Bradfield Oration – Prime Minister of Australia

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.
I am proud to lead a government committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full, including a constitutionally-enshrined Voice to Parliament.
The Bradfield Oration is a valuable opportunity to reflect on the legacy of a man who had a deep love for this city and boundless faith in the potential of this nation.
And it is a chance for all of us to draw new inspiration from his example, as we seek to plan and build a better future for all Australians.
John Bradfield gave every Sydneysider a timeless gift, admired all over Australia and famous throughout the world.
Ninety years after it opened, the Sydney Harbour Bridge stands as a monument to John Bradfield’s genius.
And a tribute to the New South Wales Labor Government of the day that backed a project of such sweep and scale after decades of debate.
The Bridge wasn’t built to the standard of ‘good enough for now’, it was not conceived or delivered as the bare minimum to meet the needs of the day.
It wasn’t done on the cheap, even when the Great Depression tightened its grip.
It was built with ambition, with vision, built for the thriving global city that Sydney has become.
And it was built to bring people and communities together, to unify the city.
Indeed, at the opening ceremony in 1932, Premier Jack Lang spoke of two bridges.
“A material bridge” to unite the people of Sydney.
And the broader aspiration it represented:
“A bridge of common understanding that would serve the whole of the people of our great continent”.
Nine decades later, Cheree Toka’s campaign to fly the Aboriginal flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge drew on that same spirit.
Seeing the red, yellow and black up there alongside the Australian flag is such a resonant and hopeful statement about reconciliation and our modern nation – because the bridge itself is such a powerful symbol of Sydney and Australia.
This Bradfield Oration is an invitation to reflect on a grand legacy.
In doing so, we must resist at all costs the self-defeating nostalgia that says, somehow, ‘Oh we don’t make ’em like that anymore’.
Because modern Australia is more than capable of building smart and sustainable infrastructure that inspires and unifies.
Construction that creates jobs, lifts productivity and builds a sense of civic pride.
Projects that set new global standards for sustainability and climate resilience while delivering local liveability.
The magnificent precinct we are gathered in today proves the truth of this.
Think of the way Barangaroo has transformed Sydney’s skyline and its harbour.
The jobs and life it has brought to this once-neglected place.
The new parks and public space – on the water – it has created for families to enjoy.
Clearly, when we put our minds to it, Australia can design and deliver projects and precincts that unify our cities, grow our economies and serve our communities.
And not just on this grand scale.
The Marrickville Hospital had been empty for nearly 30 years when Mirvac redeveloped the site.
That project delivered new housing, including affordable housing, and also valuable community spaces: an internationally aclaimed new public library with meeting and study rooms.
A pavilion for parties, a café and generous outdoor spaces including a public lawn and seating, a junior playground, a dedicated youth area, all of it surrounded by specially-commissioned public art works.
Fundamentally, it showed respect for the culture of the community it was joining.
And the planners and designers worked alongside local council to make that development sustainable too:
A private firm, co-operating with governments, delivering public benefit and supporting sustainability.
We know it can be done, all over the nation.
It is those success stories which make the failures all the more inexcusable.
Because when suburbs are denied real public transport options, or deprived of proper parks and communal space.
When people are stranded on heat islands, or in child care deserts, or consigned to poorly-planned suburbs away from good jobs.
When communities are cut-off from decent internet and reliable services or developed without consideration of the threat of climate change and natural disasters.
This is not down to bad luck. It’s because of bad decisions.
It reflects a failure to co-operate and consult.
A failure to plan for quality infrastructure – and a failure to plan for quality of life.
In 2022, developers, builders and governments – at every level – know better.
So we have to do better. And we can.
We have to respect the hierarchy that renowned global architect and urbanist Jan Gehl spoke of many years ago:
“First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works”.
My dear friend and mentor, Tom Uren, thought the same way.
Tom was the Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the Whitlam Government.
It was a job he loved – and it was a title that spoke volumes: Urban and Regional Development.
Not an either-or proposition. Not a zero-sum game.
Not a choice or a competition among our cities and suburbs and regions, because all are vital to Australia’s national growth and success and all Australians should share in the benefits.
As Tom used to say: ‘We can’t deal with things in boxes’.
Meaning we can’t make plans or take decisions in isolation, because everything is interconnected.
That was insightful in the 1970s – it is inescapable now.
Growth and development in our cities and suburbs and regions ties into – and depends on – environment and water and NBN and housing and transport and employment and health and education and population.
