Queensland growing by only 0.1% and regional Victoria 0.3%.
In the longer term the statistics highlight the consistent contribution of Sydney and Melbourne and the “variable contributions of the resource-reliant economies of Western Australia and Queensland”.
The report notes that Sydney has traditionally been a “significant driver of Australia’s economy”, a position it ceded to Melbourne in the 2000s. However Sydney has resumed its leading role “accounting for 25.2 per cent of growth since 2010, and 30.3 per cent in the most recent year.” Meanwhile Melbourne has become increasingly important to Australia’s economy, “demonstrating its successful transformation from the ‘rust belt’ economy of the late 80s to the diversified economy of today”.
The data also shows the impact of recent resources boom on Australia’s regional economies. For example both Perth and Western Australia grew strongly in the 1990s and up until the 2010s. However the economies have diverged in 2014/15, with Perth’s growth falling to 2.1% but Regional Australia accounting for 23.7% of GDP growth. “This signifies the transition of mining in Western Australia from a construction phase to production, with new mine development curtailed by recent steep falls in commodity prices.”
Golf course to become new Sunshine Coast CBD
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has turned the first sod on a project to develop a new central business district (CBD) for the Sunshine Coast.
The project is forecast to create more than 30,000 jobs by 2040 and boost the Queensland economy by $5.9 billion
“SunCentral is designed to cater for growth in the region. The Sunshine Coast region’s population is expected to grow from 335,800 people to half a million by 2040,” the Premier said.
A 53-hectare CBD development on a former golf course in Maroochydore, an urban centre on the Sunshine Coast, is on its way to being realized after work began on the site late last week.
The 53-hectare project, SunCentral, will be developed on a former golf course and is being touted as a “smart city.” More than 40% of the 53-hectare site will be parklands and waterways and it will feature a number of innovations such as Australia’s first underground pneumatic waste system and the digital management of streetlights, car parks, power and signage.
Calls to abandon Powerhouse Museum move provoke Western Sydney response
A community campaign calling on the NSW government to abandon its plans to move Sydney’s Powerhouse museum from Ultimo to Parramatta has gathered support from some high-profile inner-city residents.
According to media reports, a coalition of MPs and museum experts has been joined by actress Cate Blanchett, her director husband Andrew Upton, former Art Gallery of NSW Director Edmund Capon and former NSW Premier Bob Carr in signing a petition calling for the planned move to be scrapped. The petition which has attracted over 10,000 signatures will now be debated in state parliament.
In an open letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald some of the signatories have called on the Government to reconsider its plans.
“We support the creation of a distinctive ‘cultural beacon’ in Parramatta, but to transport a small-scale Powerhouse would be folly,” the letter reads
The campaign has met with strong opposition in Western Sydney. According to a media report the letter has been called “elitist” by Parramatta Liberal MP Geoff Lee and an “up yours to Western Sydney” by Sydney Business Chamber Western Sydney director David Borger.
Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) President Tony Hadchiti also criticised the campaign as “ridiculous”.
“Suggestions that moving the Powerhouse to Parramatta would weaken its undisputed skills and potentially damage exhibitions is, quite frankly, insulting to both the museum’s staff and the arts and cultural professionals of western Sydney,” he is quoted as saying..
“If the Powerhouse were to open further satellite sites, we should be looking at places further afield such as Blacktown, Liverpool, Penrith or the Blue Mountains, all of which have well established arts cultures.”
Infrastructure Australia releases 15-year plan…
Infrastructure Australia (IA) has released a 15-year infrastructure plan.
According to the organisation the first Australian Infrastructure Plan “provides a positive reform and investment roadmap for Australia”. It outlines the infrastructure challenges and opportunities Australia faces over the next 15 years and the “solutions required to drive productivity growth, maintain and enhance our standard of living, and ensures our cities remain world class.”
Releasing the plan the organisation’s Chair Mark Birrell said Australia can get the infrastructure it needs and improve living standards and productivity, “if it acts now to introduce nation-shaping reforms”.
The Plan recommends reforming the funding and operation of transport infrastructure, completing the national electricity market, improving the quality and competitiveness of the water sector and delivering a telecommunications market that responds to user demand. IA claims that as a result the average Australian household would be “almost $3000 better off each year by 2040.”
“Our Plan sets out 78 recommendations for reform and provides a vision and roadmap to address today’s infrastructure gaps, and set us up to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Mr Birrell said
Alongside the Plan is IA’s “reinvigorated” Infrastructure Priority List which identifies 93 projects and initiatives with a heavy emphasis on transport infrastructure, including new metro rail systems in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, road and rail initiatives for Perth and public transport improvements in Adelaide and Canberra.
In addition a number of proposals are described as “initiatives for the future” including protection for proposed High Speed Rail corridors and new ring roads around Melbourne and Sydney.
In a media release in response Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese said Labor welcomed the updated infrastructure priority list.
“The report’s recommendations, if followed, would restore the proper process followed by the former Labor Government, which required IA to assess value for public money in major projects before they received government funding,” Mr Albanese said, claiming that the government had “marginalised Infrastructure Australia” by cutting the organisation’s budget and leaving it without a chief executive for more than a year.
See the Transport section below for further information on the public transport-related projects in the IA list..
… while Uni initiative calls for “better infrastructure”
The John Brill Centre for Project Leadership at the University of Sydney has released a paper by its director Garry Bowditch titled Re-establishing Australia’s Global Infrastructure Leadership.
