Ken Keith, Parkes mayor, at Rail Freight Conference, 2015. Photo: David Sexton

Parkes mayor: Inland Rail crucial to intermodal success

Parkes Shire mayor Ken Keith has told how the shift towards intermodal hubs can benefit both containerised and agricultural freight.

Parkes is home to a National Logistics Hub (NLH) and makes much of the fact it is within striking distance of 80% of the Australian population (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and southeast Queensland).

Councillor Keith, who is also chair of the Melbourne Brisbane Inland Rail Alliance, was a speaker at the Rail Freight Alliance Rail Freight Conference held at the Pullman Hotel in Melbourne recently.

He described in detail his passion for the proposed new rail route and how it would benefit both rural and urban Australia.

Regarding the NLH, Keith talked of how the project evolved with the challenges of balancing competing interests. “When rezoning the hub, we originally wanted to rezone about 200 hectares but the state government said that was ‘far too much to rezone’,” the mayor said.

“But when we went to industry, they said ‘200 hectares, that’s not going to nearly be enough’.”

Eventually a 600 hectare figure was achieved, along with buffer zones preventing urban encroachment.

“If you think about the NLH as a roundabout that can accommodate a 1.8km train that can go into that hub in one direction and leave in any other, it is a huge area and you need a big area of land to allow that to happen,” he said.

It was also important for councils and developers of other freight hubs to consider rail interaction with other transport networks – road primarily.

“In our case that is vitally important because of the Newell Highway,” Keith explained. The Newell Highway is the inland road linking Melbourne and Brisbane.

Keith said there were extensive talks with industry and as they sought to develop the hub, with FCL and its head Bill Gibbons one of the first to come on board, before selling to Lindsay Fox’s Linfox business.

They now have a substantial site and 4000 square metre warehouse capacity along with 10 acres of hard-stand land. Linfox sends about nine trains a week from the hub to Australian capital cities as part of an integrated road and rail operation.

Similarly SCT (which is also looking to set up at a similar hub in Wodonga) decided to come on board and has holdings of about 200 hectares.

“They are another great company that has been a delight to work with,” Keith said. “We are very proud that only 12 months from walking into the mayor’s office to when their first train pulled in.

“They will be [in Wodonga] before you know it,” he told delegates to the rail conference attending from Wodonga.

Logistics giant Asciano (parent company of rail business Pacific National and stevedoring business Patrick) has acquired about 300 hectares and secured development approval, although they are waiting for full approval of the Inland Rail scheme before proceeding.

“They see the Inland Rail as key to their operations,” Keith said.

Keith stressed the importance of Inland Rail to the hub’s success, saying it “really is the link in the whole process”, not just for Parkes but also regional New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

He said it was imperative for local governments to support the Inland Rail project and that it would further increase benefits from intermodal hubs for regional areas, as well as ease urban road and rail congestion.

“About 30% of the freight going through Sydney at the moment isn’t going to Sydney – it is either going to Melbourne or Brisbane,” Keith said.

“All that does is cause congestion for commuters in Sydney.

“If you take that out and put it on the Inland Rail, Sydney would be so much better off.”

Moreover, freight train movement impacts upon passenger trains, he pointed out.

“A freight train takes about four passenger slots out of the Sydney market and then you have also got the curfews in Sydney when freight trains aren’t allowed to travel,” he said.

“One has to wait until the curfew finishes and peak hour is over before (the train) can continue and that is not conducive to a very efficient logistics industry.”

With freight volumes predicted to soar in line with population growth, there would be added pressure on local roads for councils to maintain if modal shift failed to occur and it was essential for “all those containers and freight onto a rail system”.

“It will also improve the cost competitiveness of agriculture,” he said, noting the Inland Rail travelled right through the Australian east coast wheat belt and its productive agricultural land.

“It has been the dream of agriculture that we should get more productive and have more efficient systems and this offers one of the solutions.”

Keith said he was delighted at the increased support for the $10 billion Inland Rail project during the past two years ever since it became a “hot topic” during the 2013 federal election.

With support from industry groups such as the Australian Logistics Council, the Federal government committed $300m to the Inland Railway and also appointed former deputy prime minister John Anderson as its head.