This means it touches on every level of government.
So, getting the right outcomes will need the insights, planning expertise and perspective of local councils.
The service delivery and project management responsibilities of state government.
And investment and leadership at a federal level.
The Commonwealth Government has the reach, the resources and the responsibility to be engaged in cities policy.
I’ve always been passionate about this, indeed I spoke about it in my first speech as a Member of Parliament, back in 1996.
When you grow up in public housing, when you rely on public transport, when you count on public facilities for your recreation and education and health care, you learn the difference good infrastructure makes to people’s lives.
And you learn the power of the message government sends when it funds and builds and plans these things well.
When it demonstrates care and pride in what it is delivering for the community, especially when it’s for people who are not wealthy or influential.
It’s a way of knowing you matter, understanding someone believes in you and your potential, your place in the Australian story.
This is why I am determined for the Labor Government I lead to be a constructive leader and a supportive partner in the task of building better cities and more liveable suburbs and stronger regional communities.
I am pleased to announce we will re-establish the Cities and Suburbs Unit, restoring national leadership to facilitating more sustainable urban development and settlement.
We will reconvene the Urban Policy Forum, so its best-practice expertise can inform the creation of a new Urban Policy Framework. The first comprehensive urban policy at the national level for a decade.
We will commission a State of Australian Cities report to put together an accurate and up-to-date picture of life in our big cities.
Because we know the way people live and work has dramatically changed in just the past two years.
Our government understands that the next decade represents a transformative opportunity for our regional cities to be home to tens of thousands of new jobs created by the opportunities of renewable energy and Australia’s transition to net zero.
So we are delivering a new Precincts and Partnerships Program to provide transformative investment in regional and rural communities, which will also assist with the national transition to cleaner and cheaper energy.
And to ensure the level of government closest to the community has a stronger voice, we will revitalise the Australian Council of Local Government.
Ministers Catherine King and Kristy McBain will lead this work.
None of this is about dictating outcomes, or handing-down central planning decisions from Canberra.
This is about creating a framework that brings together expert advice and local perspectives, to support a more integrated approach to sustainable development.
So people have an informed say in the decisions which will shape their local services and care, their job opportunities, their children’s education and their quality of life and wellbeing.
I would submit that nowhere is this more important – or more urgent – than in Greater Western Sydney.
Home to more Australians than Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart and Darwin combined.
And one of the fastest growing areas in Australia. The North West and South West, in particular, are at the forefront of this rapid population growth.
And we are approaching a vital moment for the future of these growing, young, multicultural and aspirational communities.
The planning and investment decisions we make about Western Sydney will not just affect families in those suburbs – they will shape the future growth and productivity and liveability of Sydney as a whole.
Take the new Western Sydney Airport, on track to open by late 2026 – 30 years after I backed it in my first speech as a Member of Parliament.
This is another great example of sustainable construction: almost no potable water used in the build and re-using 5 million tonnes of crushed sandstone from the Sydney Metro and WestConnex tunnelling projects.
The precinct itself is designed to use solar panels and be ultra-efficient in its use of electricity and liquid fuel.
There will be charging infrastructure for electric vehicles in the parking areas.
And we’re looking into electric ground support vehicles too: baggage and catering trucks and aircraft tugs.
And when it’s open, Western Sydney Airport will be a powerful catalyst for economic activity.
It will re-align the whole dynamic of Sydney.
For the first time, we won’t all be turning in, towards the CBD and the harbour.
We’ll be looking outward. We’ll be looking to the West.
Not as a population centre, not as a congestion problem to be solved.
Not as drive-in, drive-out, drive-through suburbs – but as an economic powerhouse, driving national growth.
An airport – like a university – is a massive generator of economic activity for a region.
These are big, long-term construction projects.
But beyond that they deliver a significant multiplier effect for the local economy – creating a diverse range of secure, skilled, well-paid local jobs: including Western Sydney’s rapidly-growing information and technology sector.
The Western Parkland City and the Aerotropolis will be home to new opportunities in innovation and research and technology.
But we can’t deal with this in a box.
It can’t be an enclave of economic opportunity, cut-off from the community.
Building the right surrounding infrastructure and public transport and freight links is absolutely critical.
The Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport rail line will help connect travellers with the city and locals with jobs.
We are investing $5.25 billion in the first stage of this transformative project, which will connect St Marys with the Western Sydney Airport and the Aerotropolis.
