Australian politics are not something I tend to follow however the ousting of Tony Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull last week piqued my interest for a couple of reasons.
- Tony Abbott had taken an extremely ideological position on transport and pushed a transport policy very similar to our governments Roads of National Significance – perhaps even more ideological as our government at least funded or continued some transit projects such as electrification. The Abbott government cancelled or refused funding for a wide range of rail projects and redirected the cash towards more roads even though some of the rail projects were rated highly even by the governments own independent infrastructure body. Prior to being elected he said his government will “stick to its knitting” adding “And the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads”. In his own book Abbott said of public transport:
In Australia’s big cities, public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and still a hideous drain on the public purse. Mostly, there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.
- The contrast with Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t be greater. Even before he became Prime Minister last week he was a well-known supporter and user of public transport in Australia saying recently on twitter “Trains and trams are fun. Meet new people. See new sights. Avoid road rage”. But it’s more than just words, he used public transport regularly to get to meetings and events in his role as a government minister, often tweeting that he was doing so such as the comment below and looking though his twitter feed there are many many more just like this.
After 2 interesting tram trips last night now on the 109 on Collins St to Sth Cross to get the train to Geelong to visit @SHendersonMP
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) July 28, 2015
Yesterday Turnbull announced his new ministerial line up and he paid special attention to the role cities play. His comments almost brought a tear to my eye as they would easily be some of best and most accurate on the value of cities from any politician in this corner of the world. He’s even gone so far as to create a Minister for Cities and the Built Environment to ensure there is focus on developing cities better.
Just turning to changes elsewhere in the Ministry. Liveable, vibrant cities are absolutely critical to our prosperity. Historically the Federal Government has had a limited engagement with cities and yet that is where most Australians live, it is where the bulk of our economic growth can be found.
We often overlook the fact that liveable cities, efficient, productive cities, the environment of cities, are economic assets. You know, making sure that Australia is a wonderful place to live in, that our cities and indeed our regional centres are wonderful places to live, is an absolutely key priority of every level of Government. Because the most valuable capital in the world today is not financial capital, there’s plenty of that and it’s very mobile.
The most valuable capital today is human capital. Men and women like ourselves who can choose to live anywhere. We have to ensure for our prosperity, for our future, for our competitiveness, that every level of Government works together, constructively and creatively to ensure that our cities progress. That Federal funding of infrastructure in cities for example is tied to outcomes that will promote housing affordability.
Integration is critical. We shouldn’t be discriminating between one form of transit and another. There is no — roads are not better than mass transit or vice versa, each of them has their place. Infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits. There is no place for ideology here at all. The critical thing is to ensure that we get the best outcome in our cities.
Now of course, we have a Minister for Regional Development and the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, but cities have been overlooked, I believe, historically from the Federal perspective. So within the Ministry of Environment, I’m appointing the Honourable Jamie Briggs MP to be the Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, to work with Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister, to develop a new Australian Government agenda for our cities in cooperation with States, Local Governments and urban communities.
Of course these are just words and it will be interesting to see if and how the government work to make cities better however it’s definitely a promising start.
Last week in his first speech after being elected he pointed out John Key as someone he wants to lead like, perhaps on this issue the reverse needs to happen. New Zealand like Australia seems to have much of its national identity tied in with sparsely populated places such as farms or rugged and remote locations. Also like Australia most people in NZ live in cities yet despite this cities and Auckland in particular are looked at with scorn. This often results in a lot of provincial parochialism despite the fact that over half of NZs GDP is generated within its three largest cities. In Auckland the government has been actively hostile towards the council, especially in the areas of housing and transport and it’s often not even that they’ve had an alternative vision or ideas.
A minister for cities in NZ that was someone with an open mind and an understanding of the value of cities would be a welcome addition to the Government