Keith welcomed the announcement of Anderson’s appointment, reflecting upon his experience as architect of the Auslink scheme “so he understands the need for national infrastructure” and that we have “great confidence” that the government would deliver on the promise of starting construction within three years and delivering a project within the next 10.

“Not just feasibility studies that are happening now, but tangible ways to push the project forward.”

Although the $10bn price tag might seem steep, he argued it would nonetheless fulfil a need for regional development and have a “positive business cost ratio”, likely to turn a profit for governments over time.

He also argued analyses had underestimated the benefits for the regions through which the proposed line passes.

“Studies have recognised that if there is modal shift and it is going to be successful, they have to build this railway line.”

He noted there had been extensive consultation and in Parkes there had been “high level meetings with maritime authorities” as well as with the ARTC and encouraged councils to be proactive and ensure issues were quickly resolved.

“We think it is important [local governments] work collectively with the state and federal governments to ensure this Inland Rail is built in an expedient manner and not held up by local issues,” he said.

While acknowledging the initial substantial cost of the project, he also argued it was vital to fully fund the project.

“It will hurt for a few years, but if we have operational efficiencies built into the system, that will have an ongoing [positive] impact on the viability of the railway line.”

This article originally appeared in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.

Melbourne Tram. Photo: RailGallery

Government announces board of Infrastructure Victoria

Victoria’s government has announced the board of its new transport planning body, Infrastructure Victoria, with members selected from industry, academia and the public service.

It is expected the new entity will resemble the federal body Infrastructure Australia and the government claims it will be independent and remove politics from infrastructure planning.

Ex-banker Jim Miller has been appointed to chair the body, having previously been an executive director with Macquarie Capital during his time with that business between 1994 and 2015.

According to the government statement, Miller has extensive infrastructure experience, having worked in fields such as regulated assets, energy, transport, energy, utilities and resources and social infrastructure.

He is currently deputy chair of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia.

Maria Wilton has been appointed as his deputy.

Wilton is currently the managing director of Franklin Templeton Investments Australia, a director of the Financial Services Council of Australia and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Also joining as board members are current president and vice chancellor of Monash University, Professor Margaret Gardner, and former chief executive of Westpac New Zealand and Bank of Melbourne Ann Sherry.

Also joining the board are the secretaries of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Department of Treasury and Finance, and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. The statutory members are expected to ensure IV coordinates effectively with the public service and agencies.

The new body is to ensure Victoria’s immediate and long-term infrastructure needs are identified and prioritised based on “objective, transparent analysis and evidence”.

Infrastructure Victoria is expected to publicly release a 30-year infrastructure strategy detailing short, medium and long-term needs and priorities.

The state government is expected to develop a five-year Infrastructure Plan outlining priority projects and funding commitments, with IV to assess the government’s progress.

Premier Daniel Andrews said while governments “come and go”, long-term infrastructure priorities should remain. “That’s why we’ve appointed a board to give us clear, expert advice that is independent of politics and focussed on our state’s priorities,” he said.

Special minister of state Gavin Jennings welcomed Miller’s appointment.

“Jim and the other board members come with great experience and will provide the needed leadership for this new body,” he said.

“They will help take the politics out of infrastructure and ensure that our state gets the projects that we need.”

This article originally appeared in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia. Read the original here.

Sydney buses. Photo: Creative Commons / Hpeterswald

Not quite busmageddon

See how Sydney commuters responded on social media to the bus route overhaul in preparation for the construction of the city’s new light rail network.

With a raft of new routes installed on Sunday, and a public holiday on Monday, Tuesday morning was the first peak period Sydney’s new bus setup was truly put to the test.

With the city’s busiest street for buses abandoned, many predicted chaos. NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley predicted a “nightmare” morning for commuters.

On Elizabeth – one street taking more of the traffic burden – Foley said: “We’ll see long tailbacks of buses and, of course, traffic for other motor vehicles confined to one lane in each direction.”

Related story: Media hammering light rail is short-term view of long-term benefit

We will have to wait for formal statistics to come in to truly know the impact of the changes.

But the reaction – at least across social media – was far from chaotic.

