Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you for inviting me to speak with you this evening. It is a great honour to be delivering the 2018 Bradfield Oration, marking the legacy of one of the great visionaries of our city of Sydney in John Bradfield.
From a young age I have always been fascinated by the energy and flow of cities. Each one unique – like living organisms, with their own rhythms, patterns and personalities.
Each a living history of the choices people, businesses and families have made and what they have been trying to create for their future and the generations to follow.
Choices about work, about proximity to family, and to opportunity. Choices shaped by access to housing and services like schools, health care and shopping precincts. And conditioned in turn by a search for belonging and a sense of place.
From Lachlan Macquarie to Sir Henry Parkes and now Gladys Berejiklian, they have worked to respond to and anticipate these demands as well as dream and plan out the future they hope to create.
We are continuing to tell our stories as a people through our cities. And along the way we have been informed, guided and blessed by the Greenways and Bradfields, whose great genius has been to lift our aspiration by redefining what we know to be possible.
It would also be a mistake to think of them as just engineers and architects. They were true planners.
You don’t build a bridge with that many lanes in 1932 because you enjoyed the engineering challenge. You did it because you were planning for the future and you got it. You had a vision for Sydney being a great city and you planned and built for it.
Today’s Greenways and Bradfields are not only developing Western Sydney Airport and the Aerotroplis, they are also the scientists from the CSIRO at the new Urban Living Lab in Darwin, Australia’s tropical capital, established as part of our new Darwin City Deal with $4.8 million in new funding to get it up and running.
For the first time we will be bringing together experts in the area of managing tropical cities. Everything from waste management to how urban vegetation can be better planned to more effectively cool these urban environments.
This is also a significant services export opportunity for Australia.
With more than billions of people living in urban environments in tropical regions of the world – including some of the world’s largest cities – I am excited about how we can link our expertise and learning to these significant commercial opportunities.
To this end, we have just launched an initiative to link up with ASEAN’s Smart Cities Agenda. It will draw on Australia’s world class expertise in green infrastructure, water governance, renewable energy, innovative technologies and data analytics.
For a while, I tossed up becoming a Town Planner. Eventually, I found myself studying Economic Geography at UNSW.
I was one of only about eight students – studying everything from crop rotation to Walter Christaller’s “central place theory”.
I can see now that I’ve really piqued your interest! For the one person who may be interested, we can talk later.
But my studies and later experiences reinforced some important lessons about cities.
In short, cities are a solution to a human problem. How do you support a growing population?
Cities are not about buildings, bridges, roads, railways, hospitals and airports. They are about the people who use them. They are about the people who live in the cities.
Cities are a response to population growth and are the product of a developing economy.
Bradfield understood this. His focus was not on building infrastructure as public monuments, but addressing positively and aspirationally the challenges of a growing population.
When you understand that Cities are actually about people rather than concrete it changes your perspective.
Firstly, this is why each and every city has its own unique character.
You don’t then try and transform Sydney’s built form into Singapore’s, any more than you try and make Brisbane Perth or Townsville Newcastle.
Just like us as people, we should let our cities be themselves, a product of the people who live in them, their geography and climate.
A city and the society it supports finds its own course, like a river finds its way to sea, negotiating the geological features along the way.
The city becomes the product of its experience and evolution, of how it responds to challenges and pressures – for better or worse.
As we acknowledge our our cities are about people, the decisions we make must be made with – not against – the grain of peoples’ choices – and in line with their aspirations. It means that our approach to decision-making or planning must have an eye and ear to community sentiment, cohesion and ambition. About what they want for their city.
So what has all of this got to do with my role as Prime Minister and that of Commonwealth Government?
First of all, my role you’ll be thankful is not to play town planner, be first architect, Lord Mayor or indeed Premier.
That’s not my job.
I will leave those tasks to the Bradfields and the Greenways of our current generation.
My levers are confined to the ensuring we step up to the big nation building projects and challenges, drive our economy forward to fuel the essential services and infrastructure Australians rely on and seek to manage population growth by adopting well targeted, responsible, and sustainable immigration policies.
