Infrastructure investment and cities agenda important tool in achieving national economic policy objectives: Fletcher

A critical driver of Australia’s economic development is the shape and functioning of our big cities, Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, the Hon. Paul Fletcher has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking at State of the Nation 2018, Mr Fletcher said the Turnbull Government’s infrastructure investment and cities agenda is an important policy tool in achieving their national economic policy objectives.

“Our cities are critical to our prosperity and where most economic activity occurs,” he said.
“In 2015-16, the capital cities of Australia, including the ACT, contributed $1.17 trillion to the national economy, or 71 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

“If our cities are responsible for a large and growing part of our economy, and if more and more Australians are living in our cities, it makes good sense to have a clear policy focus on how we can make our cities as productive, efficient and liveable as possible.
“But this raises an obvious question: what are the policy levers open to the Commonwealth Government to help secure these outcomes?

“One of the most important such levers is the Commonwealth’s investment in major transport infrastructure projects.

“Transport networks shape the physical layout of cities – when you build transport arteries and nodes, development follows.”

Mr Fletcher discussed four areas of their infrastructure agenda.

“We have a long-term plan. Infrastructure sector stakeholders have long called for the Australian Government to provide more long-term certainty, to move beyond short-term political cycles and to maximise the opportunities for community and private sector involvement in nationally significant infrastructure,” he said. 

“That is why the Turnbull government's record infrastructure commitment of $75 billion over 10 years in this year's budget has so been widely welcomed. 

“For the first time, the Australian Government has committed to a credible, decade-long pipeline of infrastructure projects focused on driving economic growth, increasing productivity and connectivity, and creating new employment opportunities.

“It offers greater certainty for both state governments and industry participants than the traditional approach of confining commitments to the four-year forward estimates period.

“A second feature of our $75 billion plan is the focus on urban rail.  This is designed to respond to several factors.

“First, rail usage is growing strongly. In Perth, urban heavy rail patronage rose 94 per cent between 2001–02 and 2016–17. In Melbourne, it rose nearly 80 per cent in this period, in Adelaide 79 per cent, and in Sydney over 27 per cent.

“Secondly, as our cities get larger, they are inevitably becoming denser. If a growing share of Australians are to make the choice to live in townhouses and apartments, part of what makes that choice attractive must be better public transport.

“Growing density has significant implications for transport planning. As our cities get more dense, heavy rail starts to have clear advantages over other transport modes because of its capacity to move large numbers of people quickly and reliably.
“A train line can move 50,000 people an hour. Compare this with a freeway lane which can move 2500 people an hour.

“A third factor of course is the very substantial capital cost of urban rail.  Several of our state governments are making major investments, but the Turnbull Government believes there is also an important role for the Commonwealth.

“That is why we committed to a national rail program in the 2017 budget. We promised to invest $10 billion over the next 10 years in transformational rail projects to better connect our cities, suburbs and surrounding regional areas.

“In the 2018 budget we have made major commitments for urban rail, partly funded out of that program. These include up to $5 billion for a rail connection between the city of Melbourne and Tullamarine Airport; $1.05 billion for the Metronet project which will build several new or expanded rail lines across Perth; and $390 million for the Beerburrum to Nambour project on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

“These commitments build on other rail investments in recent years including $95 million towards the Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2 in Queensland; $490 million for Perth’s Forrestfield Airport Link; $42.8 million for Flinders Link in Adelaide, $1.7 billion for Sydney Metro City and Southwest, and $67.1 million for Stage 1 of the Canberra Metro.

“We are also co-investing $20 million in the development of three business cases for faster rail services between our major cities and surrounding regional areas.

“The third feature of our infrastructure agenda is to support employment clusters.  New transport infrastructure can help drive the growth of employment clusters - such as Macquarie Park, which I mentioned earlier, clearly demonstrates. 

“The fourth feature of our infrastructure agenda that I want to highlight (is) leveraging the Commonwealth’s infrastructure spend to achieve broader policy objectives, particularly through the use of City Deals.

“The Western Sydney City Deal, announced in March this year, is a good example. This is a long-term partnership between the Commonwealth and New South Wales Government together with eight Western Sydney councils, which aims to align planning, infrastructure investment and governance to accelerate job creation, stimulate urban renewal and drive economic reforms.

“We are now working to apply these same principles in Perth.  In April the Prime Minister and the Premier of Western Australia signed a memorandum of understanding to prioritise negotiation of a City Deal for Perth.”