Senate Additional Estimates February 2012
Rural, Regional and Transport Committee
Major Cities Unit February 14th 2012
- Active Transport strategy update and whether it will be public or not
- $20m Liveable Cities program oversubscribed with 170 applications worth $141m
- Retrofitting task upon us with 90% of infrastructure by 2029 built before 2010
- Consultation re Nation Building 2 and major Infrastructure Australia decisions
Senator LUDLAM: Last October I asked about the active transport strategy. Can you give us an update of where you are getting to with that?
Ms Ekelund: We have progressed work on the active travel discussion paper/position paper, but I have to say it has taken a little bit of a backseat in the last month or so as my staff has concentrated on evaluating the Liveable Cities program. As you are aware, we do not have a huge team so that was a priority task that we have been focusing on. Likewise, the team that is also dealing with active travel was responsible for getting out the Creating places for people: an urban design protocol. It is tackling one project and priority at a time.
Senator LUDLAM: It sounds like perhaps you need more people. The minister is busy, but it will be in the Hansard.
Senator Carr: I am sure the officers would be only too happy to put their case.
Senator LUDLAM: I am sure that is not what Ms Ekelund was doing. Nonetheless, this is important work. It is a shame that an active transport strategy is having to take a back seat. Minister, I might put this one to you while I have your attention. In Question on Notice 84 from last time, I was asking whether that document would be made public. The answer that came back on paper was, 'The government has not considered the release of this work.'
Senator Carr: Can I just get the paperwork?
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. It is No. 84 from last October.
Senator Carr: I am advised that work has not concluded and therefore no decision can be made.
Senator LUDLAM: I am not asking you to release it before it is finished.
Senator Carr: But that is the nature of the document. It is not concluded.
Senator LUDLAM: I am not asking you to release a not concluded document. My question was: when it is finished will it be put into the public domain?
Senator Carr: We will have to take that on notice, because it is obviously-
Senator LUDLAM: No, it is exactly the question that you took on notice last time. I am just trying to work out whether there is any clarification. Often you will-
Senator Carr: The answer is provided.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, but it is a non-answer.
Senator Carr: It is an answer.
Senator LUDLAM: No, it is not-'The government has not considered the release of this work.' Are you telling me you still have not considered it or are you offering to take it on notice and not consider it for another couple of months?
Senator Carr: That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: I feel like I have just stumbled into a Monty Python sketch.
Senator Carr: You are the one who keeps referring to these dead parrot routines.
Senator LUDLAM: It is the first time today, to my knowledge. Will you be releasing that report when it is completed?
Senator Carr: That is a matter for the minister.
Senator LUDLAM: Wow! If you are going to take it away on notice and not consider it until probably May, which is the next time I will have an opportunity to ask, I would suggest that it would be strongly in the public interest to release it, since you are doing it.
Mr Wilson: In terms of the work that Ms Ekelund's unit is doing, the minister has not yet considered a position in terms of releasing the document. The answer is as the question is phrased and answered, which is, the government is still to consider this. As you said, the answer is as it is stated there.
Senator LUDLAM: That is five minutes of our lives that we will never get back. Could I maybe phrase it differently this time and ask the minister to consider whether or not he will release it when it is concluded? I invite that consideration and we will leave it there. This is valuable work. It is strongly in the public interest that it is released, but I will leave that with you. Ms Ekelund, does that make a material difference in the drafting of the document when you do not know whether or not it is going to be for public release? Is that an unusual constraint to work under?
Ms Ekelund: At this stage, no. We are looking at facts and figures and issues around active travel and we will be preparing material for the minister to consider, which may include some internal options, but at this stage that has not figured in how we are progressing our work.
Senator LUDLAM: Given the resource constraints you identified earlier, when is the estimated time that you would be passing a copy to the minister for consideration?
Ms Ekelund: We expect to be able to provide the minister with material in the first half of this calendar year-so, this financial year.
