FEDERAL Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese last week released the 2012 edition of the State of Australian Cities, the third annual snapshot and 'report card' on the progress and performance of the nation's eighteen major cities with populations above 100,000 people.
According to the report, while Australia's major cities remain among the world's most liveable and are increasingly powered by the knowledge industries of the future, they are also being affected by extreme weather events and struggling to house the continuing influx of new residents.
The report details changes in urban population and settlement, examines indicators relating to productivity, sustainability and liveability and discusses governance in Australia's major cities. For the first time, it also includes an evaluation of progress in implementing the National Urban Policy and features new data from the 2011 Census.
Mr Albanese said that as well as providing a better understanding of how our cities work, the report also identifies the specific initiatives of local councils and state planning authorities which are proving effective at promoting more productive, sustainable and liveable urban communities.
The Minister said the report, which was compiled by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport's Major Cities Unit, continues the Federal Government's engagement with the nation's major cities "to bring about a much needed urban renaissance."
Mr Albanese said that as one of the most urbanised societies in the world, Australia's continuing prosperity in the competitive, globalised world of the 21st century will largely depend on how successful we are at making our cities work better.
"This task is given even greater urgency by the looming long term challenges of climate change and a growing, ageing population," Mr Albanese said, before adding that building better cities will require cooperation between all levels of government from the local town hall to the national parliament.
In summary, key findings of the report include:
Population and Settlement
- Melbourne and Sydney have absorbed nearly 40 per cent of the Australian population growth since 2001;
- The population of major cities continues to age, with declines across the board in the proportion of the population under 25;
- The gap between population increase and housing supply is now the largest and most sustained in a century;
- A decline in the number of housing lots produced per capita is occurring across the capitals but is particularly severe in Sydney. Block size has fallen and the price per square metre has risen sharply; and
- New houses in Australia are possibly the largest in the world, eclipsing the United States. However, there has been little or no growth for a decade and unit sizes have fallen.
- Australian national productivity growth levels continue to be lower than previous years;
- Most of the industry sectors that are experiencing rapid growth as a proportion of the economy are located in city centres and rely on increasing job densities to drive their productivity; and
- Fare recovery in Australian urban mass transit systems is already well below international best practice and continues to decline, raising questions about the sustainability of their current financial structures and the scope for further investment in mass transport infrastructure and services.
- Australia's major cities since 1952 have experienced increases in average maximum temperatures of up to 2°C;
- Most Australian cities, except for those located in the far north, have experienced declines in annual rainfall over the last 60 years;
- The number of very high and extreme fire weather days is estimated to increase by between 15 and 60 per cent by 2020 and double to quadruple by 2050; and
- While the fresh food production on the fringes of cities play a key role in providing staple perishable vegetables, these areas are under threat from the outward expansion and economic pressures of our cities.
The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) welcomed the release of the 2012 report, with PIA President Dyan Currie congratulating the Federal Government on the way it has monitored the progress of Australian Cities since the benchmark report was first released in March 2010.
"The 2012 report not only builds on the knowledge contained in the first report but it also contains the latest data that compares city with city nationally and internationally and sets out the steps needed to make our cities better places to live and work," Mr Currie said.
"The State of Australia Cities 2012 provides the evidence base to support the National Urban Policy – Our Cities, Our Future and is a necessary ingredient in good planning."
The Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) said the report demonstrates that stronger urban renewal policies and better infrastructure delivery for new residential areas are needed in Australia's major cities.
Of particular concern to the UDIA was the report's finding that the gap between population growth and housing supply is the largest it has been in more than a century.
"This shows that governments need to urgently respond by addressing the barriers to supply, such as the excessive taxation on the housing industry and unresponsive planning systems," said UDIA National President Julie Katz.
Ms Katz said she supported a commitment by Mr Albanese to implement a mechanism for large-scale urban renewal in suburbs close to the city centres and transport hubs.
"UDIA has been calling for a national urban renewal effort similar to the previous Building Better Cities program, to kick start new housing in existing suburbs close to transport and jobs. I look forward to seeing more detail on the Minister's proposal," Ms Katz said.
The eighteen major cities covered in the report are Adelaide; Albury-Wodonga; Brisbane; Cairns; Canberra-Queanbeyan; Darwin; Geelong; Gold Coast-Tweed; Hobart; Launceston; Melbourne; Newcastle; Perth; Sydney; Sunshine Coast; Townsville; Toowoomba; and Wollongong.
The State of Australian Cities 2012 report is available from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport website at <http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/>.