New National Urban Policy a win

11 May 2011

The key principles for the Federal Government’s new National Urban Policy, released with the budget papers last night, are a win for Australia’s cities.


The Federal Government has laid out the “principal elements” of the National Urban Policy in a ministerial statement by Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese.


The principles are a refreshing shift in direction. The Federal Government released a National Urban Policy discussion paper last year declaring that it wasn’t environmentally sustainable to expand low density greenfield suburbs of detached houses. This proposition was not backed up by any robust evidence.


Most outer suburban housing development takes place on low value agricultural land, old industrial lands and former quarry sites. This kind of development presents no risk to Australia’s biodiversity. Many home buyers want the choice of a house with its own backyard. No government should set out, as policy, to deny them that option.


The “principal elements” of the National Urban Policy released last night recognise the need for a strong supply of all housing types across our urban areas. The government policy statement supports:


  • “a range of housing types to suit diverse households across all parts of cities”;
  • “locating housing close to facilities and services, including jobs and public transport, in more compact mixed use development”; and
  • “new outer metropolitan housing with access to facilities, services and diverse education and employment opportunities”.

The Government also appears to backing away from its previously articulated position that it “makes sense to make the most of the infrastructure we have already before investing in any more”.


We have been very critical of this policy statement because it discriminates against new and emerging suburbs on the edges of an existing urban footprint.


The government has shifted its language, so it is now saying that its goal is to “improve the efficiency of urban infrastructure by maximising returns on new and existing infrastructure”.


Of course, a policy statement means nothing unless there is a clear intention to act on it. The Federal Government is now saying that it wants to address impediments to the better functioning of the housing market. They’re saying they want to improve planning and land release processes, increase code assessment of development proposals and make greater use of multi-use zoning which permits a range of activities. These are important goals.


The Budget Papers also disclose that “[t]he Prime Minister will begin a rigorous COAG process that asks state premiers to lead the development of Commonwealth-State reforms that are of particular relevance to their jurisdiction, where it be labour mobility in the west or easing congestion in capital cities in the east”.


The focus on “easing congestion” suggests we might see action on the highly restrictive land use laws that are currently preventing sufficient new homes being built close to jobs, transport and services in the inner suburbs of our major cities.


We’re urging the Federal Government to take the next step and seize the Productivity Commission report on planning, zoning and development assessment (due for public release next week), and lead the states and territories on a major reform drive.


The Federal Government’s ministerial statement outlining the principal elements of the National Urban Policy is here.


The Urban Taskforce’s criticisms of the original discussion paper are set out here.


We’re pleased that our consistent advocacy (that started on the day the original discussion paper was released in December last year) has had some effect.