Senator LUDLAM: Again, all I will do is encourage the minister to consider releasing it so I do not have to go around referring to the government's secret cycling strategy, which I will do even though it sounds ridiculous.
Senator Carr: I am sure that will not stop you.
Senator LUDLAM: With regard to Liveable Cities, would you describe that program as oversubscribed and can you give us an idea of how oversubscribed it is?
Ms O'Connell: We answered this question before in terms of 170 applications within the Liveable Cities program.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you able to give us a dollar figure, though? There is $20 million on the table. How many hands were stuck out and for what value in total?
Mr Jaggers: As I mentioned, there were 170 applications requesting Australian government funding totalling $141 million.
Senator LUDLAM: So, we are massively oversubscribed. Does that lead you to conclude that the program is a very good idea and should perhaps be scaled up?
Mr Jaggers: We are still assessing the applications at the moment. Whilst there were 170 applications, clearly not all of them will be applications that meet all of the criteria. A fair bit of work will still need to be finalised before we could draw any conclusions about the program.
Senator LUDLAM: Are the applications generally of a high quality, though?
Mr Jaggers: With all program rounds there is a mix in the quality applications. There were what we would consider to be good-quality applications and also others that were obviously not as good. There is a mix.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you still expecting to be able to make announcements in March and April?
Mr Jaggers: We are hoping to conclude our advice to the minister in the next few weeks. It would be possible to have announcements by March/April.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you still on track for that?
Mr Jaggers: We are still on track with the program.
Senator LUDLAM: Is the Major Cities Unit doing any work on perverse tax incentives or misallocated infrastructure funding? I am not trying to put you in a tight spot here, but we have a huge amount of institutional inertia, if you will-
Ms Ekelund: No.
Senator LUDLAM: You are going to short-circuit the line of questioning; you are not doing anything on that. I have come across a piece by Rob Adams, who said that by 2029 some 90 per cent of the infrastructure has already been built. I guess you are familiar with that general concept. By 2029 only 10 per cent of what you look around and see will actually be new and the rest of it will have had to have been retrofitted or modified and that is just how cities grow. Last time we were here I did ask you about the retrofitting task upon us and whether that huge amount of infrastructure is going to need to be turned about to be fit for purpose by then. You directed me to the State of the cities report, but it is actually only mentioned once. Is that retrofitting task or modification of existing infrastructure task anybody's specific job? Is it anybody's specific job to think of that?
Ms Ekelund: It is principally the states and territories, of course, that have to manage the change that needs to happen in that urban form, whether that is expansion at the edges or within the existing urban footprint, and whilst our work certainly canvasses the merits of various approaches to managing growth and change in cities, we also work quite closely with others working in that area, such as Rob Adams. We monitor other research that shows cost-benefit ratios of different sorts of urban form. For example, the metropolitan planning for Sydney has been evaluating that, too. You are probably familiar that within Sydney somewhere between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of new residential development happens within the existing urban footprint. How to make that more liveable and how to make the urban form more sustainable is certainly core business to us and is reflected in the national urban policy and it is reflected in the COAG criteria for cities, but we do not evaluate the cities as such. The COAG Reform Council has had a look at that issue and to what extent the metropolitan planning systems are addressing it, but it is certainly an area of continuing interest for us.
Senator LUDLAM: I was going to come to that, because their processes are close to winding up.
CHAIR: I will have to get you to wind it up. Last question and then we need to move on.
Senator LUDLAM: That being the case, I will ask a different one, and I might put a couple on notice. To what degree have you been brought into discussions about Nation Building 2 and modifying the way that Infrastructure Australia allocates funding for large infrastructure projects?
Ms Ekelund: We have certainly been consulted about Nation Building 2 and the national urban policy makes it very explicit that Nation Building 2 will be consistent with the aspirations of the national urban policy. I have worked quite closely with my colleague Mr Jaggers on this issue.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator Ludlam, you will have to put further questions on notice. I thank you and the officers of the Major Cities Unit.