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Turnbull and Immigration

May 16, 2011

Malcolm Turnbull has just spoken on radio committing himself to the Howard open-slather approach to big immigration ( over 400,000 a year – unsustainably ambitious ) using the tired old argument it is all about infrastructure and planning. This is, incidentally, a sign he is not available for the future leadership of his party because any leader who takes that to the electorate will be doomed in southeast Queensland, Sydney and, increasingly, Melbourne.

A quick response. My government laid out bus transit ways in western Sydney and built Australia’s biggest urban rail line ( Epping to Chatswood ). I left in 2005 with detailed plans in place for construction of the north west and south west rail links. By the way, the seven years of Greiner and Fahey produced no – repeat, no – new rail in Sydney. Nor a bus transit way. And Barry O’Farrell has just been elected with no transport construction plans other than continuing those northwest and south west lines – oh, and not accepting Federal funding for extending Epping to Parramatta.

In the 1999, 2003 and 2007 state elections Malcolm’s state colleagues had no transport policy.

In the Turnbull high immigration fantasy world we should have been building, he says, Singapore and Shanghai undergrounds. Well Malcolm, a difference : the populations of those cities all live in apartments. Flats – the very thing that the new state government will allow fewer of, pushing more settlement to the urban fringe. And making those underground lines less likely. While Turnbull takes up the cause of more apartment dwelling his party has fought against rezoning along the north shore line to allow more flat-dwelling in precisely the area where it should be, along a major public transport artery.

Underground rail exists with high density ; it does not follow urban sprawl.

The plain fact remains : Canberra turns the switch and we get record immigration and Turnbull was part of a government that did just that. But we never got that government making the slightest commitment to programs to help the cities. Let alone offering to build Singapore-style undergrounds, an analogy that is absurd given the difference between 99 percent flat-dwelling Singapore and any Australian city.

And O’Farrell will lay out the two rail lines that Labor was building – and measurably worsen sprawl.

  1. May 16, 2011 7:13 pm

    Malcolm Turnbull has just spoken on radio committing himself to the Howard open-slather approach to big immigration ( over 400,000 a year – unsustainably ambitious )

    I was gonna say…

    any leader who takes that to the electorate will be doomed in southeast Queensland, Sydney and, increasingly, Melbourne.

    But you beat me to it. Still I have to say I’m beginning to like Turnbull. He sticks to is guns. And it’s nice to see that the federal Liberal Party has one member who’s actually, um, liberal.

    In the 1999, 2003 and 2007 state elections Malcolm’s state colleagues had no transport policy.

    Always wondered how the ALP managed to hang on to power so long. 🙂

  2. May 16, 2011 8:06 pm

    I guess this is also Turnbull’s attempt to derail Tony Abbott. After all the Xenophobic vote is his heartland.

  3. May 16, 2011 8:12 pm

    Perhaps between 2005 and 2011 Labor could have built, or started building, the north west and south west rail lines. They had the plans right in front of them. If Labor had acted on them the voters would have had fewer reasons to turn to O’Farrell and his victory might not have been so sweeping.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 16, 2011 10:08 pm

      I left in August 2005 and my successors diverted to a metro. Wrong decision. Should have adhered to the plan I left them. Doubt, however, that those lines could have been expedited – land acquisition etc. No urgent need in the nwest. It was required on a longer term basis.

  4. May 16, 2011 10:00 pm

    The SMRT – the Singapore metro system – can be thought of as a property development company that also runs a metro system. The only way that rail has ever been financially successful is when it’s combined with property development (ie, speculation). As an example, the Transcontinental Railroad was financed and built on the back of land grants along its length. The SMRT is successful because the Singaporean government allows it to get on with the business of building new lines, putting up stations and then surrounding and covering those stations with high rise apartment buildings. The profits from development fund expansions and upgrades to the metro system.

    The MTR in Hong Kong is much the same. We had the CEOs and senior managers from the MTR and SMRT in Sydney in 1993, where they explained these concepts to the senior transport and Treasury bureaucrats of the day – they were received quite enthusiastically, as funding for rail is always promised but rarely forthcoming. State Rail’s property branch was even re-branded and re-launched as “Rail Estate” in an attempt to tap into the profits available from developing the rail property portfolio.

