By Professor Paul Burton, Director, Cities Research Institute
The Treasurer’s budget speech mentions cities only once, and that is to recognise that Queensland is the most decentralised state in Australia, with many significant cities beyond Brisbane and outside the south-east corner.
But does this mean that cities are neglected? Not at all, because much of the investment in new infrastructure announced in the Budget will occur in these cities.
We need to remember that infrastructure is more than just road and rail, although there is significant investment in Cross River Rail and in upgrades to the M1 and to the Bruce Highway; it also includes improvements to hospitals and health facilities and to new schools. And, again, many of these are located in our growing cities.
But this is a budget that focuses on supporting the creation of new jobs for Queenslanders, by investing in major projects, in business growth and training services and in investment attraction.
The narrative is remarkably similar to the Federal Government’s mantra of ‘jobs and growth’, and shows how in this regard there is little to separate the two major parties in ideological terms. Instead, they compete mainly on their capacity to deliver on their promises, and time will tell on that.
So, what does this investment in infrastructure mean for our two largest cities? Next year, $733 million will be spent on planning, procuring and developing Cross River Rail, the largest project in Queensland. This project exemplifies one of the most significant aspects of current urban policy debate: how do we rigorously assess the costs and benefits of major infrastructure proposals to the satisfaction of all levels of government so that we achieve a coherent national program of city-building?
Queensland’s capital will also benefit from investment in school improvements, hospital upgrades and new sporting facilities. There is also welcome and commendable expenditure on early-years services and on helping North Stradbroke Island diversify its economy as sand mining is phased out.
Further south, there will be much-needed improvements to the Pacific Motorway in the southern Gold Coast and support for detailed planning for Stage 3A of the Gold Coast Light Rail. And there is welcome recognition that, as the city continues to grow rapidly, the housing market is struggling to meet the needs of all citizens, and $38.4 million has been allocated to expand and improve social housing as well as a $7.7 million boost to homelessness services.
Overall, the budget strikes a reasonable balance between the encouragement of growth – especially economic growth that creates jobs for a growing population – and measures to help manage that growth in ways that try to ensure we all get to share in the benefits of that growth.
We know that the challenges facing our growing cities can only be met by partnerships – between the different levels of government and with the business and community sectors. We can only hope that once the immediate and rather shrill political criticisms have died down, all parties are willing and able to work together for the common good of our cities.