ANDREW GILES MP
MEMBER FOR SCULLIN
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIES AND URBAN INFRASTRUCTURE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
INEQUALITY AND CITIES
LABOR IN THE CITY: URBAN POLICY IN THE FUTURE
THURSDAY, 30 JANUARY 2020
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Urbanisation is the phenomenon of the 21st century.
It’s only recently that more people around the world have lived in cities than in the countryside.
Now it’s more than 55% - and the UN estimate that this will be 68% by 2050.
In Australia, we’ve been ahead of this curve - outside of city states, we are the most urbanised country.
So, how our cities work matters enormously - to the economy, for the environment and for how most people get to live their lives.
Better cities mean better lives, it’s that simple.
And the reverse is also true - while urbanisation is booming because cities are terrific engines of growth, this is by no means guaranteed to be inclusive.
Today, Melbourne’s economy is booming.
And we can see and feel this happening. The opportunities and challenges of this growth are everywhere to be seen, and much talked about.
This is, at one level, the story of Australia’s economy more broadly today - and this is a political story just as much as an economic one.
Our big cities are getting bigger and wealthier, opening up a divide between these places and much of the rest of the nation.
This has been a part of our political debate, particularly following the last election.
THE PROBLEM: GROWING INEQUALITY WITHIN URBAN AUSTRALIA
But big things are also happening within our cities.
Inequality is on the rise.
The OECD has observed that the recent trend to increased urbanisation has led to a situation in which ‘inequality of income and other well-being outcomes in higher in cities than elsewhere.’
Leading urbanists have qualified their enthusiasm for an urban transformation driven by the rise of a new creative class.
Richard Florida, who was at the forefront of the charge, titled his most recent book ‘The new urban crisis: how our cities are increasing inequality, deepening segregation, and failing the middle class’.
Around the developed world, he found plenty of examples to illustrate this thesis.
There are plenty right here, too. And they are growing.
The latest report by SGS Economics and Planning - Economic Performance of Australia’s Cities and Regions, highlights that Melbourne and Sydney produced almost 75 per cent of national GDP growth.
However, growth is not uniform across the Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan area. CBD’s and their inner city halo make up most of the growth and this becomes less in the outer suburbs, so much so, the further you go out the physical metropolitan boundary almost replicates a zero growth boundary.
We are increasingly seeing concentrations of advantage and disadvantage.
In my first speech in the parliament I touched on this as a concern - six years on, we have to act, if we are to avoid tales of two cities separating Australians, their opportunities, lifestyles and experiences.
As the Shadow Minister for Cities I’m determined to focus on this, and to make the case for a different approach to urban policy in our country.
Not just to highlight what’s going wrong under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government (although there are rich pickings here) but to suggest how we can do so much better.
We can do better by recognising how the strengths that exist in our cities can be greatly enhanced if we take steps to bring everyone close to the action.
This isn’t just about productivity, important as that is.
Cities are places where we live, as well as work.
We have to use urban policy to improve people’s lives.
CITIES ARE FOR PEOPLE - WHY NOT CITIES POLICY?
So let me put forward a simple proposition to direct Labor’s agenda - to make urban policy about people.
Let’s put people’s experiences, needs, hopes and aspirations at the centre of Labor’s vision for our cities.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we don’t talk about physical infrastructure - what we should build, when, and how we should pay for it.
But we can’t allow the debate to focus on means to the exclusion of the ends: creating cities that work, for all.
We have to make our cities work better for all residents – not just people who can afford to live in the inner city.
And to do so we have to recognise that it’s the quality of connections that’s accelerating the segmentation our cities into areas of haves and have-nots.
Prosperous cores, and peripheries that are a long way from the Economist’s annual liveability index.
A road or a railway line can’t be a goal in itself. It’s something that facilitates movement, and access to things that add up to quality of life and may not be around the corner: a job, or a wider choice of jobs, amenity - from childcare, a supermarket, a bulk-billing GP, great coffee, or a park with a playground, or family and friends.
We seem to be more comfortable conducting public debate about infrastructure in the abstract, but this shouldn’t be the case.
CITIES FOR ALL, BY ALL
More equal cities should be shaped by the experience of all their citizens.
Let’s take a moment to think about inequality, in this context.
There’s an important debate in planning circles about the way in which the predominance of men in decision-making has had the effect of denying much urban space to half the population.
I’ve been discussing this with Julie Collins, our Shadow Minister for Women, and hope to work with her to start redressing this.
People with disabilities have too often been afterthoughts when it comes to urban planning.
And as Australians are live longer - we also need to think more about how older people’s needs are reflected in the shape of our cities.
Cities are magnets for migration, and the mainstays of our great multiculturalism, but changing settlement patterns haven’t always or consistently been reflected in urban policy.
These are just a few examples - but important ones - of the breadth of the debate that is necessary to get our policy settings fit for purpose.
A GOAL AND A PLAN TO GET THERE
I’m committed to addressing urban inequality.
I’m committed to working towards cities that aren’t just more productive, and more sustainable, but which work for everyone.
To a future that owes less to Charles Dickens, and more to the hopes and dreams of all the Australians making their lives in our cities.
To working with these people, with other levels of government, with community organisations and with business, too.
To listening to experts, and bringing evidence and a critical eye to the decisions we make - whilst not ceding responsibility away from those most affected, to those who aren’t elected.
THE START OF A RESPONSE
So, how can we respond?
It’s really easy to identify the hurdles that stand in the way: our federation doesn’t seem up to yesterday’s challenges - let alone tomorrows.
And at a time when trust in politics is at an all-time low, explaining the complexities of who’s really responsible for what in our cities can all too easily seem like passing the buck.
But national government can make a real difference.
As has happened in the past: from Uren bringing sewage to the suburbs, to Brian Howe’s transformative building better cites program and of course the work of Anthony Albanese in bringing our cities, and the millions who live and work in them, into the heart of government.
In place of the Liberal disinterest and neglect, an effective national urban policy would drive cooperation around shared goals with other levels of government, and the community.
We can put in place real partnerships to deliver growth that’s inclusive.
We can recognise that our cities need to democratic places as well as efficient ones, and that there’s no substitute for local experience and understanding.
My colleague Alicia Payne, the new member for Canberra, has thought deeply about these issues: I’ve asked her to work with me to help build a clearer picture and better understanding of how inequality in urban Australia is changing its form - and what we can do about this.
I’m excited to be Labor’s spokesperson for cities, and to have the chance to build on a proud legacy - more importantly, to secure that legacy.
It’s being undermined by powerful economic forces and a government that just doesn’t get it.
This couldn’t be more important.
Unequal cities hold all of us back, in so many ways.
From creating de facto gated communities, where people are isolated from people who aren’t like them in terms of occupation and wealth.
And denying people access to good jobs, and those things which can make urban living so exciting.
These damage our society, the quality of our democracy, and our economy.
But it can get much, much worse.
In the disaster of the Grenfell Tower in London we see the awful end point of urban inequality.
The awful end point of not seeing our cities through the eyes of all the people living in them, not recognising everyone’s right to a fair go in places of enormous opportunity.
These are the stakes.
They really couldn’t be higher.
Nearly 50 years ago Gough Whitlam said that ‘a national government which has nothing to say about cities has nothing relevant or enduring to say about the nation or the nation’s future.’
Of course, he was right - now, even more so.
So many more of us live in cities today, and the forces pulling people apart are so much stronger now than in 1972.
We have to finish the job he started.