Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Speech to Built Environment Meets Parliament Summit

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

Check Against Delivery

Acknowledgements

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Stephen Johnston, CEO, Planning Institute of Australia.
  • David Parken, CEO, Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
  • Romily Madew, CEO, Green Building Council Australia.
  • Peter Verwer, CEO, Property Council of Australia.
  • Megan Motto, CEO, Association of Consulting Engineers Australia.

Introduction

Australia is a great place to live.

A recent report by The Economist ranked Melbourne, Perth and Sydney alongside Vienna, Vancouver and Z├╝rich in the world’s top 10 most liveable cities.

The assessment was based on five broad criteria: stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

But our cities are complex organisms – and will continue to present professionals like you and decision-makers like me with the challenge of ensuring that they remain liveable in the future.

It is a challenge we must meet – because our cities play a pivotal role in national life.

Around 85 per cent of Australia’s population lives in cities; and our capitals contribute nearly three-quarters of the nation’s total economic activity.

Clearly our cities also drive the overwhelming majority of employment opportunities – accounting for 81 per cent of national net job creation between 2001 and 2006.

Yet for the people who keep our cities ticking – our police force, nurses, teachers, child care workers and retail employees – living in our cities is less affordable than ever before.

For many of these workers, the words of the American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ellen Goodman would ring true – she said:

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”

When the Rudd Government was elected in 2007, we were determined to do something about this.

All Australians need secure and affordable housing for themselves and their families – and the national government has an important role in making that possible.

But if we are to keep our cities liveable as well as affordable – we also need to meet other challenges – particularly in infrastructure and the environment.

Social Housing Initiative

Even before the impact of the global recession hit the Australian economy, the Government was making the most significant investment in affordable housing in a generation.

Yet since I spoke to you at this event last year, we have announced a $6.4 billion Social Housing Initiative as a key component of the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan.

We are taking direct action to build around 20,000 new public and not-for-profit homes and repair 60,000 more.

This is not only increasing the supply of affordable housing.

Because by stimulating the building and construction industry, the Social Housing Initiative is also supporting 15,000 jobs over the next two years.

Maintenance work has already been completed on more than 31,000 homes throughout Australia – with another 14,600 benefiting from upgrades to common areas.

Many of these homes would have been lost to stock had it not been for the new investment through the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan.

We have already started building more than 1,200 new properties – with up to 20,000 to be built by the end of December 2010.

Sixteen of the new homes have now been completed.

Last month I met Anthony Cook and his children as they were moving into the first completed new property in Victoria.

They said it felt like they had won Tattslotto.

These are real houses for real people – creating real jobs in the process.

While we are working hard to increase housing stock – we also understand that it needs to high quality, environmentally sustainable ‘liveable’ housing.

The homes must be near jobs and public transport so people can get to work, buy food to sustain their families and live in a healthy community.

We also want new housing to be as energy efficient as possible – cutting down energy bills and reducing the environmental footprint.

Ideally, all new social housing will have six star energy ratings – with good insulation, rain water tanks and solar hot water.

To further enhance liveability, we are breaking down concentrations of disadvantage associated with old-style public housing suburbs.

We are changing the look, feel and location of social housing, and mixing it in with private housing, helping to reduce stigma as well as actual social problems.

The new houses and units are to be built predominantly in our major cities but they will also be built in regional centres and towns – wherever the need is greatest for social housing and wherever there are job opportunities.

There is a wealth of research to back up our approach.

A survey of people in public housing in 2005 found a mismatch between the location of jobs and ‘affordable’ private rental or public housing.

This was a major disincentive for unemployed people in these areas to get a job – moving to where the jobs are has often meant leaving behind affordable housing.

As well as not enough jobs in the areas where unemployed renters live; employers are sometimes reluctant to take on people who live in certain areas.

More than half of both private and public renters – 56 per cent and 51 per cent respectively – nominate one or both of these issues as a major difficulty in getting a job.