In fact, tweets and other commentary ranged from pleasantly surprised, to mildly annoyed; rarely venturing into ‘total meltdown’ territory.

The Sydney Morning Herald quoted one “forlorn-looking” customer who was prepared for the changes, but said the timetable was “annoying,” because “it’s going to take me about 20 minutes longer to get to work”.

But those heading to Twitter to revel in the chaos were not rewarded:






The transition wasn’t entirely smooth for everyone, however.

One commenter on the popular social sharing site Reddit said the removal of his bus stop had left him “lost on how to get to work”. Later in the morning, he updated: “I arrive, with Uber. 6.5x the cost of bus.”

Others on Twitter encountered some issues:




Sydney CBD transport coordinator general Marg Prendergast urged commuters to plan their journey from scratch under the new conditions, as many bus routes are impacted by the changes.

“We have been pleading with bus customers for weeks to plan for this change, but despite handing out more than 300,000 flyers and brochures, there will be some customers who still need to get across the changes,” Prendergast said on the eve of the overhaul.

“With any major change, it will take some time to bed-in, so we expect some issues will present themselves in the first days and weeks, but we will overcome that, improve the network where we can and support customers and staff.”


A big thank you to everyone who planned their trip ahead of the #SydneyCBD bus changes. This image shows the Joint…

Posted by Transport NSW Info on Monday, October 5, 2015


“Habits are hard to break,” Prendergast continued, “and there’s every chance a bus might take a wrong turn at some point – that’s why these changes are happening now, before we begin to close sections of George Street for light rail construction.

“If you’re frustrated with the changes, don’t take that out on the bus drivers – they are doing a great job learning new routes to ensure they keep delivering great service.”

Melbourne Metro rail tunnel. Graphic: Victorian Government

Metro not ready for federal funding: Briggs

Cities minister Jamie Briggs says the Melbourne Metro won’t be “shovel ready” until 2018 or 2019, and until then it won’t be ready for funding from the Federal Government.

Speaking last week with The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan podcast, Briggs said he and Victorian transport minister Jacinta Allan have “had several discussions about Melbourne Metro”.

“It’s not yet at a point where [Victoria is] ready to bring it to the Federal Government although [Allan] assures me it’s not far away,” Briggs said.

“It is still in the design phase.

“It’s a long way from being shovel ready – we’re talking 2018, probably 2019, to be honest – but it’s an important part of how Melbourne will move.”

Briggs stressed while his cities role does represent a new tack for the Coalition, it didn’t mean the Commonwealth would just throw money at projects without a tick of approval from Infrastructure Australia.

“We do need to make decisions which are not based on the politics of the day or the preference of one party over another,” Briggs said.

“We [did] a lot of really good things with our first infrastructure push, but with future infrastructure considerations we should be more broad in what we’re looking to fund, because clearly mass transit was something that the [Infrastructure Australia] audit identified as a big issue in nearly every one of our capital cities, with growth.

“We’ve got to have better planning, and we’ve got to be more long-term in our thinking.”

Briggs’ comments were supported on Tuesday morning by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“I’m yet to see a proposal, the minister is yet to see a proposal, but certainly we don’t discriminate between rail and road, or any other form of transport,” Turnbull told Melbourne’s 3AW Radio.

“I’d be delighted to see a [Metro] proposal, which the premier will no doubt show to us.”

Briggs’ shadow minister Anthony Albanese has called for “commonsense” on the Melbourne Metro project – the goal of which is to build a north/south rail tunnel under the Melbourne CBD, to lift capacity pressure off the surrounding network.

“Having successfully knifed [former prime minister Tony] Abbott from the prime ministership, Mr Turnbull should stop playing on social media and actually fund public transport to boost the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities,” Albanese said on October 2.

“He can start by talking to Premier Daniel Andrews about partnering to build the Melbourne Metro, which has already been the subject of extensive planning work, funded with $40 million in the 2009 budget.

“It has been endorsed by Infrastructure Australia.”

Tram stopped at Southport South on the Gold Coast Light Rail. Photo: Creative Commons / David Ansen

Federal funding talks progress Gold Coast extension

Request for Tenders will open for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2 following positive funding discussions between Queensland transport minister Jackie Trad and federal infrastructure minister Warren Truss.

