RURAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
Major Cities Unit
18 October 2011
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you for presenting. I am a little bit cross that we still are no closer to guidelines for liveable cities. I think at different stages you both said they will be released shortly. How long is 'shortly'? We have played this game once already.
Mr Mrdak: We have played this game once before. I think that they will be in the very near future.
Senator LUDLAM: Is that days rather than weeks?
Mr Mrdak: Without pre-empting the minister, I think it will be days rather than weeks.
Senator LUDLAM: Great. It is a relatively small amount of money-we have had variants on this discussion as well. If it is rolled over the entire country over two years, you are going to need to choose your targets very well for it to make an impact. How many individual projects are you envisaging this little pot of funding will cover?
Mr Mrdak: We do not have a position on that at the moment. As Mr Wilson and Ms Ekelund have indicated, the guidelines will be released. We will then be inviting submissions for project proposals. We do not have a feel at this stage of how many. Obviously we would like to be able to fund as many good projects and proposals as we can.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you got an idea, then, what the size of the average grant is going to be? This is kind of lateral to that question.
Mr Mrdak: No, we do not. At this stage the guidelines will contain some requirements in relation to what will be funded, but we do not have a feel at this stage what the quantums may be that would support.
Senator LUDLAM: Right. You put the guidelines out. How are you going to promote them to the huge number of potential applicants doing things around the country?
Mr Mrdak: We will put in place arrangements to make it known that they are out. Certainly Ms Ekelund works very closely with local government and state government agencies and authorities, so they will all be made aware of the release of the guidelines. I think we have an extensive communications strategy which will send out the guidelines to a vast range of people who would be eligible.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you going to release some kind of benchmark on the basis on which you would consider whether this program was successful or not? After you have spent all your money, how will we evaluate whether it worked?
Mr Mrdak: We would look to have an evaluation of the program. The minister has certainly indicated that he sees this as the start of a Commonwealth investment in cities. Obviously that is a matter which the government will have to consider in its budgetary circumstances, but we will be looking to evaluate the program as we do normally with programs.
Senator LUDLAM: Good. I imagine that before you scale it up a hundredfold you will want to know that the first down payment was successful. Who will do the assessments once the applications start coming in?
Mr Mrdak: They will be done within the Nation Building Division and with the Major Cities Unit of the department.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you going to stand up some little subcommittee or something?
Mr Mrdak: We will have a team of people in the department who will manage the processes.
Senator LUDLAM: Who will be the chair of that?
Mr Mrdak: I will be asking Mr Wilson and Ms Ekelund to manage that process for us.
Senator LUDLAM: Good. Are you going to do successive funding rounds or is it all going to go out the door in one go?
Ms Ekelund: There will only be one round, but the money will go out over two years. There will only be one call for proposals.
Senator LUDLAM: Very good. Ms Ekelund, you mentioned in your opening statement-I think; I am missing some of it-that you are doing some kind of study into active transport.
Ms Ekelund: That is right.
Senator LUDLAM: Congratulations. That is good. Can I draw out from you what that means. What does that work involve?
Ms Ekelund: The work we are doing is a position paper. We do not have confirmation yet as to whether it will go out as a discussion paper in the first instance. It is a paper that looks at active travel-walking and cycling-as a legitimate transport mode. It will explore what has been happening in Australia and will be one of the planks through which to help deliver on the Australian bicycle strategy, which seeks to double the amount of cycling in Australia. We have been undertaking workshops with key stakeholders and we held a two-day workshop on 8 and 9 August.
Senator LUDLAM: Where was that?
Ms Ekelund: It was held in Sydney, but it did have people from around the country, including health economists and transport economists as well as policy people, to understand all the costs and benefits of those modes.
Senator LUDLAM: That sounds very good. I recognise that active transport is bigger than just cycling. We already have a national cycling strategy that is aiming to double cycling by 2016, but we are, unfortunately, not spending a cent to support it. How is your work going to complement that and not end up going on the shelf, awaiting funding?
