21 July 2001

A Vision for Sydney


Notes of the Paper Delivered to the Committee for Sydney, Sydney

As far as international comparisons go Sydney, my town, remains an innocent, budding starlet whose place on the big screen was confirmed with an academy award for her performance at last September's Olympics.

Unfortunately, as in the film industry our star will continue to shine only if our next performance is a success.

This city is fairly unique. Sydney doesn't have the wisdom of a city like Paris, the charisma of Rome, nor the experience of London. And we don't have the bravado of New York, the discipline of Singapore nor the mystery of Hong Kong. But Sydney is now recognised as a great place to live, however it is new to the international stage and, so far, we are unsure how to deal with the limelight.

Our younger sister, Melbourne, is wise and experienced. She is confident, predictable and a little jealous. Other members of our family, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart are getting on with their own careers. And Canberra is the cousin we're not too sure we should boast about.

Our city has been a little carried away with the rave reviews after the 2000 Olympics. Our response has been a mix of arrogance - "you should have known we were this good" and hubris - "now we can expect the world to come to us".

We have convinced ourselves that our performance has delivered long-term benefit to Australia. However, the dividends remain reliably unquantifiable. Certainly, I believe the most important long-term benefit is that global decision-makers now know a little more about us.

Perhaps if we were a nation less obsessed with sport the powers that be may have focussed more on non-sporting outcomes and less on medal tally.

In truth, our city has failed to capitalise on the Olympics.

We put together a great team, from the thousands of dedicated volunteers through to an uncompromising but ultimately successful SOCOG President, Michael Knight. However, the team that made the Olympics happen has been allowed to break up and dissipate.

We built new suburbs in the inner west with the best sporting infrastructure in the world. Today, just 10 months later, that infrastructure stands mostly idle, while the State Government goes on contemplating a "rescue plan" for Homebush.

We built logistical, telecommunications and transport infrastructure that showed billions of people sporting events either at the venue or in their homes. Yet, last Saturday it took more than one hour to board a train to Homebush. Somehow our skills of 10 months past were lost. Today the Media Centre, which took our Olympics to the world, looks more like a disgraced warehouse than a worldwide information distribution centre.

In other words, we have lost momentum and lost the greatest opportunity we've ever had to keep Sydney moving forward as a world city.

But it could, and should, have been much different.

The lack of a clear vision for Sydney, the total absence of an informed debate has meant that we have taken our eye off the ball. We should have put in place a strategic plan for our post-Olympic city with the same enthusiasm and purpose as our Olympic preparations.

I think we've become complacent with our Olympic success. Like an actress with an Academy Award performance to our name we've become too familiar with parties and applause.

The next 20 years may well determine the long-term future of Sydney. However today's greatest challenge is to articulate a vision for Sydney.

Lost opportunity

Over time many cities had an opportunity to become "great" but allowed circumstances to defeat them. Vienna and Boston come to mind.

Vienna was the imperial centre of the Hapsburg Empire and was from the 17th century onwards one of the world's great cities.

Its fortune however, was ravaged by 20th century war and its demise was indicative of the shift in leadership from central Europe to the west in the 1900's. No leadership group tried to reinvigorate the city's destiny.

Boston is a little different. It was the home of Puritanism and was arguably America's most important port until the late 19th century. It's been through waves of immigration, manufacturing booms and busts and suffered the impact of devastating civil war. Today, it is an important funds management centre but is not regarded as one of the world's leading cities.

Both Boston and Vienna have qualities that we can emulate in Sydney. Vienna has a cultural expertise that is pre-eminent in central Europe. The Staatsopera is one of the world's great opera venues. Sydney's Opera House, although needing refurbishment, is a global icon and no other city in Asia offers the same cultural and artistic diversity as Sydney. This is a comparative advantage for Sydney.

Boston is the education centre of North America. Its prestige universities like Harvard and MIT draw skills to the town from around the world. Similarly, Sydney, together with Melbourne, is the education capital of Asia. More than 180,000 overseas students study in Australia.

Our only disadvantage is that Sydney has too many universities which duplicate marketing resources, administration and academic expertise. The merger of our five major campuses into one university, or perhaps two, will enhance our educational reputation, improve remuneration for academics and provide global scale.

Overall, both Boston and Vienna have ultimately lost out because they lacked the population to give them the critical mass to assert their place in the world against their emerging rivals of the day.

With 1.6 million people, Vienna is the same size as Brisbane. Boston's population of 600,000 makes it just twice the size of Canberra. With Australia's birthrate continuing to decline, it should alarm every Sydneysider that each year 15,000 leave our city permanently.

Some move to Queensland and others to Western Australia, a large number however go offshore. Without immigration of around 34,000 people a year, Sydney would be shrinking.

Thankfully, immigration means we grow as a city by around 19,000 people per annum.