Stage 2 of Gold Coast Light Rail is proposed to link the existing line to the Helensvale heavy rail station, on Queensland Rail’s Gold Coast line.

The proposed extension would connect to the existing light rail line at the Gold Coast University Hospital station. It would run adjacent to the Smith Street Motorway, then adjacent to the Gold Coast heavy rail line to Helensvale.

Trad, also the deputy premier of Queensland, said the state has had very positive discussions with the Turnbull Government.

“These discussions demonstrate there is now genuine willingness to progress this vital infrastructure project which could create up to 1000 jobs during construction,” she said.

“Following these discussions the Queensland Government now has the confidence to move Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2 to the next stage of the procurement process, which is the formal Request for Tender.”

It’s now up to the GoldLinQ consortium, which delivered the existing Gold Coast Light Rail line, to finish the expressions of interest process, which is now closed, so a Request for Tender can be formalised.

Trad said six national and international consortia had expressed interest.

GoldLinQ is to release a shortlist of bidders when it releases the Request for Tender documentation. The Request for Tender process is expected to close in late December.

“Although we don’t yet have an agreement with the Turnbull Government, I believe we are very close to securing a contribution that would allow this project to be built in time for the Commonwealth Games [in 2018],” Trad continued.

“We already have strong support for the project from the City of Gold Coast, who have committed $55 million in cash and $3.5 million in-kind support towards Stage 2, and promising signals from the Commonwealth which enable us to take this next step.”

Truss said since receiving the business case for the extension, the Commonwealth has been in a good position to discuss options with Queensland.

“I am confident that armed with the relevant information we can now move to reach a positive outcome quickly,” Truss said.

“The Australian Government is already investing more than $13 billion to build the modern transport infrastructure Queensland needs for the 21st century and we are committed to ensuring projects deliver the long-term gains the community expects.”

Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate said the announcement to seek tenders shows the determination of the state government to see the project come to fruition.

“I applaud the state and reiterate council’s $55 million commitment to stage two – let’s all get on board this legacy project for our city,” Tate said.

“Our city is on the eve of significant growth and prosperity. By linking light rail with heavy rail will allow Brisbane’s 1.2 million residents easy access to our city via public transport-importantly, it will take vehicles off the M1 in both directions.”

Anthony Albanese, ASA

Albanese insists Briggs hasn’t stolen his thunder

With new cities minister Jamie Briggs seemingly saying all the right things, Opposition minister Anthony Albanese has reminded the public: few things are achieved just by talking about them.

Albanese appeared on ABC Radio this week to be quizzed by host Fran Kelly over the implications of Malcolm Turnbull’s appointment of Briggs as the first minister for cities – a ministry Albanese has ‘shadowed’ since Bill Shorten added it to his portfolio in 2014.

Asked whether Briggs’ appointment had stolen his thunder, Albanese came out on the front foot.

“I’m pleased that they’ve been paying attention,” he began. “[But] words are easy. It’s one thing for Malcolm Turnbull to travel on a train, he’s got to fund rail. And the fact is that this government hasn’t.”

Albanese needled the Coalition for disbanding the Major Cities Unit under Abbott, and for cutting Labor’s record public transport funding.

He also repeated his sentiment from last week, suggesting the team Turnbull had assembled still did not have the right make-up to reverse the steps taken by the Abbott Government.

“[Turnbull’s] three-person committee of Greg Hunt, Jamie Briggs and Paul Fletcher doesn’t actually include Warren Truss, who is the minister for infrastructure and transport,” Albanese told the program.

“That’s the main game, as Malcolm Turnbull, said: connectivity in our cities is the focal point and then other things come off that.

“We welcome certainly the creation of the minister for cities,  but we do say it’s in the wrong place. It’s a junior minister in the Department of Environment, and the funding portfolio is of course the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

“That [department] looks after transport and [it] appears to be excluded from these discussions and is still in charge of the National Party.”

The shadow minister, who was the deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and transport in the second Rudd Government, said the Coalition needed to sort itself out if it was to fund a number of crucial projects in Australia’s cities.

“The Perth City Link project will transform Perth, uniting the Perth CBD with the Northbridge entertainment section of Perth; syncing the railway line, allowing for development on top of that railway line, removing the bus terminal from the absurd position where it is,” he said.