    Brian Langton killed the idea stone dead when he became Minister for Transport. There’s a good reason why he was known as “plankton”.

    • Paul permalink
      May 16, 2011 11:44 pm

      Spot on. MTR Corporation in Hong Kong is a private property development company that funnel commuters into their shopping malls using a metro system they happen to own. If MTR were in Australia it might be called WestfieldRailCorp.

      MTR Corp go to incredible lengths to keep customers happy: easily accessible stations, immaculate stations and carriages, trains that arrive on time, a rail network that spans the country, personalized stored value ‘Octopus’ cards, air-conditioned platforms, high-quality retail shops within stations, tight integration with bus/tram/ferry/high-speed Airport Express services. Everybody is happy with the arrangement. MTR executives and investors are happy with the consistent billion dollar profits, commuters are happy with their cheap efficient transport, MTR employees are happy with their jobs for life, retailers are happy that MTR funnels customers into their stores, the HKSAR government is happy they don’t have to spend money on rail.

      Compare RailCorp: late trains, filthy carriages, second-rate retail outlets, overpriced tickets, a non-existant Epping-Paramatta rail link, carriages breaking down on the Harbour Bridge, a 13 year late ticketing system which still doesn’t exist (it was supposed to be delivered before the Sydney Olympics), striking workers, deafening train wheels, mistreatment of disabled travellers, thuggish ticket inspectors that harass customers, an inability to deliver Waratah trains, an airport rail link that costs more to use than a taxi, ‘station access fees’ at several stations.

      Commuters in Singapore and Hong Kong get to work because of their public transport. Sydneysiders get to work despite their public transport system.

  5. May 16, 2011 10:11 pm

    Bob – love your blogs – timely, thoughtful and insightful but you have a real blind spot on a bigger population. We need skills, momentum, a work ethic that is diminishing among locals and most of all a duty to the region – otherwise it won’t be our decision.

  6. Tim permalink
    May 16, 2011 10:18 pm

    I think what is missed in recent planning debates is that most people don’t want to live in a unit. They want a backyard for their kids to play in. I’m always confused about how pollies think they can just grow cities up andexpect people to raise families.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 17, 2011 7:26 am

      High immigration, as proposed by Turnbull from his vantage point in Sydney’s most affluent, pocket handkerchief suburb, mandates more high density living and he acknowledges this, stating that his electorate has it and everyone else can too – as if the luxury Darling Point apartments are the same as the packed-tight, unit blocks his policies actually create in the rest of Sydney. High immigration means a city goes up and out. Simple.

  7. May 17, 2011 10:51 am

    I have meant to say that sooner or later we will have cities more like Singapore rather than Perth. But I am not looking forward to it.

  8. May 17, 2011 10:44 pm


    I was there at the start of the whole automated ticketing affair. Thank buggery I moved elsewhere not long afterwards. The first recommendation was “simplify the fare structure”, because it was fiendishly complex and incredibly difficult to automate. Everyone involved could see that without simplification, automated ticketing was doooooomed. However, that idea died a quick death because it was believed it would cause too much pain politically.

    The poor old winning tenderer tried to computerise the massively complicated fare structure and the whole thing turned into an expensive debacle. There’s no point in replacing the current automated ticketing system with a new version until the issue of fare simplification is tackled.

    If my memory serves me correctly, Brian Langton (then Minister for Transport) sacked one of the rail executives after a row about simplifying the fare system. The rail managers wanted to simplify; Langton was afraid of the political consequences. He blew his top at a meeting and sacked the poor bugger – had him walked out of the building without even giving him the chance to collect his house keys. After that, no one was game to raise the idea of fare simplification, and NSW taxpayers and commuters have suffered ever since.

    We never got an integrated public transport ticket because we never had a Minister that could work out how to split fare revenue between CityRail, Sydney Buses and Sydney Ferries. Each group wanted an integrated ticket; however, none of them wanted to lose any revenue (because that would impact on executive bonuses etc). Instead of the Minister for Transport knocking heads together and directing them how to do it, every one of them took the soft option and did nothing. In Obama-speak, they voted “present” instead of making a decision.

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