Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health


Transcript - RN Breakfast - Interview with Fran Kelly

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


Topics: Housing affordability, cities agenda, republic debate, Tony Abbott

Minister, good morning, welcome back to Breakfast.

Good morning Fran.

Australian cities – and you quote this regularly – and are regarded as some of the most liveable in the world.

But how can we continue to boast about our most liveable cities when fewer and fewer Australians can afford to live in them?

Look I think this is a very important point. There are two pillars to what we need for Australians in terms of their cities.

They have to be liveable – which is about the planning, the transport, and the greening. But they also have to be affordable.

I don't think anybody would be surprised by the results of what's called the Demographia survey into housing affordability around the world – I think it covers about 87 major metropolitan markets – and it's found that Australia's cities are near the top of the cost curve in terms of median income versus the price of houses.

So there is a serious issue there.

There certainly is. Sydney, now ranked number two as the least affordable city in the world, but a lot more cities in there.

It takes more than 12 times the median income in Sydney to afford the median house price.

Does that represent a complete failure of housing policy? Is there any other way to see this?

Look, I think it represents a significant challenge.

So in theory these are state issues – in practice, we want to engage and deal with it.

Because if as a Federal Government you're not dealing with it then ultimately it will just be an Australian problem.

So there are probably three things we want to do.

One is work with the states on land release. The base of the issue...

Do you agree with Bob Day, who we spoke to yesterday?

He said land release – out and out number one the key to this.

Well I think it's one of the three critical elements.

One – land release.

Two – the cost of building – and this is in particular in relation to the inner city apartments where there is an urban infill, and that's where the Trade Union Royal Commission has been trying to address some of the issues around building costs, building construction.

And then the third is bureaucracy. We're working with all of the States and offering to work on strategic assessments to help with long-term planning, so you've got a very clear plan but a very rapid process.

So they're our basic things.

But right at the heart of this is making sure that there is land available in the areas that are new, but that it's planned so as you have large green spaces, you have urban canopies that are expanding, not contracting – which is very possible – Singapore has achieved that, Australia can achieve that – and then at the same time in the inner areas where apartments are being built, that they're built in a way which is affordable – and there are many examples from around the world, and...

But Minister you're absolutely right.

...the cost of the construction industry are part of this.

You're absolutely right, we know there's examples in the world of cities that are doing it better. The point is how do we do it better?

In Sydney, if you're talking about land release, then a lot of the new land is on the outskirts of the city.

Already there's been an 82 per cent fall in the number of lower income earners living within 10 kilometres from the city – people are being pushed further and further away from where their jobs are.

In your home town of Melbourne, there's a plan working on a 20 minute city model, which involves changing the mix of suburban land use so residents can live 20 minutes on average from their jobs, which sounds smart.

But how do you do that? How do you put the jobs into the outer suburbs where the people are, and that's only going to be more outer as we get to release more land hopefully.

Well there are two things there. One, for example, you look at major projects that are appropriate for outer areas.

So let me give you a case study – the Western Sydney Airport. This will bring thousands and thousands of jobs to Western Sydney.

We all know that in Sydney the population – the demographic centre has progressively moved west.

Instead of having all of those – well, many of those people having to commute into the city with enormous transport times, congestion issues, creating not just a transportation node but also a centre which is based around the academic world, around new technology, innovation in Western Sydney, so it's a whole precinct – is something about very significant jobs.

In Melbourne there's an example of land release that the Commonwealth could be engaged with.

There's been a two-decade fight over the old Maribyrnong defence land, where the State has demanded it be cleaned up, the Commonwealth has said well we want to make sure that there's a reasonable return.

There are very good examples as to how those problems can be dealt with – Elephant and Castle in London, Barangaroo in Sydney...

People just got to get on with it, Minister, I mean Peter Costello was talking about land release and that's a long time ago now. Can I...

Well I'm in this job now for four weeks – we've put out one major statement, we're now about to put out in the coming six weeks a very significant cities paper and the Prime Minister himself is right at the heart of a national summit.

But it then comes down to practical actions, land, building costs, and bureaucracy and we're willing to do the strategic assessments to provide a long term blueprint which would cut through a lot of the bureaucracy and reduce time with each of our capital cities.

Okay, Minister you're also the Environment Minister, and as Cities and Environment Minister you've been speaking lately about urban canopies, greening our cities.

As we speak, the New South Wales state government is cutting down trees in Sydney around Centennial Park – not just any old trees, hundreds of beautiful, huge fig trees, some of them more than 100 years old – to make way for a light rail.

The local council's objected, the residents objected to no end.

Will you intervene to take a look at this before any more of those trees are cut down?

Well there isn't – unless there is a matter of national environmental significance, there isn't a federal power in that space.

But my overall approach here is to see a dramatic and significant increase in overall urban canopy coverage.

What does it mean? It means we're putting in 20 million trees in our cities and around our cities, we've got green armies deployed, we've created the first ever Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub…

But meanwhile these beautiful trees, along Centennial Park and along a bike path and along a footpath, experts say there's other viable routes for parts of this light rail, they're being chopped down. Are you saying there's nothing you can do or you're not prepared to even have a look?

Look I'll always look at ideas and proposals that people put forward. But my approach is to make sure that we are increasing the overall coverage – my bias is always wherever possible to retain and protect trees – I'm not going to on the fly try to say whether or not any specific tree is the right tree, there are local governments that are far better qualified to comment on individual plans and state governments more broadly – under a federal system that's what we should be doing.

However, what I have long advocated is that we should have integrated planning commissions, where you have state governments at the heart but federal and local included.

They look at a long term master plan for the city so that we are increasing our overall tree coverage, increasing our overall urban canopy.

That has an impact on quality of life, that has an impact on the urban heat island. And wherever possible, my goal is always to try to protect and save trees and in particular our iconic trees.

It's quarter to eight, our guest is the Federal Environment Minister and acting Minister for Cities, Greg Hunt.

Minister, just briefly, some broader issues. Tony Abbott is in the United States, he'll be addressing an ultraconservative religious lobby group.

Are you comfortable with the former PM associating with a group that opposes abortion and marriage equality?

Look I think he'd say it's a matter for him.

In my case it's well known that I believe in free choice on that particular issue in terms of abortion – or the existing Australia laws – but everybody is entitled to their views, as the Prime Minister himself has said.

And just very briefly on another matter, you're also a republican, the Prime Minister says the timing's not right to push for another referendum on a republic.

Would you like him to take up the baton? There's a political consensus emerging around this in the states and territories.

Look I think it's something that will emerge over time as to whether or not there is another vote. In terms of the history to come, I think there will be.

My own approach I’ve set out previously – yes I support it, it's not a priority.

I do want to see in terms of the social issues a referendum on indigenous recognition within the Constitution and we also have this year the deep, powerful, important task of housing affordability and job creation.

It's a matter that I think over time will emerge. And I favour what's called a dual key model of people's nomination and parliamentary approval. I think that's something that will give us a balance.

But this will be a debate that is one to develop over the medium term, not to displace the really powerful short term issues of job creation and housing affordability I think over the next year and 18 months.

Greg Hunt, thank you very much for joining us.

Thanks Fran, take care


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