Address to the Planning Institute of Australia National Congress

Thank you very much for that introduction.

I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land where we meet, the Wurundjeri People. 

I pay my respect to their Elders past and present. 

I extend those respects to any First Nations people here today.

From our cities to the regions, our nation is built upon lands that have been cared for by First Nations People for time immemorial. That is something we recognise today and every day.

I also acknowledge Matt Collins, Karen Goldsmith and the team from the Planning Institute of Australia, and I thank you and your team for not only putting on today’s events, but for the work you all do to inspire and support planners to create and foster thriving communities right around the country.


As some of you may know, Tuesday this week marked two years since our government was elected to office. 

We were elected on a platform of reengaging with our cities, reengaging with the notion that the Commonwealth does have an interest in the proper planning of communities across our nation – from the cities and the suburbs, to the regions and remote Australia.

We were also elected with a Prime Minister, in Anthony Albanese, who is more committed to Urban Policy than any before in our history, other than perhaps Gough Whitlam.

Given the anniversary of that election, it is perhaps apt that this convention is themed “reinvention”. 

There could not be a more fitting theme for the re-engagement of the Commonwealth into our urban policy spaces, nor could there be a more fitting occasion for the launch of our new National Urban Policy.

Background and Commitment

As you would all know, it has been a long time since Australian had a National Urban Policy. 

It was the now-Prime Minister who released the last comprehensive National Urban Policy, over a decade ago when he held the portfolio position that I am now privileged to hold.

In fact – that is still a ministerial legacy of his he talks a lot about to this day!

But a lot has changed in the decade since that last National Urban Policy was released – the issue of housing supply and affordability has become more significant, the role of our cities in responding to climate change has become better understood, and the Covid-19 pandemic laid bare many of the inequities at play across different suburban communities in our largest cities, as well as the importance of freight and logistics to our way of life.

The time is now right to produce a new National Urban Policy which responds to the challenges of 2024. 

In launching a National Urban Policy Consultation Paper today, I want to highlight a few things…

National Urban Policy – Consultation Draft

It is structured around six key objectives:

  • No-one and no place left behind
  • All people belong and are welcome
  • Our urban areas are safe
  • Our urban areas are sustainable
  • Our urban environments and communities promote health and wellbeing, and;
  • Our urban areas promote productivity.

In these six objectives, I think we see the challenges and opportunities facing our cities as they grow and adapt to new ways of working, living and relating to our community.

I will touch on all those objectives in turn.

First, no-one and no place left behind

As the Member for Ballarat, I spend a great deal of time travelling between my home and Melbourne – just as I did on the train yesterday to meet the Australian Logistics Council, and just as I did along the Western Highway today to have breakfast with you all. 

I can confirm that I did check the timetable for today, but waiting for  the first train would have meant we missed breakfast!

But whether you catch the train or drive, you see the same thing outside the passenger window – the new frontier of our urban environments stretching out from the cities across open plains and what was once farmland.

That is why the National Urban Policy is so important – it has to speak as much to the inner cities where we are today, as it does to the suburbs I pass through on the way to the city. 

It must contend with the challenges of making every community as functional, productive and liveable they can be – while seizing the opportunities that come with growth and change.

In particular, the National Urban Policy needs a focus on how we can ensure new outer suburban communities, and growing middle-ring communities, have access to the transport and community infrastructure needed to be great places to live.

This focus has helped shape investments through our Infrastructure Investment Pipeline – from the recently announced $2 billion package for Western Sydney roads to large public transport projects like METRONET which received further funding in the recent Budget.

It’s also why I announced the program Thriving Suburbs, designed to help growing suburban communities access new funding for the pools, libraries, sporting and cultural institutions they need.

And it is why the National Urban Policy Consultation Paper looks at issues of infrastructure provision, housing affordability and community infrastructure through the lens of equity.

Next, is Belonging and Safety

One of the most interesting parts of urban policy and planning, is how it interacts and seeks to build upon those intangible elements of what makes cities great. 

