Government must nurture its regional centres

The Coalition government is finally looking to implement serious cities policy after two years of neglect, but once again they’ve forgotten about Newcastle and regional cities.

A plan leaked to the media in December suggests that $6 billion of annual infrastructure spending would be used to make deals with the states to grow capital cities, and set up authorities to take the politics out of planning.After the Abbott government’s active disregard for cities, this is a relief.

But let’s not get too excited, too soon. Indeed, we have already seen the false start of a Minister for Cities being appointed, but now the position sits vacant again.

It’s great to hear reports cities are back on the agenda, but we must ask ourselves why Malcolm Turnbull’s exciting vision for cities only extends to our major capitals?

The government needs to be thinking outside of the Melbourne and Sydney dynamic.Regional cities, from Cairns to Launceston, and the people who live in them, deserve national attention, with government and infrastructure policy support to cope with expanding population growth and subsequent strain on roads and public transport.

Nowhere is this more important than here in Newcastle.Labor’s Building Better Cities program showed what a difference the involvement of national government can make in enabling the transformation of the Honeysuckle precinct.Similar opportunities are present today. Most notably in relation to High Speed Rail and the development of Newcastle as a Smart City. We can’t afford to waste any more time if we are serious about fulfilling Newcastle’s potential.

Malcolm Turnbull should be very familiar with the capacity of Newcastle to lead transformative change, having listed Marcus Westbury’s tale of Renew Newcastle, Creating Cities, on his summer reading list. Hopefully this poolside reading will inspire the Prime Minister to take seriously the opportunities for regional cities like Newcastle to drive our national economy.

We need a broader vision for all the cities of Australia. We have to think beyond the narrow focus on productivity and look at liveability and sustainability. Our cities are places where we live, as well as work.

This is recognised in Labor’s ten point plan for developing our major cities, regional cities and suburbs. It deserves a response from a government that claims to be interested in urban Australia.

And let’s remember. Labor has long supported separating the infrastructure cycle from the political cycle. In government we recognised this, and put our money where our mouth was through the establishment of Infrastructure Australia.In this regard, it seems what’s described as a radical agenda on the part of the Turnbull government is really taking us back to the future.

This new announcement recognises the damage done by the Abbott government in abolishing the major cities unit and walking away from Labor’s policy record in supporting the concerns of the four in five Australians who live in cities.

Labor recognises the significance of finally having a Prime Minister prepared to talk about urban Australia.And we note this first suggestion of policy engagement as a useful start.But there’s so much more to be done.

If Malcolm Turnbull is serious about placing our cities, including regional cities, at the centre of our national prospects, he should be listening to Labor.

Andrew Giles MP is Chair of Labor’s Cities Taskforce andSharon Claydon MP is Federal Member for Newcastle

Labor’s Cities Taskforce ison January 27.

EXPANDING: The government needs to think outside the Melbourne and Sydney dynamic. Regional cities, and the people who live in them, deserve national attention.

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