“[This is] the sort of project that you need to actually fund and invest in and we do have two challenges.

“The Badgerys Creek airport is a good start in South-Western Sydney to create a jobs precinct. But, there you have still a Government that’s saying it won’t fund the rail line to the airport. It needs to be on day one, an airport that has rail access.”

Hills M2 toll road (owned by Transurban) Photo: Creative Commons / Sardaka

Briggs defends ‘policy pivot’

Cities and built environment minister Jamie Briggs has defended the government’s policy shift on infrastructure funding, but has stopped short of labelling Tony Abbott’s road-first mentality an ideological issue.

Briggs spoke with University of Canberra political expert Michelle Grattan on The Conversation’s political podcast this week.

Grattan asked how the new Turnbull-led Government could justify “pivoting” from the Abbott Government’s roads-only infrastructure funding mentality, to one which is agnostic regarding the road and rail funding balance.

“Mass transit was always part of the agenda,” Briggs argued. “It was a decision of the Abbott Government to really focus on how could we ensure our cities were moving properly in the sense of the road networks.”

Briggs deferred when Grattan suggested Abbott’s road-first thinking was “ideological,” however.

“There was a direct approach in respect to funding roads, absolutely,” he said.

“But we had options … there was some public transport funding provided through the asset recycling initiative, particularly in Sydney with the new Sydney Harbour crossing.

“I don’t think there’s been a huge switch, if I can put it that way. There’s been a change in the discussion about what it is we need.”

More than an ideological issue, Briggs argued, the government had to deal with a simple issue of economics.

“We will never be able to meet the infrastructure needs of Australia through purely our balance sheets,” he stated.

“But I do agree with Malcolm Turnbull in the sense that we should have  a non-discriminatory approach to what we fund.”

Briggs said the ball is in the states’ courts, with that in mind.

“The state governments have got to do a lot more work in providing projects for us to consider,” he said.

“Other than the big, major commitment that Mike Baird’s made with the new crossing of Sydney – which has still got some time to go – there’s not a lot of detail around some of these major mass transit projects.

“They haven’t been through Infrastructure Australia; there’s not business cases. We need the states to do that work, but we are happy to engage with them.

“These are expensive projects. Each of them is very expensive.

“I think the estimate in Queensland is some $5 billion for Cross River Rail; it’s some $11 billion – and probably higher – in Melbourne for Melbourne Metro; large amounts in Perth as well; and in Adelaide for that matter.

“The government’s Budget situation hasn’t improved instantaneously with the change of prime minister.

“The challenge for the new treasurer is the same as it was for the old treasurer: we’ve got less money than we were expecting to have through revenue and expenditure pressures; the states are in the same situation.”

Tworty Box container. Photo: Twortyboxcom

40-foot, 20-foot, flexibility: Meet the Tworty Box

The Tworty Box is an award-winning hybrid freight container, designed to give freight operators the flexibility of choosing between a twenty-foot or forty-foot container, while owning just one type of box.

The humble twenty-foot or forty-foot container may have revolutionised shipping and rail freight, but the design is fairly standard and, one would have thought, hard to fundamentally change.

But a new concept, which recently won Hamburg’s prestigious Logistics Initiative award, has also brought a new term to the industry.

Tworty Box GmbH & Co has given that name to a hybrid container it has developed that could be used either as a twenty footer, or coupled with another to form a forty foot container.

The award was presented to Professor Ulrich Malchow, founder and managing partner of the company and a Containerisation International contributor, at a ceremony last week.

If two Tworty Boxes are joined to form a forty-foot box, additional doors at the front are opened, supported by cables and fixed to the container ceiling, to create the full interior space.

When the Tworty Box is operated as a twenty-footer, this door is locked, and access is only through the existing standard door.

Tworty Boxes arranged to make a forty-foot container will haveh standard doors at both ends. The system does not require any additional components and the coupled boxes remain watertight.

DHL has already taken the prototype boxes on a trial run with commercial cargo shipping across the North Atlantic.