Obviously, we are a multicultural city. But it isn't as broad as you may think. In particular, over the last two years permanent arrivals to NSW from New Zealand have risen by nearly 50% to around 13,000 people a year. Permanent departures are around 2,000 a year. New Zealanders coming to Australia are mainly managers and professional people (45%).

Without any serious analysis, you might put the exodus to Sydney down to a New Zealand economy under duress and a diminishing Kiwi dollar. The impact of the shrinking New Zealand economy can't be denied. As evidence of this, in 1997 the value of companies listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange represented more than 10% of the ASX's total value. Today, all companies listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange are worth just 5% of the Australian Stock Exchange equivalent.

The worrying trend for Sydney is that the people leaving Australia permanently are mainly 25-45 years with young kids. By far the largest demographic is educated professionals. These people are leaving primarily for the United Kingdom and the United States. There is also some repatriation to New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Many of my contemporaries say to me "why wouldn't you go?" Sydney's professionals know they can earn four or five times their Sydney salary, pay considerably less tax and maybe come back in to a significant Sydney home which they have been paying off in US dollars or pounds sterling.

This makes the ALP and Kim Beazley's empty promises to build a "Knowledge Nation" a joke! Labor has refused to make any commitment to ease the tax burden on people's earnings. As a result Knowledge Nation won't attract our smartest people back to Australia because the ALP is going to slug our smartest people with higher taxes. The reality is that the biggest threat to a clever country remains high taxes for clever people. Like the Coalition the ALP must commit to working hard to reduce - certainly not increase - personal income taxes.

Combine these figures with the fact that the median age of Sydneysiders is increasing from 33 years of age in 1996 to 45 by 2051 and you start to see that remedial action is not only necessary but also essential if we are to retain more professionals and grow our smart economy.

A script in need of writing

My intention is not to depress you but to galvanise your support. We need a vision for Sydney and some tactics to make it work. We need to get people who care about our city together and have a full and frank dialogue about what we want for our city. If we don't have a vision we can't make informed decisions about how the story will play out.

Our final vision for the city must address, at least:

  • what should be our population goal for, say, 2021;
  • Sydney's place in the nation and the region;
  • what technology we want our city to deliver and whether industry will deliver that unprompted;
  • what sort of CBD's Sydney should have, what should be done to promote North Sydney, Chatswood, Hurstville, Parramatta and of course Sydney;
  • what sort of transport infrastructure do we want;
  • how we make sure we have a home environment that is safe and secure;
  • what type of intercommunity relationships we want; and
  • how we address all of these elements and still preserve our precious and fragile environment. An environment that makes up a big part of what makes Sydney the greatest city in the world.

Building a critical mass

Firstly, on a preliminary analysis it is clear that Sydney needs to grow in order not to fall behind. Premier Carr did enormous damage to Sydney when on the 16th February last year he said Sydney was "bursting at the seams" and could not withstand a larger population.

Bob Carr's statement wasn't even a "Back in 5 minutes shingle". It said to the world we are closed for business. It was a multi-billion dollar statement that ran contrary to our Olympic ambitions.

Currently, we are projecting a population of 5 million by 2021 and 6 million by 2050. This is based on current immigration and ongoing declining birthrates. It's not enough. Without a larger critical mass Sydney will become the 21st century equivalents of Boston and Vienna.

We must set ourselves a population goal of 6.5 million Sydney residents by 2021 and 8 million people by 2050. These sort of figures ensure that we don't lose ground and allow us to build domestic growth that prevents us from becoming regionally irrelevant. To reach 8 million residents we need to ensure we are not discouraging families and we need an expanded national immigration program.

Currently, there are few national community leaders arguing for more immigration to Australia. When they do put forward a case they are drowned out by the short term-political opportunism of a rowdy opposition.

Modern Australia is built on post-war immigration. Six million people have come here since 1947. And many of these people didn't come with university degrees or even leaving certificates.

They are people who came to Australia with, in many cases, nothing more than fire in their bellies and a determination to build a new life. It's their daughters and sons who may have gone on to careers and university imbued with the idea that hard work delivers a better quality of life.

Today, we are demanding immigrants come with money and qualifications. This is laudable but unsustainable. If current trends continue we run the danger of becoming a global retirement village with Australia the Florida equivalent of Asia.

A place in the nation

Our second goal must be to develop a national voice. We cannot pretend that what happens outside Sydney is irrelevant. Sydney must enter the debate about quality of life in regional Australia. For example, no debate is more important than ensuring that all sectors of the community have efficient and affordable access to new technology.

We must, in the national interest, avoid the digital divide. Michael Powell chairman of the US's Federal Communications Commission, recently compared the state of US Internet access to what he termed "the Mercedes divide - I would like to have one but I can't afford it".