Now on the big projects, like Bradfield, we are stepping up.
And like Bradfield we understand that infrastructure creates value far beyond the construction and land acquisition cost of the asset being built.
With a record $75 billion infrastructure pipeline, we are playing our part.
We are strengthening the road spine of the Eastern Seaboard with major investments in the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway.
As Treasurer, I announced a further $3.3 billion in this year’s Budget for additional upgrades along the Bruce Highway, increasing the Government’s commitment to $10 billion between Brisbane and Cairns.
This will improve safety, capacity and flood immunity – with major work targeting poor safety stretches along this vital 1,700 kilometre stretch of road.
Continuation of our $6.6 billion investment in the duplication of the Pacific Highway, from Hexham to Queensland including $971 million for the Coffs Harbour Bypass in this year’s Budget.
Our investment in the Pacific Highway has already halved road fatalities and cut two hours from travel times – a big benefit in cutting freight costs and for locals – and in summertime, holiday-makers as well.
This project has supported 14,400 direct and indirect jobs.
We are making further big road investments in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, including our standing offer of $3 billion for the East West Link.
I can help get this project moving next Monday morning, I just need a state Premier who wants to build this vital infrastructure, and only Matt Guy is offering.
We are making major investments in rail as well.
$9.3 billion in equity financing and grant funding for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project – better connecting regional Australia to domestic and international markets
Preparatory work is underway and construction is due to commence soon. The project will support 16,000 jobs during construction.
In Western Australia, we are providing $2.3 billion to the METRONET – which is the largest Commonwealth commitment to the Perth rail network ever.
And in Victoria we are investing up to $5 billion on the Melbourne Airport Rail Link. A project people have talked about for fifty years – its Australia’s second busiest airport with 35 million passengers a year.
And that’s not the only project with a fifty year wait over.
You have heard every year at this lecture about the potential of a Western Sydney Airport.
Well this year, I have better news: the bulldozers are on the site – and earthworks to level the site are underway.
No longer are we saying we will build it – we are building it. Right now.
And we are backing in our $5.3 billion in equity financing for the airport with the Commonwealth’s contribution of $2.9 billion to the $3.6 billion Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan – because our Government said in 2014 we’d have the roads ready before the airport.
Through the Western Sydney City Deal we have also got the planning underway to have rail to the airport when it opens in 2026.
In the North of Australia we are investing in its potential with $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to kickstart a range of work – and $2.2 billion to upgrade roads in the north across Queensland, the NT and WA..
Earlier today, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced we will increase our funding of new water infrastructure projects across Australia by an additional $500 million.
This will lift spending on water infrastructure to more than $3 billion.
These investments will ensure we can fast track important water infrastructure projects that will deliver new, reliable and affordable sources of water to stimulate investment in irrigated agriculture, create jobs and underpin regional economic growth.
An infrastructure programme like this needs a strong economy to support it and that’s why growing our economy has been the core focus of our Government.
Without economic growth you cannot pay for the hospitals, schools, pensions, affordable medicines, defence forces, police forces, Medicare.
Poorer societies are never fairer societies. Getting an equal share of less is not my plan, nor do I think it represents fairness.
Fairness and prosperity go hand in hand. There are a billion people in the world today since 1990 who are no longer in poverty who can attest to that fact.
Our economic plan is getting results, with strong growth, lower unemployment record jobs growth, and a AAA rated budget coming back into surplus next year. We will keep on with our plan of:
Reduce taxes, so Australians households and small and medium sized businesses can keep more of what they earn
Reduce electricity prices by ensuring we increase the amount of reliable energy in the system and ensure the large electricity companies give their customers a better deal
Investing in the infrastructure that grows our economy and the services like health and education that enable our people to be successful in the economy they face today and in the future
Expanding our markets with record trade deals that have opened up new opportunities for our businesses large and small
A broad-based industry strategy that recognises traditional strengths such as resources and agriculture, but also looks to develop areas of growth in services, the defence industry, medical technology and manufacturing.
