Senator SCULLION (Northern Territory) (4:19 PM) —I would like to say that I am delighted but not at all surprised, as you would understand, Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, that Darwin was at the top of the list in terms of air quality, biodiversity and a subjective wellbeing index. If you told most of the people in the pub that they had come top of the subjective wellbeing index they probably would not allow you to participate in the next shout and would help drive you home. It is something that generally describes just how wonderful it is to live in Darwin—a fantastic city in the fantastic Northern Territory. But, sadly, this is where the good news ends.
The comments by Peter Verwer, the Chief Executive of the Property Council of Australia, about Sydney having an antiplanning culture are probably far more applicable to Darwin. In fact, Darwin was ranked not first but second last out of Australia’s capital cities in a KPMG discussion paper that looked at the performance of city planning systems. Planning is an absolutely essential element of staying at the top of the sustainable cities index. It appears that we are far behind in forward planning issues, which include discussions on infrastructure, land release and encouraging investment for the same. It should come as no surprise to Territorians that the people responsible for this completely abysmal performance are in fact the Northern Territory Labor government.
Darwin is the only capital city in Australia that does not have a population growth planning target. It beggars belief. Someone more cynical than I could say that the fact that we cannot even measure how the government is performing in managing and planning for population growth is perhaps why they do not have a target. I quote the KPMG report:
There is substantial reform to be undertaken. For example, there is the need to develop a land supply program and an infrastructure plan, the need to address national policy issues and the establishment of better implementation arrangements across government and with local government.
That sort of advice has been around for some time. How long have these guys been in power? Since 2001. You would reckon that after 10 years in power they would have worked that out by now. But instead there is still no land supply program. There is no plan for infrastructure and there is no plan for population growth. So what have we been doing all this time? If you were having a conversation there would be a long wait before somebody filled that gap.
The report also talks about the gap between the aspirations we have for our cities and the implementation and achievement of targets and outcomes contained in those plans. It would help if we had a plan in Darwin. The Northern Territory government ranked last when it came to actually providing funding for its stated strategic planning objectives, and this reflects the fact that there is no strategic planning framework in place. Over the last five years we have also seen the largest deterioration in housing affordability in Darwin, and I know all those in this place and across parliament are concerned with housing affordability. It is so closely attached to being able to gauge population growth and ensure that we are releasing the right sort of land, as much as anything else. In many of the places that have a lot of tightness in housing affordability, which is particularly the case in the Northern Territory, it is a consequence of poor planning or, in this case, absolutely no planning at all.
To return to the senator’s MPI, whilst congestion is not really a problem in Darwin, at this stage I would agree with Senator Ludlam that greener transport infrastructure is likely to attract people to use public transport more. But before you can fund greener infrastructure you have to have a government that actually plans for population growth and land supply. If those fundamentals are not there then you are never going to get to the final objectives.
It was the federal coalition government that instigated and led the inquiry into the state of our cities so we could better develop into sustainable cities. We did a number of inquiries, and that inquiry into the state our cities and a whole range of subsequent consultancy reports found that a crucial missing element is a clear sustainable cities vision, a coherent framework and concerted action. This government does not appear to give priority to sustainable cities. It is evident that sustainability has not been incorporated across government and more sustainable cities do not appear to be a policy priority or a shared purpose of this government.
In an example of the government’s haphazard approach, Peter Garrett gave away insulation to homes and rental properties whilst Julia Gillard built ‘schools for the 21st century’. One in 10 of these schools does not utilise building insulation, one in four fails to use energy efficient lighting and more than half ignore energy efficient glazing. So the proof is in the pudding. Next year low-income and disadvantaged households will be able to apply for ‘Green Start’ funding to improve the energy and water efficiency of their homes, yet the new buildings constructed through the National Rental Affordability Scheme are not required to feature sustainability attributes. There have been plenty of opportunities and this government has simply squandered them. There has been short-term investment in infrastructure but the government has simply emptied the bank.
By contrast, the coalition have recognised the great sustainable cities public policy challenges and we have responded with a clear embrace of the constructive, collaborative and positive role that the Commonwealth can play. This was backed up in a very practical sense by the appointment of a cross-portfolio and whole-of-government shadow minister for sustainable cities, my esteemed colleague Bruce Billson. Population and sustainability are separate sides of the same strategic policy coin. Viewing it in this way will promote mature debate and increase accountability.
Cities are the overwhelmingly dominant characteristic of population settlement in Australia and, as Senator Ludlam indicated, this really needs to be a particular focus of our attention. The Australian government, I believe, has a crucial role to play in securing more sustainable cities because it determines policy settings that actually have a major impact on our cities. It also has the resources and points of leverage that can better align support for more sustainable cities, and that is why the coalition has embraced a cross-portfolio approach led by my esteemed colleague Bruce Billson. The Northern Territory and federal Labor governments need to take note: those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
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