The paper introduces the “Better Infrastructure Initiative” which is described as “a call to action for Australia and the world to maintain momentum for infrastructure development, while adapting to a more connected, congested and contestable world.”
The report claims that “private capital and ingenuity are vital to further public infrastructure” provided there is a greater commitment “to better public governance standards that invite innovation and value for money consistent with community standards”.
The paper proposes 10 recommendations, with the first capturing its overall philosophical direction:
“Better infrastructure service provision for all Australians, rather than just more infrastructure, is the key to more community acceptance, value for money and in turn help to re-establish Australia’s global infrastructure leadership.”
IA report highlights urban transport priorities
As noted earlier, the recently-released Infrastructure Australia (IA) list has a strong emphasis on urban transport and in particular urban public transport.
The introduction notes:
“The Infrastructure Priority List is designed to give structured guidance to decision makers, visibility to industry and transparency for the community. It is a ‘rolling’ list which will be updated periodically as proposals move through tages of development and delivery and to respond to emerging challenges and opportunities.”
The list includes items which range from the description of a problem through to “ully developed solutions”. To deal with this the list contains two broad groupings:
- Initiatives: priorities that have been identified to address a nationally significant need, but require further development and rigorous assessment to determine and evaluate the most appropriate option for delivery; and
- Projects: priorities that have undergone a full business case assessment by Infrastructure Australia and that will address a nationally significant problem and deliver robust economic, social or environmental outcomes.
While only two projects are listed as high priority projects (CityLink-Tullamarine Widening in Melbourne and Perth Freight Link), there are around 30 high priority Initiatives, of which over half are classified as addressing urban congestion. While road projects such as WestConnex are represented, a significant number are public transport initiatives.
The high priority public transport initiative list includes:
- Sydney: Sydney Metro, Northern Beaches bus rapid transit, southern Sydney to CBD public transport enhancement;
- Brisbane: Cross River Rail;
- Adelaide: Gawler Line upgrade;
- Melbourne: Cranourne-Pakenham rail line upgrade and level crossing removal, Melbourne Metro Rail.
Transport: Light Rail/Tram/BRT
Canberra community to have input on integrating light rail, public transport
New ACT Minister for Transport and Municipal Services Meegan Fitzharris has said that the community will be given an opportunity to provide input on how to improve Canberra’s public transport network before of the introduction of Transport Canberra on 1 July.
The Minister announced that the ACT Government will undertake an extensive survey to obtain community feedback on the current public transport network, and seek input to inform the future design and delivery of an integrated bus and light rail system.
“Transport Canberra is coming and we want to know how we can make sure it meets the needs of our growing city,” Minister Fitzharris said.
“This new agency will be founded on a strong customer service focus with a goal of winning new public transport customers. So it’s vital we develop a good understanding of what customers want and how they would like to use an integrated bus and light rail system.
“A comprehensive survey will take place in April 2016 to seek feedback from current public transport users and non-users to identify how to best improve Canberra’s public transport system so it becomes more convenient, efficient, affordable and reliable”, she said.
Question over funding for Auckland light rail proposals
According to media reports Labour’s candidate for the Auckland Mayoralty in the upcoming elections Phil Goff has started his campaign by stating that he will “make it his mission to bring light rail to the city” should he become mayor.
He said a line from the Wynyard Quarter, up Queen Street, Symonds Street and down Dominion Road would be a priority in dealing with the city’s congestion which the Productivity Commission estimates to cost the New Zealand economy $1.5 billion a year.
Mr Goff suggested some form of road charging such as a petrol tax, tolls or congestion charges could be used to raise revenue for transport and encourage a change of travel modes.
“We cannot pretend that there is some magic way of funding infrastructure that doesn’t impose any costs on anyone.
“We will need to look in part to private sector options. No funding has been set aside for light rail, for example. Without government funding, a public-private partnership will be necessary if light rail is to finally become a reality,” Mr Goff said.
WSROC questions how high speed link to airport would serve Western Sydney
Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) President Clr Tony Hadchiti has welcomed serious consideration of the proposed high-speed rail line to Badgerys Creek (see TSW7) , but says the organisation needs further detail on how the line will serve Western Sydney commuters.
“We are always excited about better public transport for Western Sydney, however any proposed line needs to serve everyday commuters as well as those travelling to and from Badgerys Creek”, Clr Hadchiti said.
“We would need to see further detail on this proposal and the alternative options before offering our support; particularly regarding the route west of Parramatta.
“If the only stops west of Parramatta are Westmead, Sydney Business Park and Badgerys Creek, this leaves little room for Western Sydney workers to access the service and therefore offers very little commuter benefit,” he said.
“WSROC looks forward to hearing further details on this project and any other proposal under consideration by the Minister.”
Track replaced to resolve V/Line wheel problem
According to media reports hundreds of metres of track used by V/Line VLocity trains on rail flyovers between North Melbourne and Southern Cross Stations has been replaced in an attempt to fix the wheel wear problem that has severely disrupted regional train services on Victoria (see TSW7).
Further sections will be replaced in the coming weeks. Interim V/Line chief executive officer Gary Liddle said the track replacement is to ensure both the track and the train wheels will be in top shape when the trains are repaired.
“The emphasis is on getting that track back in good condition as we’re putting the good new wheels on,” he is reported as saying.
“We’re making sure we’re lubricating the edges of the track, so where it touches the wheels we don’t get that accelerated wheel wear.”