The Government's failed City Deals

February 05, 2018

Investment in infrastructure is crucial to delivering better outcomes for Australians and boosting economic growth now and into the future. Building a prosperous, livable Australia demands consistent long-term planning to give certainty to business and communities across the country.

That is why Labor is focused on developing our cities in conjunction with governments of all levels and across political divides to ensure that we can remain not only gateways to the global economy but also some of the most livable places in the world.

As we have seen around the world, it is critical to adopt broadly supported, long-term plans to give the certainty required to attract private sector investment and deliver the outcomes that Australians deserve.

The consensus for achieving these outcomes from planning bodies, researchers and governments around the world is that the establishment of a single governing body that oversees a coordinated policy package for cities is the best way of delivering these results.

This vehicle should be funded by all levels of government and operate like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. That's why Labor when in government created the Major Cities Unit, to bring together a broad range of stakeholders and communities to ensure the best result for cities across the nation.

This government, in contrast, has abolished this unit and replaced it with an ineffective and underfunded City Deals initiative. This lack of funding is indicative of this government's infrastructure failings.

With an underspend of close to $4 billion over the last three years, this government is failing on infrastructure. Let me repeat that: this government has underspent on its commitments to infrastructure by $4 billion in the last three years alone.

They are utter hypocrites on this.

Labor took infrastructure spending to some of its strongest levels since Federation and had spent more as a percentage of GDP than any other OECD country by the time we left office.

The City Deals being rolled out by this government in typical Turnbull government fashion are a desperate attempt to detract from their poor track record on infrastructure. City Deals have been highly successful around the world and have the potential to be effective in Australia as well, but they've been starved of funding and the commitment they require to be effective.

The City Deals that have been announced by this government are hardly true City Deals at all. The Launceston and Townsville City Deals are a direct response to infrastructure projects Labor had already committed to with Townsville Stadium and the University of Tasmania. The Western Sydney, Hobart and Northern Territory City Deals are yet to be supported or signed at this stage and are simply all talk.

We know that the government is out of touch with the infrastructure needs of Australia. That is why these City Deals have become such a mess. On one hand, the government claims to offer a holistic solution to the issues facing growing cities, but all the while it butchered the National Broadband Network and ignored the growing impacts of climate change.


On top of this, there has been little consultation with Labor, either federally or at a state level, to ensure continuity of the City Deals. Labor, on the other hand, knows how City Deals have achieved outcomes elsewhere.

The approach adopted by the coalition will simply not work. To maximise the potential of our great cities, we need to bring together a wide range of relevant partners and work with them to form plans which address all the major issues facing cities in a productive and inclusive way. We cannot afford to say that we cannot invest in renewable energy because it doesn't suit our policy goals or that we won't facilitate reliable, fast internet because it's someone else's fault. It is the responsibility of governments to tackle all these issues head-on.

Communities across Australia are looking for leadership on these issues.

A multitude of regions are suffering from inaction because of the government in this space. Rolling out an infrastructure approach in such an arbitrary way across this vast country is insufficient. If this government truly believes in the idea of City Deals, it should come to the table with Labor, the crossbench and key stakeholders and figure out a way to deliver what is needed, not just to where it needs votes.

In my electorate, there is a range of projects that could provide immediate and long-term benefits for the Hunter and Central Coast regions, which are being ignored by the government. Any further development of a City Deal program by the federal government needs to go through a review process with the goal of constructing a scheme that has support from both sides of politics and all levels of government.

Labor knows this and is keen to work not only with the rest of the parliament but also COAG and the private sector to make all our great cities liveable, affordable and productive.

Labor has a proud record of investing in cities and creating both essential infrastructure projects and living spaces to improve quality of life. We want to continue to build on our long-held view that the Commonwealth can improve our cities by providing direct investment and policy leadership to other levels of government. On the other hand, all we see from the government are buzzwords, talk, more talk and more announcements of deals with no follow-through. Australia and our cities—in fact, our regions as a whole—deserve better.