The “vibe” of an excellent place, the subtle ways good urban design makes a space inviting and how cities can draw out and celebrate the culture of the communities who call them home. It is a bit like art, I am by no means an art expert, but I know what I like. It’s the same when it comes to good urban design.

As a politician and a human, you know it when you see it or more importantly, feel it. And we rely on you planners to know how to create it!

The National Urban Policy Consultation Paper looks at how we can create cities that celebrate diversity, social cohesion and community wellbeing. 

At the broadest level, it is about how can we create Australian cities that people want to spend time in, and how can we ensure that those cities reflect the people who live within them – from First Nations people, LGBTIQA people and culturally and linguistically diverse people.

The objective that all people are welcome works in hand in hand with the objective that our urban areas are safe.

Safe to travel within; with roads, cycling and pedestrian pathways that support safe movement. 

Safe to live in; resilient to disasters and responding to the requirements of climate adaptation. 

Safe to exist in; no matter your gender, cultural background, ability or age.

We are inviting perspectives through this Consultation Draft on how to create Australian cities that are safe, resilient and welcoming. 

This works sits alongside our urban Precincts and Partnerships Program, which provides funding for projects which transform a place, through new public domain works, heritage interpretations, public infrastructure assets or urban greening. 

The Forecast Funding Opportunity for that program was released last week and I am looking forward to see what kind of exciting ideas this program brings forward to the Australian Government.

Third, Sustainability and Health

In the more than a decade since the Australian Government developed a comprehensive National Urban Policy, the people in this room and in universities, government and private practice around the country, have been contending with how to create planning systems that address climate change.

This National Urban Policy would not have been fit for purpose if it didn’t do the same. 

I am very pleased that we have Barbara Norman as the Chair of the Urban Policy Forum, whose work in this area has helped shape the Consultation Paper we are putting out today.

With two objectives addressing the sustainability and health of our urban environments, we are looking for feedback from you all on how we:

  • Help support the decarbonisation of our building and transport sectors, building on the work of the Building Ministers Meeting and our Net Zero Roadmap.
  • Support settlement patterns which don’t put people in harm’s way, supporting the work of the Planning Ministers Meeting which I convene.
  • Build a circular economy framework, healthy green and blue infrastructure networks and promote active transport.

The task of reducing emissions in our cities is a complex one, which the urban ecosystem touching so many parts of the net zero task. I know that while the Australian Government was absent from the conversation over the past decade, that you have all created new bodies of work which can help inform government practice at all levels of government. I encourage you to bring this new thinking to our attention through this Consultation Paper.

Of course, I must acknowledge and thank all those on the Urban Policy Forum who put so much time and effort into this policy – in particular, Matt Collins, Professor Barbara Norman, Ellie Davidson and all those other members joining us today.

Of course, the work of this National Urban Policy will not end with its publication as a final document later in the year. A good National Urban Policy should inform the work of all levels of government, from investment decisions to urban governance and planning systems.

I know I am talking today to a room full of planners – you are all passionate about what you do and you know that the task of planning can be misunderstood by government and community alike.

I want to assure you that the perspectives of planners have been well and truly captured in this National Urban Policy. That’s why thy Consultation Paper tackles so directly issues of urban government and systems and seeks to create a National Urban Policy which can be translated into the strategies and decisions of planning policy makers across the nation.

Particularly, I’d draw your attention to the shared principles within this document. 

These are a great innovation in this National Urban Policy - to translate the sometimes high level concepts contained with the Policy into something that can help inform urban planning and governance systems at all levels – from strategic plans, development guidelines and data sharing.

In conclusion

The people who call our suburbs and regional cities home deserve places that work for them. 

This requires working in partnership to transform the way we grow our cities and facilitate shared responsibility and coordinated action within and across all levels of government, industry and communities. 

We want to ensure that Australia is well placed to compete in the new, net zero economy, to make Australians the primary beneficiaries of a world of churn and change whether they are in our regions, cities, suburbs or our growing peri-urban areas.

And I look forward to returning here next year to discuss our progress

Thank you for listening.