“The Tworty Box is a very attractive solution which ensures flexible container management and cost efficiency by eliminating empty positioning due to structural imbalances in the general cargo flow or seasonal fluctuations in the dominant commodities in specific sectors,” DHL’s global head of ocean freight Andreas Boedeker said.

“It is an excellent alternative for customers that note strong ups and downs in supply and demand of different container sizes in certain areas, especially if several services of different trades are calling the same country or region.”

Meanwhile the first commercial boxes are being manufactured under license in China for an East European forwarder.

This is an edited version of a story which originally appeared in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List. Please visit for the original story.

Sydney from the air. Photo: Southern Cross Maritime / Chris Mackey

Could the federal government finally ‘get’ cities?

COMMENT: For the first time, both major parties have a cities portfolio in their front bench team. With a few more changes, Jago Dodson writes, the government could create a structure that will really get to grips with urban issues.

The appointment of a federal minister for cities and the built environment is a signal moment in urban policy in Australia. It is a much-needed portfolio for an overwhelmingly urban nation but will need new policy capacity if the government’s urban goals are to be realised.

Australian cities are among the fastest-growing in the developed world. They face problems of poor housing affordability, growing inequality, inadequate and inefficient infrastructure, unsustainable environmental demand and uneven employment distribution and productivity.

Long neglected federally, urban affairs is the gaping void in 21st-century public policy. Not since 1972 has Australia seen both the Labor and the Liberal parties commit to a cities portfolio within the Commonwealth ministry. That this has now occurred under a Coalition government is especially unusual.

Labor governments have been most engaged with urban questions. Curtin initiated a federal housing program and spurred states to better urban planning. Whitlam sewered neglected suburbs and stabilised fringe land markets, while Keating stimulated inner-city urban renewal. The Rudd-Gillard government boosted infrastructure and set national principles for metropolitan planning.

The short-lived McMahon government’s 1972 National Urban and Regional Development Authority is the only previous Coalition urban foray of note.


Creating the capacity to do urban policy

As the new minister, Jamie Briggs’s agenda is not yet detailed, although it looks set to focus on integration, infrastructure and greening. What could a new urban program look like, and what are the urban reform imperatives facing the Turnbull government?

The first task must surely be to develop permanent urban analytical and policy capacity in the federal public service. The Department of Environment, where the cities minister will be hosted, has almost no urban policy capability. The strongest federal urban capacity is in the Planning Analysis Branch of the Department of Infrastructure. The Turnbull government must build rapidly off this small but competent base.

A second task is to create federal capacity for cross-portfolio policy coordination. A cities agenda requires federal arrangements that can link across transport, infrastructure, environment, housing, finance, education, health and social services to build a multi-dimensional policy perspective on cities.

The third capacity-building task is to re-establish national coordination arrangements for urban policy. The federation gives almost all hands-on urban responsibility to the states but the Commonwealth has the revenue. The previous Labor government worked through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to establish consensus principles for major city planning and investment in a largely bipartisan way. That process could be revived and improved with relative ease.

A robust evidence base exists on which to ground policy directions but it is not well linked with policy. Capability development should thus also extend to Australia’s high-quality but under-resourced university research sector. The extensive network of scholars within the State of Australian Cities Research Network could assist with this task, as could the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

The final capacity need is for federal policy to establish its own analytical framework. The urban sector abounds with rent-seekers. A federal urban perspective must stand above such rent-seeking to develop a sophisticated conceptual stance on how our cities work and the levers of policy.


Directions for policy

The overturning of Tony Abbott’s aversion to public transport funding is a welcome sign of progress. Public transport is vital for future urban productivity and sustainability.

New arrangements are needed to make transparent the external urban costs of private car use, whether through road and parking user pricing or via enhanced environmental emissions charging. Such measures need to be progressive, however, so the burden does not fall unfairly on low-income, car-dependent households with the fewest alternatives.

Building infrastructure alone is unlikely to improve how our cities function. We need to make better use of existing assets. This includes dedicated multi-modal network coordination in public transport, as the 2009 Senate inquiry into public transport advocated, accompanied by optimisation of existing road space via conversion to high-frequency transit routes.

Further areas in urgent need of intervention are Australia’s inflated and exclusionary urban housing markets. Negative gearing should be reformed as a tax credit scheme with transparency to ensure the value of the concession is targeted to the most needy urban renters.