It is one of the reasons we are working to break down concentrations of disadvantage.

National Rental Affordability Scheme

Perhaps the most innovative and ambitious of our new housing programs is the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

As you know, the Scheme is particularly directed at the key workers I mentioned earlier – our police, child carers, retail workers, nurses and teachers.

One example was a development by Queensland Affordable Housing Consortium at Redbank, which I opened in June.

These 17 three bedroom houses sit between Brisbane and Ipswich, within walking distance to the train station and a major shopping centre.

The homes are also surrounded by job opportunities and rent is 25 per cent below the market rate.

Based on normal market rent tenants they will save about $85 per week.

This will help families to pay their bills on time – and to potentially save around $4,400 per year towards buying their own home.

So – liveable housing that is also affordable.

When the National Rental Affordability Scheme started last year, we said it would be implemented in two phases:

  • An Establishment Phase, to provide 11,000 incentives and, subject to that broad target being met;
  • An Expansion Phase, to provide for 39,000 further dwellings.

I am greatly encouraged by the progress of the two rounds of applications so far, and am confident that we are on track to meet or exceed the targets for the Establishment Phase.

Today I announce my intention to call the opening of the third round of the National Rental Affordability Scheme.

This new round will initially be opened in two parts.

The first will be for projects which are linked to the affordable housing developments which are to being funded under the Social Housing Initiative.

This will allow affordable housing providers to leverage off the increased asset base and income streams provided through the Social Housing Initiative to bring even more affordable rental homes on-line quickly.

The second component allows for developments on public land which has been released for affordable housing by State and Territory Governments.

The States and Territories have identified suitable land for residential development and want to ensure that affordability targets are met.

Applications can be received from 1 September and remain open for 12 months to allow for large scale development proposals to be submitted.

The extended timeframe for applications acknowledges feedback we have received from providers and developers about the way in which project planning and the securing of finance needs to be undertaken, particularly given the economic climate.

Infrastructure

Beyond the provision of affordable housing, infrastructure in our major cities is central to liveability and economic productivity.

This year’s budget included $36 billion for transport infrastructure, including $8.5 billion in new funding.

Of the 15 new transport projects being funded, nine are rail projects in major cities.

We announced our first major cities infrastructure initiatives, including $236 million for the Northbridge rail link in Perth, $61 million for Adelaide’s O-Bahn extension and $91 million for the West Metro – a new underground rail line linking Parramatta to the Sydney CBD.

Having fewer cars on our roads not only reduces traffic congestion, pollution and travel times – it also has significant economic benefits.

The avoidable cost of urban congestion – through time lost and other wasted resources – is estimated at $11 billion a year, and forecast to rise to $23 billion by 2020 without action.

By reducing congestion on our roads, we can speed up the delivery of fresh produce to the supermarket and export markets, and make life easier for commuters who have deal with the daily grind of travelling to and from work.

The Government is working with the States and Territories to move Australia towards single national transport markets for maritime, rail and heavy vehicles.

Existing regulations are complex and costly for companies doing business across State and Territory borders.

We are working together to lift national productivity and allow transport operators to get products onto supermarket shelves and exports to market more quickly and at lowest cost.

Last year the Government established the Major Cities Unit in recognition of the importance of our cities driving national productivity and the need to ensure liveability.

The Unit provides advice to Government on infrastructure and planning issues of relevance to major cities.

The Unit is preparing a National Urban Policy, which will present a long term strategic framework for the sustainable development of cities.

It will outline the responsibilities, expectations, strategies and actions required of governments, the private sector and the community to ensure our cities are prosperous, liveable and sustainable.

Conclusion

Liveability is an issue the Australian Government has to consider more than ever – and we are.

It is a terrific achievement for three of our capitals to be recognised among the world’s most liveable cities – now we need to keep them there.

To do this, we not only need to meet the constant challenge of ensuring that our ever-growing cities are affordable places to live – we need to make sure they remain great places to live as well.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.