The path to good governance on sustainable infrastructure

ASBEC Thriving Cities 2019 federal policy platform paper

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has called for commitment to a shared long-term vision for thriving cities, supported by targeted policy reforms to foster the best possible Australian cities.

Ahead of the May 18 election, the authority’s federal policy platform, Thriving Cities, lays out four key recommendations for the incoming Federal Government.

ASBEC’s President, Professor Ken Maher AO, said Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, and this is set to continue as our cities keep pace with population and economic growth.

“ASBEC’s recommendations aim to ensure that the cities we build for future generations deliver healthy, liveable, productive and sustainable communities that we are all happy to call home. Time to act is running out,” Professor Maher said.

Key actions outlined in the policy platform are as follows:

1. Invest in improved policy and governance, including a National Settlement Strategy and better procurement

ASBEC recommends the Federal Government appoint a Minister for Cities and National Settlement, with responsibility for the oversight of cities policy, a national plan of settlement and housing, as well as leading COAG-level engagement on cities development and planning.

This minister would oversee the creation of a Major Cities Unit within Infrastructure Australia to deliver a whole-of-government focus on cities, as well as jointly formulate a National Settlement Strategy with states and territories.

With an understanding that data is key to crafting the best policy responses, ASBEC has called for a research and innovation entity to be established to deliver primary research relating to physical, digital, analytical, environmental and societal elements of our cities and infrastructure.

2. Deliver more balanced business cases to realise better value from our infrastructure

ASBEC proposes that a new approach to infrastructure business case development is urgently required if Australia is to maximise the value of its future infrastructure investments.

Instead of treating individual infrastructure projects in isolation, projects would be conceived, prioritised and funded with a view to achieving good spatial outcomes.

First, it recommended that the independence of statutory bodies such as Infrastructure Australia should be strengthened and preserved to encourage bi-partisan collaboration and discourage “short-termism”.

ASBEC also called for Infrastructure Australia to develop new national best practice guidelines for business case development that, among other outcomes, identify projects that have potential to advance broader strategic planning objectives.

3. Improve housing outcomes for more affordable, equitable and sustainable living

ASBEC said the Federal Government must recognise housing as a priority infrastructure sector and support the delivery of high-quality housing development.

It recommended implementing an incentive-based model to improve housing supply, informed by best practice planning measures, including supply targets, an inclusionary zoning model code for development, starting with government land, and the provision of social housing and affordable housing.

4. Adopt key recommendations of the Building Up and Moving Out report

ASBEC supported the recommendations made by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Inquiry into the Australian Government’s role in the development of cities.

Among these were to expand the performance indicators and cities assessed under the National Cities Performance Framework, and to work with the States and Territories to establish nationally consistent guidelines for urban green space and establish a clear trajectory to continued carbon emission reductions.

Jonathan Cartledge, Chair of ASBEC’s Cities and Infrastructure Task Group and Interim CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), said the 2019 federal election comes in the wake of a clear multi-party consensus on the importance of a national approach to cities policy that delivers for all Australians.

“From our CBDs and outer urban growth areas, to our regional centres: a coordinated, national approach to urban policy will help us tackle those most intractable challenges associated with population settlement, productivity, climate and demographic change, and a low-carbon future,” Mr Cartledge said.

Mr Cartledge noted the fruitful collaboration across governments and with industry and communities around Australia to deliver better cities in recent years.

“ASBEC’s recommendations provide a roadmap for that collaboration to continue and the benefits to grow,” he said.

“A shared vision for our cities across all levels of government, coupled with improved business cases for infrastructure investment, will help realise better value from our infrastructure investments,” Suzanne Toumbourou, ASBEC’s Executive Director, said.

“With almost 90 per cent of Australians living in urban areas, there is great pressure on our cities to support the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of our population,” Professor Mayer said.

“There is no better time than now to act and help ensure our cities thrive for the future.”

Major industry bodies endorse the paper

Thriving Cities has also received support from the Property Council of Australia (PCA), the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA), the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and Consult Australia.

Read Thriving Cities, ASBEC’s 2019 federal policy platform, here.

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