We need an urban taxation regime that captures the value gains from federal investment. Land value uplift from infrastructure investment should not accrue to private interests but be recycled into the federal funding pool.

A national approach to replace stamp duty with broad-based land taxes is also needed. This would improve the flexibility and efficiency of urban housing markets while retaining a financing stream for urban investment. Land tax should be progressive, so it targets land value and housing wealth, not housing consumption.

A progressive capital gains tax on owner-occupied housing could also be applied to dampen price inflation and raise new public revenue. Similarly, a national approach to inclusionary zoning mechanisms for affordable housing would also help to ensure urban redevelopment creates new social housing supply.

As a suburban nation Australia faces serious gaps in how it plans new suburbs and renews existing areas. A national suburban policy is needed to improve the quality of fringe development and facilitate the renewal of ageing middle suburbs for new housing.

Employment distribution in Australian cities is highly uneven. Ready access to high-quality jobs is increasingly the preserve of inner-urban households. Federal support for expansion of suburban employment nodes linked to public transport could ensure more higher-quality jobs are closer to the places households live. Ensuring land-use zoning does not exclude workers from job-rich middle suburbs is a further task.

Reform of the planning arrangements for our cities is desperately needed. National principles for metropolitan planning, as COAG established in 2009, are not unhelpful. But we need governing entities that can plan and manage cities at the metropolitan level while providing a democratic accompaniment to the current dominance of state planning ministers.

Prime Minister Turnbull has previously argued that density is the solution to our urban woes but that poorly done density reduces amenity. High-amenity densification is possible but the urban science on very-high-density development shows its environmental performance is often poor.

Density can help to improve our cities but only as part of carefully crafted wider changes to spatial structure via infrastructure, housing and governance reform. Density is a means, not an end in itself. Plans to expand green space and provide for biodiversity in cities must be part of any densification strategy.


Putting policy to work

A sense of urgency is needed. The urban sphere is dominated by what Nicole Gurran and Peter Phibbs have called busy work in which policy discussion and review defer substantial change.

Moreover urban policy is often captive to property, infrastructure and financial interests that put their private gain over the public interest. The Turnbull urban agenda needs to be more than a talking point or vehicle for shoddy deals.

Urban policy is the key policy discipline of the 21st century. It needs to be placed at the core of Australia’s federal policy arrangements.The Conversation

Jago Dodson is professor of urban policy, and director of the Centre for Urban Research, at RMIT University. This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Read the original here.

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Grain. Photo: Shutterstock

Rail key to export volumes: Victoria

Victoria’s government believes new infrastructure will help increase overseas export volumes, with a new report suggesting the Murray Basin Rail project as one potential example.

State agriculture minister Jaala Pulford says infrastructure will be crucial in her state maintaining and building upon current export volumes.

Pulford recently released Victoria’s latest food and fibre export performance report, with total food and fibre exports valued at $11.6bn, a rise of $282m from the previous financial year.

“To fully realise the opportunities that the forecast global food boom presents, we also need to make sure our products can get to where they’re wanted in peak condition,” the minister said in a statement.

“Part of the story is about transport infrastructure, which is why the Victorian Government is making significant investments to fix regional rail and upgrade freight corridors across the state, so businesses can get their goods to market efficiently.”

The Murray Basin Rail project was cited as an example.

Pulford also talked of maintaining and expanding access to international markets with more resources aimed at enhancing Victoria’s biosecurity system and protecting production systems.

Grains were big export earner for the state, worth $1.4 billion in 2014–15, despite a significant dip in the 2014 Victorian grain harvest due to a poor late winter and spring in the north-west of the state.

Acting Premier and employment minister Jacinta Allan said recent trade figures showed the strong contribution primary producers made towards Victoria’s economy.

“Our state’s ongoing prosperity relies on their hard work, resilience and entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “The Andrews Labor Government will never rest on its laurels and that’s why we will continue to make the investments our primary producers need, so that Victorian food and fibre remains number one.”

“We’re putting agriculture at the heart of Victoria’s economic development so that our farmers and industries can grow and prosper from paddock to port.”

This article is from Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.