A bold new agenda for small business growth, including improved access to small business finance and cutting red tape.
A proven framework of fiscal responsibility – ensuring the Government lives within its means.
Population growth has played a key role in our economic success. But I also know Australians in our biggest cities are concerned about population.
They are saying: enough, enough, enough.
The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments. I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear.
That’s why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country.
We have become, especially in Sydney and Melbourne a victim of our success.
Our population growth has three sources, natural growth occurring from the life decisions of Australian families, permanent overseas migration, and temporary migration made up of students, temporary workers and so on.
Over the current decade, around 42 per cent of the growth has occurred naturally and migration has accounted for about 58 per cent.
Over the two decades to 2016, our national population grew by 6 million and migration made up 54 per cent of that increase.
Population growth has provided our country with benefits that we often take for granted.
It has added a dynamism to our economy and society that you don’t find in most other advanced economies.
It is a key reason why we have been able to sustain strong growth in our economy and national incomes that are the envy of the developed world, contributing almost a fifth of the growth in Australia’s GDP per person over the past 30 years.
Population growth, along with productivity, will become even more important for sustaining strong growth in national living standards over the next 30 years as the ageing of the population weighs on workforce participation.
The median age of a migrant to Australia is between 26 years of age.
This compares to our national average age of 37.
Mostly, new migrants are working and as such, contributing to the welfare of the nation, rather than drawing from government.
Without migration, Australia’s workforce would be shrinking by 2020. With migration, the Productivity Commission estimates that labour force participation will be around 10 per cent higher in 2060.
And contrary to what is sometimes claimed, the Productivity Commission has found that migration confers no negative outcome to employment for those who are Australian born. In fact, it increases opportunity for Australians.
It is worth remembering that because skilled migration supports the economy, Australia does compete with other countries in bringing those additional skills to our shores.
We must also recognise the economic benefits of temporary migration.
This year, we have almost 600,000 foreign students studying in Australia. From the cafes of Glebe and the bars of Parramatta, to the computer stores of Canberra and the laundromats of Coffs Harbour, these students are supporting jobs.
Far too often, planners have treated population as one amorphous blob.
But that doesn’t work for Australia. We’re too big and diverse.
Talking about average population growth is like talking about our average rainfall. It fails to recognise the different experiences and outlooks of different cities or regions.
Over the past decade, our population has had an annual growth rate of more than 1.6 per cent. I stress well below our economic growth rate of over three per cent, which means per person we have been doing better as well.
According to the World Bank, Australia’s population is growing faster than most OECD countries including the United States – and faster than the projections of past Inter-Generational Reports.
And within that growth there are variances with Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Canberra experiencing population growth during 2016-17 above their respective average growth rates for the previous 20 years.
While migration has accounted for 54 per cent of Australia’s population increase in the two decades to 2016, 75 per cent of migrants are going to Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland.
Here in Sydney migrants accounted for around 70% of population growth last year.
This has created its own pressure points – and pressure points in population always manifest themselves in housing and infrastructure.
Now I should add, this focus on migration in capital cities is not a new phenomenon, but there has been a tick-up. In 2016, 83 per cent of the overseas-born population were in capital cities, compared to 81 per cent in 1996. For, the Australian born population it was 61 per cent in 2016, having ticked up from 60 per cent in 1996.
It mirrors an age-old truth – and that is, since the dawn of time, people have moved to where they believe they can they see the best economic and social opportunities for them and their families.
In our big cities, interstate migration is also an important component of population change.
We saw that very clearly with the mining boom as Australians moved to areas that were thriving. That is a natural part of a national economy and government has no control, nor any desire for control, over that aspect of population.
Indeed, this movement of people is an important way of capitalising on the economic opportunities available to us.
I believe that we need a new discussion with the state and territories and local governments about how we manage and plan for our changing population.
Of course, the Commonwealth will always have national responsibilities in terms of determining migrant intakes, security, our international obligations and the economy, but that does mean we should not engage with the States and Territories in a discussion about local population growth.
