Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

Australia's New Cities Minister Sounds Warning as Sydney Sprawls

  • City's population to almost double by 2060, Briggs says
  • Surging house prices causing `intergenerational inequity'

The populations of Sydney and Melbourne are set to almost double by 2060, Australia’s new Cities Minister Jamie Briggs said, sounding a warning that ailing infrastructure and surging house prices must be tackled to ensure they remain livable.

“For a country that brags about the fact we’re a big, wide land we live in very small urban spaces,” Briggs, who was appointed last month by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said in an interview in Canberra Wednesday. “That trend is only going to continue.”

The nation’s major cities are coming under increasing pressure as public transport and roads fail to keep up with population growth. The inclusion of a cities minister in Cabinet indicates Turnbull’s commitment to urban planning and its importance to unlocking productivity and economic expansion.

Turnbull, a self-made millionaire who ousted Tony Abbott last month in a ballot of governing party lawmakers, is renowned for using public transport in his home city of Sydney and last week was pictured riding a tram in Melbourne.

Asset Sales

In Sydney, a city of about 4.8 million people, the state government is plowing funds from public asset sales into urgently needed roads and railways to ease congestion that ranks alongside New York City, with a population of 8.5 million.

In Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city with 4.4 million people, hopes of cutting travel times were dashed when the new Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews abandoned a A$6 billion ($4.3 billion) plan to build a 18 kilometer tollway linking the east and west.

“The challenge is how to choose and fund the right infrastructure to make cities work, and make them livable, accessible and productive,” Briggs said.  “There’s got to be ways in which we can incentivize the private sector to get involved and help meet the costs of these expensive projects.”

Australia Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Thursday pledged his Labor party would boost infrastructure spending by A$10 billion if elected and identified 10 transport projects it wants to fast-track.

House Prices

Another challenge is runaway house prices in Sydney and Melbourne, where first-time buyers are being priced out of the market. Dwelling prices climbed 24 percent across the country in the three years to Sept. 1, led by Sydney with a 46 percent increase, according to CoreLogic.

“There’s intergenerational inequity developing,” said Briggs. “Our parents and generations before could access houses that were close to their workplace. Now it’s a lot harder to do and we’re seeing the number of young Australians buying their first house drop. The jobs haven’t sprawled like our suburbs have.”

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