Ms Ekelund: With much of our work it is about setting a policy framework that identifies the aspirations not just of the Australian government but also of other key players: the states and territories, local government, the private sector, the community and its actions. They are all stakeholders. I would think it is not just about Australian government money; it is actually about a collective commitment to active travel and how we behave differently.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Can you tell us a bit more about your expert panel? Where are they drawn from?
Ms Ekelund: I would have to take that on notice. I do not have the details with me here.
Senator LUDLAM: Has that been stood up or is that a proposed panel?
Ms Ekelund: This is the panel-
Senator LUDLAM: for active transport. I believe you mentioned an expert panel.
Ms Ekelund: No, I do not think so. We had a workshop with experts from around the country, not a standing panel.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. So it is not a formal grouping that is out there. Will you be making recommendations for funding? It is an area that has been starved to the point where it is kind of silly.
Ms Ekelund: It is premature to consider that.
Senator LUDLAM: All right. The state of the cities report is to be released a little bit later this week. We had a very brief discussion about that this morning. They are very good reports, by the way; the 2010 one was very helpful. It lacked a mention of urban biodiversity in particular. Is that something that is going to be included in the 2011 study?
Mr Wilson: Without being difficult, I think you will need to wait for the release of the document.
Senator LUDLAM: It is always worth trying! Are you working with SEWPAC on their development of sustainability indicators?
Ms Ekelund: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: That is good. I am interested to know how you or working or the degree of thinking that is going on inside the MCU on retrofitting given that a huge area of the urban footprint that will exist in 2050 exists already.
Mr Wilson: I am sorry?
Senator LUDLAM: Retrofitting-for example, going back into areas that were laid out to be deliberately car dependent and making them somehow not so. Is there thinking going on within the MCU on that issue specifically?
Ms Ekelund: I am not sure if you had a chance to look at the national urban policy, but in the national urban policy we do certainly explore issues of the shape of cities, the density of cities and to what extent the existing urban footprint can accommodate future growth. Infill development in the core and in what is called the greyfields are of interest to us.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. To come back again to active transport in terms of targets and modal splits, the minister has referred to the increase in mode share for public transport across all capital cities in his budget statement earlier this year. For example, Melbourne set targets. I think Perth is in the process of setting targets in the draft public transport strategy there. Is there any thinking that you are doing about indicative national targets being set for, for example, public transport patronage?
Mr Wilson: Not at this stage.
Mr Mrdak: Infrastructure Australia have previously outlined that they are doing some indicative work on that issue. At the moment it is part of their work program that Mr Deegan talked about. That may not of itself result in indicators per se, but a lot of thinking is going on about future directions in public transport modal shift.
Senator LUDLAM: We had a brief discussion about nation building mark 2. Are the Major Cities Unit folk involved in helping set guidelines or shaping the thinking around the guidelines for the next three- or four-year round of funding.
Ms Ekelund: We are having conversations about the shape of that work. The secretary has indicated a commitment to ensure that the nation building 2 program is consistent with the National Urban Policy.
Senator LUDLAM: I hope so as otherwise you would be wasting your time once the funding starts to flow. I leave my questions there with a request. You indicated you were not certain whether the active transport study would have a public component to it and whether you would put out a discussion paper. I invite you to consider doing that. I think that could be useful. Please tell us when you think that work will conclude and when your report will go to government.
Ms Ekelund: I do not expect it will be until early next year. We are still undertaking research and consultation with key stakeholders. Neither the department nor the minister has had time to consider the work to date.
Senator LUDLAM: Will that be made public eventually?
Ms Ekelund: That will be up to the minister.
Senator LUDLAM: Minister, apologies for bothering you.
Senator Carr: That is very polite. It has been a long day.
Senator LUDLAM: Minister, it has been referred back to the government as to whether the active transport strategy that the MCU is working on will eventually be a public document.
Senator Carr: I will have to take that up with the minister directly.