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Our plan for our growing city

October 17, 2019

We all love living in Canberra and, as our city continues to grow, we have a plan to ensure it remains one of the world’s most liveable.

Today I launched the ACT Infrastructure Plan, which outlines our strategy for a modern, liveable Canberra.

Below is my full speech from the launch at The Canberra Hospital's Auditorium.

 

*Welcome in Ngunnawal Language

Canberra is a thriving, growing, emerging city.

Our direction as a city and community over the coming decade will depend on the plans we make, and action we take, now.

We could go down the path of most Australian cities: delay infrastructure commitments, allow haphazard growth, and play catch up with population centres.

But that way only leads to transport congestion, long commutes, overcrowded facilities, and city services under intense strain.

Or we can plan for our future as a modern, liveable city to live, work, run a business and raise a family.

Well planned and well delivered infrastructure can dramatically improve people’s quality of life, strengthen service delivery, raise productivity, support adaptation to a changing climate, and break down social barriers.

The Infrastructure Plan I am launching today lays out the Government’s plan for a growing Canberra.

It’s essential that our planning and delivery matches our population.

That’s why this Plan is carefully aligned to invest in infrastructure at the point when resident population and visitor numbers exist to ensure it is viable and well used.

For example, we are progressing quickly with the Canberra Theatre redevelopment, because the Theatre was originally built to cater for a city of 100,000 people, not the 500,000 people we will reach in the coming decade.

Canberrans deserve the best performers and artists coming here, not skipping us because our Theatre doesn’t properly serve today’s city.

It’s just one instance of how investing now in the right facilities will ensure Canberrans can continue to enjoy the high quality of life that they currently enjoy.

The infrastructure a growing city needs

When the first light rail vehicle took its passengers from Gungahlin to the CBD, it marked a significant milestone in the history of the ACT.

Not only in terms of a major shift in how people move about this city – though it definitely helped tens of thousands of Canberrans realise they didn’t need their car for every journey. 

The success of Light Rail demonstrates this jurisdiction’s capability and competence.

The completion of Light Rail Stage 1 was by far the biggest construction project ever completed by the ACT itself – in the face of heavy opposition – and showed this jurisdiction could deliver city-transforming infrastructure. 

It was testament not only to the high-quality planning of the project, but to the thousands who were employed throughout its construction: the labourers, engineers, electricians, traffic management crews, gardeners, concreters, welders, and project managers who saw this project through.

The success of Light Rail demonstrates this jurisdiction’s capability and competence.

Passenger levels are already where we predicted them to be in 2021, and Northbourne Avenue transformation has occurred much faster than anticipated.

Getting on with light rail stage 2

So we’re getting on with the job of extending light rail south to Woden. We’ve approved the Business Case for Stage 2A, which will extend light rail to Commonwealth Park.

By starting the work on stage 2A now – and with contracts expected to be signed next year – we are capitalising on the expertise developed through the stage one.Light rail stage 2a through Canberra City.

The ongoing Light Rail project should give Canberrans confidence that when this Government says it will build the right infrastructure at the right time, we will deliver.

It’s also why we’ve created a specialist agency, Major Projects Canberra, to drive construction of our city-defining projects: SPIRE at the Canberra Hospital, Light Rail Stage 2, the CIT campus redevelopment, and now the Canberra Theatre.

But this Plan goes well beyond the projects valued in the hundreds of millions.

Today we are comprehensively laying out the public infrastructure and services that a growing city needs:

  • better healthcare centres in our suburbs;
  • more and upgraded public schools;
  • a bigger public transport network; and
  • the streets, parks, and community facilities to make the Canberra we love, even better.

When the Government released the 2011 Infrastructure Plan, Canberra’s total four-year infrastructure pipeline of new works was $885 million, within a total program of $1.6 billion.

Since that time, the ACT Government has stepped up its infrastructure investment, with the 2019 Budget outlining a $3 billion pipeline of projects over the next four years.

Now, under this Plan, we will further grow our budgeted, medium- and longer-term infrastructure pipeline to over $14 billion.