We are also investing a further $77.5 million towards a final business case looking at an extension of the Sydney Metro to Western Sydney Airport line.
For freight, the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal Precinct is global best practice.
A public-private partnership, designed to maximise productivity.
The Import-Export Terminal has been operating since 2019.
And we expect the Interstate Terminal to be complete in late 2024.
Moving more container freight by rail, will save around 3,000 truck journeys each day.
Freeing-up key arterial roads like the M5.
Saving around 110,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.
And boosting the security and resilience of local supply chains and delivering an economic benefit to Western Sydney of $120 million a year.
But it’s not just that ‘hard’ infrastructure of roads and rail that drives an area’s growth.
It’s the green spaces, the parks, the community theatres and galleries.
Sports grounds and public pools.
Urban waterways and bike paths.
These are the amenities that knit-together a neighbourhood.
And fostering this sense of community pride and connection and inclusion depends on empowering local knowledge and innovation.
This is why, before the election, we said we would create an expert panel to assess Western Sydney’s transport infrastructure needs and report back to the Australian Government ahead of the 2023-24 Federal Budget.
Today, I’m pleased to announce that this panel will be chaired by Sarah Hill, the CEO of the Western Parkland City Authority.
The Federal and New South Wales Governments will be represented by David Mackay, Deputy Secretary in the Department of Infrastructure and Kiersten Fishburn, Deputy Secretary of Transport for NSW.
Local Government – the level of government closest to community – will be represented by Kerry Robinson OAM, the CEO of Blacktown City Council and Lindy Deitz, the General Manager of Campbelltown City Council.
David Borger, the Executive Director of Business Western Sydney will represent employers and small business.
And Dr Awais Piracha from Western Sydney University, will contribute his expertise in urban planning.
And at a community level, we will have Dr Andy Marks, the Chair of the Western Sydney Community Forum.
And Sue Hunter Lawrence who is the President of the North West Business Chamber.
This expert panel is drawn from Western Sydney, for Western Sydney.
It will report to our government on gaps in transport infrastructure for the community – and prepare a priority list of projects to resolve these issues.
It will be a key source of advice as we make sure that Western Sydney grows in a way that benefits everyone who calls it home.
Every level of government has a responsibility to build and plan for the economic opportunities of future population growth.
And every level of government has a responsibility to build and plan for the environmental realities of climate change and extreme weather.
There’s no escaping the fact that extreme weather events and natural disasters are becoming more damaging and more frequent.
We’ve seen the tragic human cost of this, through the spring.
Our first thoughts, always, are with those grieving for someone they loved.
We’ve seen the trail of destruction floodwaters leave in their wake.
The costs of the clean-up, the damage to businesses and homes, the loss of crops and livestock.
I’ve worked closely with the New South Wales Premier, as I have with the leaders of all states affected, to support the immediate work of response and recovery.
But governments have to do more than wait for the next disaster.
We have to work to manage the risks and minimise the damage.
The Productivity Commission estimates that 97% of all disaster funding is spent on recovery and clean-up while just 3% is spent on mitigation, preparedness and resilience.
Our new Disaster Ready Fund, which we took through the parliament last month, will change that.
It will invest $1 billion over five years in taking action now, to reduce the impacts of natural disasters in the future.
We will fund key infrastructure projects, such as upgrading flood levees and new firebreaks – but we know that the impacts of disasters and building resilience to them go far beyond just physical infrastructure.
This is why we will also fund projects to understand the risks communities face and deliver better planning, to support sustainable, resilient communities for the long term.
Because mitigation has to mean we go beyond repeating the same old mistakes.
That’s the core of the $800 million program that the Premier of New South Wales and I announced in October to assist up to 2000 homeowners in the Northern Rivers that have been devastated by multiple flood events in the space of months.
Including $520 million to support voluntary home buy-backs and relocations to newly developed, flood free land.
We’re talking about houses that were built on flood plains, where there is an ongoing risk to lives and severe damage to properties.
Many of them were never insured because it was too costly.
There are other homes that have been flooded, where retrofitting or raising homes will make all the difference – and together with the New South Wales Government, we’ve allocated $140 million for that work.
We are working to give people a path to start again, with far less risk of impacts from future flooding.
And co-operating with State and Local Government to prevent these mistakes being made again.
Because reckless development on flood plains only sets people up for heartbreak.
Mitigating against extreme weather is not just a matter of where we choose build – it’s also how we choose to build.
