Greater Commonwealth leadership needed on cities: PIA's Brendan Nelson

Greater Commonwealth leadership needed on cities: PIA's Brendan Nelson
Greater Commonwealth leadership needed on cities: PIA's Brendan Nelson


Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s comments about setting migration caps to alleviate congestion pressures in in our biggest cities are an interesting response to a highly contentious issue.

There is no doubt people in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane feel the liveability of their neighbourhoods and their overall city is eroding.

Rightly or wrongly, many ascribe this fact to the pace of overseas immigration.

The Federal Coalition’s proposal to involve state, territory and local governments in managing and planning Australia’s changing population was commendable since they bore most of the responsibility for providing infrastructure for their growing populations.

Immigration is only one of many complex factors at play in the growth and development of our cities and regions, and Mr Morrison has missed an opportunity to take a strategic and nuanced approach to shaping Australia’s future.

If Australia had an integrated national urban policy – something planners have been advocating for some years – we could alleviate the pressures now being felt in Sydney and elsewhere whilst ensuring that those regions which actually want more immigrants were not left behind.

As matters stand, there is no agreed vision for Australia’s future pattern of settlement, no consistent planning parameters. As well as no nationally agreed objectives on housing, employment or infrastructure.

In such a vacuum, how will the states and territories determine their population targets?

The Commonwealth’s policies and expenditure decisions have a major influence on where jobs, new housing and population growth are located, and these needed to be considered holistically.

Cutting immigration has consequences and trade-offs and these need to be explained to the Australian public.

The Australian economy is in good shape now, with strong job creation. If skilled immigration levels are cut, who is going to fill the jobs?

Or do we simply accept this constraint to our short-term economic growth?

Secondly, if the cuts continue into the medium term, then we will not have the flow of younger immigrants to balance our ageing population, which in turn threatens our long-term economic growth.

Australia needs a nationally consistent set of solutions to ensure the continued liveability and sustainability of our cites.

These include:

1) Development of a National Settlement Strategy that provides context for better targetted national taxation, investment and migration policy; informs the growth parameters to be applied to settlement strategies; and resolves roles and responsibilities associated with growth management, land use and infrastructure planning within the context of Australian federalism.

2) Infrastructure funding aligned to the National Settlement Strategy so that future Commonwealth investment and prioritisation of “growth’’ infrastructure is targetted to those areas aligned with state and territory growth strategies.

3) Appointment of a National Chief Planner by the Commonwealth with the role of coordinating policy evaluation and national settlement strategy preparation.

4) A spatial review and evaluation of Commonwealth policies, including, taxation, investment and immigration policies, to determine the effects these have on how different cities take shape and perform.

5) COAG recognition of strategic planning, which would build on the COAG Reform Council National Criteria for City Strategic Planning (2012), with an emphasis on explicit spatial outcomes and city structures which can improve the productive capacity and living conditions of our cities through more effective integration of land use and infrastructure.

6) City Deals realigned to National Settlement Strategy (including regions)

With bipartisan support, these solutions would serve us well into the future.

BRENDAN NELSON is the National President of the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA).

Scott Morrison Future Cities

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