Labor would give rail its proper place: Albanese

Anthony Albanese says a returned Labor government would invest in urban rail. AAP/Daniel Munoz

Shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese is already mapping out policy for a future Labor government, challenging in particular the priority Tony Abbott has given to roads and stipulating greater collaboration between levels of government.

He says in a speech to an infrastructure conference in Melbourne today that a returned Labor government would invest in urban rail to ensure cities have better public transport. This would drive productivity.

Abbott has scrapped billions of dollars of investment in urban rail projects including the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail project and his preference for roads was also causing states to think less about rail, Albanese says.

“If the Commonwealth is offering grants for roads but not rail, there’s a direct incentive to take the money for roads. Premiers with the good sense to want to invest in rail will get no help from Canberra. Labor believes in investing in roads and rail.

"We need an integrated system that serves our community and our economy, not a poll-driven approach that serves the electoral interests of the government of the day.”

He says an integrated approach needs co-operation between all levels of government, with the Commonwealth giving leadership to the other levels in urban policy.

The pressure on cities will increase in coming years with technological, demographic and workplace changes. “We need to look at planning, housing affordability, population density, utilities, social mobility, public housing, recreation and a range of other issues that bear on the health of our cities.”

Governments should involve stakeholders in infrastructure planning to harness all available intellectual capacity, Albanese says. “Regrettably, the Abbott government sees consultation as talking to big business only.

"Big businessmen have useful contributions to make about infrastructure, but in many cases they also have financial stakes in the outcome of deliberations. Labor also wants input from experts in planning and design, financing and other areas.”

He says also to the forefront in his policy thinking for a possible second chance at the portfolio is that Australian governments need to do more to build communities.

“When delivering infrastructure we need to think more about the way that our built environment supports the community.

"In particular, we need to consider how changes bearing down upon us, including the effects of an ageing population, will affect the way our communities work.

"We have to guard against social isolation of the elderly, for instance.

"We need to ensure our changing communities have public space and recreational areas; safe and effective links for pedestrians and cyclists and mixed-use precincts that include a range of uses that contribute to the way people experience their lives.”