In our cities and suburbs, as well as rural and regional Australia.
The National Housing Accord we announced in our first Budget in October brings together all levels of government, the construction sector and institutional investors like superannuation funds – to help tackle the nation’s housing challenges. It sets a shared ambition of building 1 million new, well-located homes.
Under this Accord and our $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, our government will deliver 40,000 new social and affordable homes, including homes for women seeking to escape violent relationships and older women at risk of homelessness.
And we will invest in more housing and specialist services for our Veterans who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness.
Our Help to Buy scheme will assist Australians on low and moderate incomes to purchase a home with an equity contribution from the Government.
Helping more people achieve their aspirations for home ownership, sooner and with a smaller deposit, smaller mortgage and cheaper mortgage repayments.
Over 1,000 regional Australians have already taken advantage of our Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee, which supports regional first home buyers to purchase a home with a deposit of as little as five per cent.
I know the difference that a secure roof over your head makes to your life chances.
It’s so much more than a place to live. It’s about security and confidence and connection, a greater sense of hope and pride and belonging.
Governments should show that same pride, when we add to our national housing supply.
That’s why, together with the states and territories, we’ve agreed on a new national construction code, which sets a 7-star standard for energy efficiency for new builds.
These homes will be cheaper to keep cool in summer – and cheaper to heat in winter.
They will also be ready for rooftop solar, ready for electric vehicles.
Because these are not luxuries they are utilities – and they should be available for more Australians.
We want homes that are more resilient to extreme weather, in communities that are better adapted to extreme weather.
Including action against ‘the urban heat island effect’ which exacerbates the toll heatwaves take on vulnerable Australians including the very young and the elderly.
This has to be a priority as Western Sydney grows.
And it can be as simple and practical as cleaning-up urban waterways, planting trees and strengthening green corridors.
This lowers surrounding temperatures and delivers the benefit of public space with shade and water for people to enjoy.
I began today by talking about this magnificent precinct – and the iconic harbour it looks out on.
Projects separated by nine decades, but united by their ambition.
Designed to enlarge our understanding of our city and to bring us together.
Infrastructure seeking to foster a sense of pride and inclusion and opportunity for all our citizens.
I conclude today by saying that should always be our aim.
As John Bradfield himself said:
“Future generations will judge our part in the upbuilding of Australia by our works.”
This is the high standard to which we should always hold ourselves.
Not just for famous sites such as these, or transformational projects like Western Sydney Airport.
We should bring the same purpose and pride and planning to the infrastructure and housing and transport that touches people’s daily lives.
Nation-building, from the ground up.
Every Federal Labor Government has left an enduring national infrastructure legacy in our cities and in Sydney.
The post-war housing build of Curtin and Chifley.
Whitlam’s determination to see new and growing suburbs enjoy the same amenities and opportunities as the north shore.
Bob Hawke and Paul Keating’s Building Better Cities, including the rejuvenation of Pyrmont and Ultimo.
And the Rudd and Gillard governments in which I served as Minister, creating Infrastructure Australia: a rigorous, expert, independent body that set the highest possible standards for the best possible projects.
I am determined for our Labor Government to leave a legacy for Sydney too.
Not one measured by the number of projects announced or opened.
But a legacy of ongoing improvements in liveability and living standards, in productivity growth and new economic activity.
A legacy where families and businesses and industry can seize the opportunities of renewable energy.
A legacy of more sustainable development and better preparation for the challenges of natural disasters and extreme weather.
This is the heart of the better future we campaigned on and the better future Australians voted for.
A future where, regardless of your postcode, you can get a good education and find a good job, close to your home.
Where you can count on reliable and affordable child care and Medicare and aged care in your local community and know the joy of art and sport and music and nature in your daily life.
A better future built on a sense of obligation to those who will follow us, to the cities and suburbs our children will grow up in and the natural environment they will inherit.
And a better future defined by stronger co-operation: public and private interests, federal and state and local governments, the will of the community and the best interests of the nation.
A better future where we all take our share of the responsibility and all own a share of the success.
All of this means aiming high. It demands we strive for the best.
But the best country in the world, deserves nothing less.
The Bradfield Oration was delivered on behalf of the Prime Minister by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King.
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Prime Minister of Australia
We acknowledge and pay respect to past and present Elders and Traditional Custodians of Country, and the continuation of cultural, spiritual and educational practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
 

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