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Newman ‘delighted’ by cities minister appointment

E-Class Melbourne tram. Photo: Liam Davies

Malcolm Turnbull’s move to appoint Jamie Briggs to the new role of minister for cities and built infrastructure has been welcomed by public transport advocate Peter Newman, and Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Newman, a professor at the Curtin University in WA, is a well-known supporter of public transport policy. He is one of the key opponents of the Perth Freight Link road project, which will connect a new tollroad to Fremantle Port, rather than boosting rail capacity.

One move he’s not opposed to, though, is the creation of the new federal ministry.

“I was absolutely delighted, taken by surprise, I’d have to say,” Newman said of Briggs’ appointment on ABC Radio on Monday.

“It does show that it’s a completely bi-partisan idea and one that should be historically looked back on to say this is the moment that the Federal Government said cities really do matter.”

Briggs will work with states to develop urban design and public transport plans for the major cities.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, when he named his first ministry, gave Warren Truss the title of minister for infrastructure and regional development.

Missing from Truss’ title – which he retains under Turnbull – is the word ‘transport’. This was perceived by many as Abbott cementing his view that the Commonwealth should not fund urban public transport, and should instead stick to federal projects, and roads.

Anthony Albanese was the minister for infrastructure and transport under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, when the Labor Party was in power between 2007 and 2013. As the shadow minister for transport and infrastructure, he has pressured the Liberal Government on its anti-public-transport stance, and this pressure was ramped up when, last year, Bill Shorten added ‘cities’ to Albanese’s shadow portfolio.

The addition of Briggs as the minister for cities, then, makes the concept a bi-partisan one, as Newman suggested.

“It was an extreme view that was around for many years that you’ll never get people out of their cars, you’re in your car you’re the king and nobody else matters,” Newman continued, “[Abbott] actually has a quote like that in his book.

“It’s really disappeared especially among the young and the wealthy who are now locating in places where you don’t need a car. And car use is actually in decline in all the world’s big cities.”

Greens minister Adam Bandt said the cities role had potential, if it was used correctly.

“If this new cities ministry has some teeth and is able to direct how Commonwealth money is spent and perhaps from time to time tells the states to be a bit more sensible about how they spend the money that they get from the Commonwealth Government, then it could be a good thing,” Bandt told ABC Radio.

“You know you’ve been to a good city … if you can travel around without using a car.

“Melbourne could become one of those if we put more money into public transport, including into a metro rail project.”