Transcript - interview - ABC Radio Sydney, Mornings with Sarah McDonald

SARAH MACDONALD [HOST]: Do you look at yourself or do you look at the wider economy? And what about the city? I mean, if you’re listening to us right now on ABC Radio Sydney, you’re a city person. You like living in the city, but, you know, it is a tough city to live in terms of the cost of living, isn’t it? What would make it better? We’re one of the most urbanised countries on earth and while a lot of us kind of think about the sea-change and the tree-change and we wax lyrical about the bush and the wildlife, seven out of ten of us live in major cities such as Sydney. So, there’s a national policy on cities to improve the way we live within our cities, within this Budget.

Catherine King is the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and with us now on ABC Radio Sydney. Good morning.

CATHERINE KING [MINISTER]: Good morning. It’s really lovely to be with you.

SARAH MACDONALD: What did you announce in terms of cities policies and how will this change cities like Sydney?

CATHERINE KING: Well, for quite a while the federal government has been stepped back from cities policies. We’ve had sort of small bits and pieces. We fund infrastructure in partnership with states, but we haven’t really had that sort of big urban policy and that urban planning involvement for quite a while. It wouldn’t surprise many of your listeners to know that this is a bit of a passion for our Prime Minister both as a Sydneysider but having a mentor in Tom Uren who sort of really started the federal government’s engagement in cities policy –

SARAH MACDONALD: He’s a bit of an infrastructure nerd; right?

CATHERINE KING: He’s just a bit. Just a bit. I love every minute of it. So, what we’ve announced is that we are going to be developing a National Urban Policy. We know our cities are really changing and COVID has absolutely changed the way in which our cities operate as well. We’ve appointed or just about to announce a new Urban Policy Forum. There’s some terrific people who have agreed to be involved in that who really have been at the forefront both nationally and internationally of sort of planning urban design, looking at how you make cities work better, as well as sort of getting back to that regular reporting of the state of our cities, having a proper state of the cities report and a cities unit within my own department.

We’ve also announced a couple of grants programs for particularly our suburbs. We want them to thrive but we know if you look at not just roads and rail but community and sporting and arts infrastructure in our suburbs, there’s real deficits in some of our suburbs, particularly in some of the lower socio-economic suburbs. You’ve seen lots of investment in some areas, but not so much in others. So, we’ve announced the Thriving Suburbs Grants Program for local councils and not-for-profits as well as what we call a Precincts Program. So, where suburban centres are looking to really develop their sorts of arts and cultural precincts, a sporting precinct, industrial precinct, something that will really change the way the suburb works and the way in which people are able to live in that suburb, we’re looking for really good examples across the country and our suburbs about what you might do there. So, all of that is happening.

SARAH MACDONALD: What, so they can apply and send you sort of “This is our plan to improve our suburb”.


SARAH MACDONALD: And you will be judging it depending on what sort of transformation you think it will mean in terms of the way people live or the services to the locals? What kind of things will you be looking at?

CATHERINE KING: Yes. So, like that. So, things that connect, and examples – we’ve got a similar program in the regions and that’s been really interesting to see the ideas that are coming forward for that. So, it might be the councils saying, you know, “Our main street or the way in which our shopping district works, we want to bring some of the council library services in. We’ve got a private developer who’s looking at some social and affordable housing. We’ve got on unused park or it’s really rundown. We want to try and combine all of that to make this into a really liveable precinct for people, you know, hopefully, around public transport hubs.” We’ll use some of the members of our Urban Policy Forum to actually assess those to try to get those really good ideas. We haven’t got a lot of money in it, but it’s enough in there to really start showing some good examples of how we can really help our suburbs to be really great places for people to live and also be able to have your kids being able to recreate in the local area, being able to shop, provide economic opportunities for people as well. So, we’re looking for those good ideas and that was announced in the budget last night as well.

SARAH MACDONALD: Okay. And so I’m sure local councils will be listening to this with lots of ideas. We have “Meet the Mayor” every Wednesday and they’ve always got ideas that are bigger than their actual amount of money. How much is the possibility here, Catherine King?

CATHERINE KING: So, we haven’t done the guidelines of either of those yet. As I said, we’ve announced the projects. The first, Thriving Suburbs, which is a grants program for one-off projects, that will probably be around the $500 thousand to $15 million mark of projects some matching funding required from councils, but we haven’t settled on that. The Precincts Program will be a little bit bigger in terms of some of those larger scale and we’d be looking for funding partners in that. So, as I said it might be councils. It might be state government. It might be private sector developers or not-for-profit organisations wanting to do social and community housing and using other funding sources. So, that’s the sort of scale we’re looking at it but guidelines are not developed yet. The first bit was to get the money in the budget.

SARAH MACDONALD: Catherine King is with us, Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. 1300 222 702 is our number. You may have an area in a suburb that you would suggest would take advantage of this change and a policy on cities. What about regional centres? You’re from Ballarat. We’ve been hearing about Wollongong in terms of hydrogen this morning and also for the submarines Wollongong could be important and Port Kembla area. In terms of sort of cities to be and major cities to be as people move to the regions, where do places like that fit in this policy?

CATHERINE KING: Yeah. Well, again in terms of regional centres, we have got a really substantial Growing Regions Program and a Precincts and Partnerships Program for the regions as well. We’ve also announced today in the budget last night a new Regional Investment Framework that sort of looks at how you might across government invest in regions differently, so looking at investing in our people, so building the capacity of local government, investing in our places, so really looking at the infrastructure, investing in services, so things like the bulk-billing incentive, critical this morning, and also the investing in our economies and industries. So, we’ve announced that as well.

SARAH MACDONALD: Okay. Well, interesting times ahead and we’ll see how it all flows through. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

CATHERINE KING: Lovely to talk to you. Thank you.

SARAH MACDONALD: That’s Catherine King, the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.