It should be a discussion grounded in data, economics and community sentiment.
A responsible population discussion cannot be arbitrarily about one number, the cap on annual permanent migration. It is certainly relevant, but you have to look at what sits behinds those numbers
For a start more than half the people who become permanent migrants are already here on temporary visas.
To contemplate our permanent visa settings, would also require up stream changes to how many people are coming in on temporary visas as well. The implications of this need to be understood, in lauding by state and territory governments.
My approach will be to move away from top-down discussions about population to set our migration intake caps. I anticipate that this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings.
This is to be expected since our current permanent intake is almost 30,000 a year below our current cap. So we will look to make an adjustment as we go forward in to next year and this should not be surprising.
But we must do our homework first and make sure this is implemented in a way that does not disadvantage those states that are looking for greater growth and that we have the mechanisms in place to direct new migrants to the areas where there are the jobs, services and opportunities. That’s why the planning partnership with the states is so important.
Managing population change is a shared responsibility, involving all levels of government.
It is the states who build hospitals, approve housing developments, plan roads and know how many kids will be going into their schools in the future. The states and territories know better than any what the population carrying capacity is for their existing and planned infrastructure and services. So I plan to ask them, before we set our annual caps.
The old model of a single, national number determined by Canberra is no longer fit for purpose.
While the benefits of population growth are widespread – in terms of economic growth and a more skilled and enriched society – the pressure points are inevitably local and varied.
It’s about getting the balance right and understanding there is variation between our cities and regions.
For example, Tasmania has a different history and approach to population than Sydney and Melbourne.
Under Will Hodgman the state has worked to turn its fortunes around – and the Federal Government has worked with them.
And do you know the best thing when you look at Tassie’s interstate migration figures – it’s that the turnaround is happening with young people.
Tasmania wants a bigger population. They want growth. They don’t want to lag, they want to lead.
Many of the smaller cities – and the regions – want more people. South Australia, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, communities in North Queensland like Rockhampton have all said the same.
In Sydney, we face a different issue.
A booming economy – with 4.4 per cent unemployment – and over 300 cranes up over this skyline – this city has become a magnet for Australians wanting a better life.
We know the story in Sydney: congestion – on roads and public transport, pressure on services like schools, and until recently, ever increasing house prices.
And this is in a state with a good government that is investing $87 billion in new transport, schools and hospitals in the next four years.
In 2016-17, Sydney’s population increased by 107,000. In other words, Sydney grew by almost 2,000 people a week, every week. A suburb a week.
Of that overseas migration claimed the lion’s share – with 90,100 people.
But the Sydney story on population is not just a migration story. It’s also a quality of life story.
In 2016-17, a net 18,500 people left Sydney for other parts of Australia.
While some of that is older Sydney-siders cashing in on their capital gains and retiring to other parts of the state, those figures also reflect concerns about densities, congestion and other questions that relate to quality of life.
So we need a more targeted and tailored approach to conversations about population.
To this end, I am writing to the Premiers and Chief Ministers inviting them to contribute to a national strategy and framework on population, and putting this on the table for COAG at our next meeting on 12 December in Adelaide.
I want the states to bring forward their population plans targeted to their states. This process can also involve local government. This will feed in to the setting of our migrations caps and policies for next year, ensuring that migrations is finally tied to infrastructure and services carrying capacity.
Further details of this process will be discussed directly with Premiers and Chief Ministers.
In conclusion I want to congratulate the Daily Telegraph for being a voice for Sydney.
In 2014, there was a lot of nervousness about our decision to build the Western Sydney Airport. There was fifty years of resistance.
But the government felt that the time had come – and to the credit of the Telegraph you did too.
This is a paper that is not just proudly Sydney – but persuasively puts the case for a Sydney with more roads, better services, and a stronger economy and safer communities.
We don’t agree every day – but you are a clear, persuasive voice in this city and country and I thank you for your support of this Oration and our Emerald city.