The pipeline of projects includes:

  • completion of the major Canberra and Centenary Hospital expansions, and new walk-in centres in Weston Creek and the Inner North – allowing us to hire more nurses, doctors and allied health professionals to work in high quality facilities;
  • confirming Light Rail will be built in stages and run to Woden, Belconnen, Mawson and Tuggeranong, and the Airport;
  • 1200 public housing residences built or renewed, adding 200 new residences to our total housing stock, on top of the 1288 completed over the past four years;
  • building new schools in our growth areas, and renewing older schools to make sure our children have modern and comfortable learning facilities. That means new primary schools in Throsby and Denman Prospect, a new High School in East Gungahlin, and upgrades across South and North Canberra.
  • a fundamental, ground-up renewal of the Canberra Institute of Technology, in locations best suited to its students’ needs, to make it a leading vocational education provider in the 21st Century;
  • a new stadium to replace Canberra Stadium when it reaches end of life, built in a location bested suited to Canberra’s sports needs and access; and
  • major roadwork duplications on the Monaro Highway, Athllon Drive, William Hovell Drive and other major arterials, to substantially reduce travel times for people in Tuggeranong, Belconnen, Woden and Gungahlin.

The Plan sets out this project pipeline by sectors and timeframes, to assist industry understand what we need to build, when – so it can marshal its resources to prioritise projects as they come due, giving companies and consortiums the best chance of winning contracts in their areas of expertise.

And we are determined to ensure that as much value from these investments goes to local workers and employers.

We’re also looking beyond our borders, to work with NSW and the Commonwealth to improve passenger rail speed between Canberra and Sydney, as well as freight and transport links using Canberra Airport as a national and international freight hub.

Investing in Canberra's infrastructure now

Through this construction surge, the Government will keep climate change considerations at the forefront.

The Government recently released our sensible and measured plan to reach zero net emissions by 2045.

Through this Infrastructure Plan, we can guarantee Canberra will continue to take the lead in addressing and adapting to climate change.

The first new major Government building in each asset class will be required to hold a recognised environmental rating, such as the ISCA or Greenstar sustainability ratings.

Better to do it once, to a high quality, the first time.

It’s essential Canberrans have confidence in the homes they live in and the facilities they use. So we are demanding the ACT’s public and private construction meets the highest standards of build quality.

In the 2019 Budget we boosted resources for the ACT’s building regulator to conduct compliance assessments and crack down on poor construction.

This Plan also recognises that Canberra cannot simply keep growing ever outwards.

That is why the Plan focuses on how we can renew ageing infrastructure for new and existing residents, while building new projects that add to our distinct Canberra character and meet our population needs.

To protect our environment and maintain Canberra’s character, common sense dictates that future land release will need to be more focused towards urban renewal around our city, town centres and transport corridors.

We are also delivering this infrastructure pipeline consistent with responsible management of the Territory’s finances.

This means maintaining a balanced budget over the medium term and retaining our AAA credit rating.

While interest rates have never been lower, our economy is strong, growing and more diverse than ever before.

The ACT’s $40 billion economy is larger than Tasmania’s and the Northern Territory’s, and our population is growing faster than both too.

Now is the time to invest for the coming decade.

We’re all aware of recent statements by Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe calling for a major infrastructure program across Australia, to ward off national and international economic weakness and prepare for population growth.

The unprecedented low cost of borrowing, especially for AAA rated jurisdictions, makes investing now even more attractive.

In our recent borrowings undertaken in May, we achieved funding at 1.16%. This compares to the Commonwealth loan we obtained for the Mr Fluffy rectification, at 2.7%. Using current rates to refinance Mr Fluffy will alone save ACT taxpayers $10 million each and every year onwards.

Maintaining the underlying strength of the ACT budget position, to allow the lowest cost access to external financing, is therefore essential to delivering this infrastructure pipeline.

This Plan is not a snapshot, stuck in 2019; it is a living document that will evolve as Canberra grows.

Regular updates will track our progress and reflect priorities in response to new technology, opportunities, population growth and economic drivers.

This Government’s focus will remain constant over the years covered by this Plan: delivering the essential infrastructure that makes life better for Canberrans. 

Thank you.

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