Trends in both the US and Australia suggest that levels of access are positively skewed towards those in higher socio-economic groups and this naturally gravitates towards Sydney.

We don't want a Mercedes divide - whether geographic or socio-economic. It would be devastating for Australia. It would reduce our access to markets, reduce our competitiveness and, inevitably, retard the growth of our nation.

US legislation guarantees the provision of access to the community of two older forms of communication - mail and telephone.

Whilst it may be premature to legislate for access to the Internet, Sydney should be in no doubt as to the consequences of not considering technology requirements across all planning issues. Naturally, this leadership should be duplicated across Australia.

Globally, Governments at all levels are starting to harness the power of the web, reaping efficiencies through the provision of online services. Clearly, it is in the public sector's interest to ensure that access is provided to these services to as many citizens as possible. Those without access are denied not only entry to developing online public services but also the wealth of economic and cultural opportunities that the World Wide Web provides.

For the private sector the medium offers efficiencies in terms of contact with existing customers, therefore broadening community access to the Internet will clearly offer broader and richer marketing opportunities.

International experience in recent years has seen frenetic activity in the area of "wiring" of cities, laying of cables, erection of mobile towers and modernisation of the existing copper wire infrastructure, mostly as a result of direct government intervention as part of a vision for those cities.

In Sydney there has been substantial yet uncoordinated and duplicative rollouts of technology in the race to be first, with less concern about adequate planning of coordinated networks.

Clearly public sector planning policy can make a difference. Sydney should lead the way in public debate requiring a clearly developed technology policy that covers planning, access and capacity for Australia. Technological capacity should be on the front sheet of every planning application in Sydney and these applications should be evaluated according to how they meet the objectives of wiring Sydney for the 21st century. We should have a vision for a city where business has access to the very best technology and its citizens can enjoy a technologically rich home environment at a reasonable cost.

Since 1995 Shanghai has been rolling out the largest broadband network in the world. A total of three hundred and twenty thousand kilometres of fibre optic cable has been put into operation that reaches over 90% of the city's residential areas, providing broadband access to the Internet that gives citizens quicker and richer online experiences. The network is a manifestation of a clearly articulated strategy that Shanghai will be the telecommunications hub for the world's largest nation.

In Australia it's easier to brush the teeth of a Great White Shark then get Telstra to deliver high-speed Internet solutions for the average family home. We need to take a leaf out of Melbourne's book. In Melbourne for many years now there has been a vigorous debate about technological infrastructure. In fact it seems to have been a fairly important policy issue in the recent mayoral elections.

To be fair Sydney City Council has taken a progressive approach but its fails to fit within a clearly understood script for our city. Rather than mandating capacity for three carriers maybe we should be working towards an "open" style of access, ducting, cabling etc. We need to commit to a city with the widespread utilisation of open telecommunications infrastructure. A city whose citizens have fast, high-quality and low cost access to telecommunications carrier services.

A new model for the administration of our CBD's

It is CBD councils like City of Sydney, North Sydney, Willoughby, Hurstville and Parramatta who are expected to understand the complexity of the residential environment whilst also understanding the peculiar demands of CBD infrastructure like mass transit facilities capable of moving 100,000's of people.

I believe many councillors in those Councils that are predominantly residential, find it difficult to understand the importance of an integrated CBD strategy and how their CBD, for example, in Chatswood, should and does connect with the CBD's of Parramatta or Hurstville.

Accordingly we should merge the CBDs of North Sydney, Chatswood, Parramatta, Hurstville and Sydney and separate out residential planning issues from business district infrastructure. This would create a hub-and-spoke approach to CBD development in Sydney and would give us a more focussed and integrated approach to city issues.

It also means that integrated business infrastructure, transport and planning matters would be dealt with on a consistent citywide basis. It would also mean that CBD's like Hurstville and Parramatta would not be left behind and could be part of the total vision for Sydney - one that has an integrated transport, environment and planning strategy.


Like most global cities Sydney has a mass transport problem, whether you're in Bangkok or London the issues are the same but unlike those cities we seem to have avoided any serious debate about the issue.

Sydney must decide where its transport solutions lie. We all want better roads but fewer cars. We all want more public transport that is cheaper and more regular. At some point we need to decide whether we are going the route of Los Angeles with spaghetti freeways or great public transport like London and Paris but with road gridlock as a price.

Today Sydney has reasonable public transport. However, given that it costs $4 to get a North Sydney Ferry to Circular Quay and $2.20 by car to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge public transport remains unattractive for many people who have an option to drive. The cost to the city and the environment of all these cars driving in and out of the city centre is too high.

We need to help our public transport system get the scale to improve services. Government needs to bite the bullet and make CBD access by private motor vehicles financially unattractive.

We should close the CBDs to private motor vehicles and put in place major parking facilities at key suburban public transport points like railway stations and bus terminuses.

We need to set ourselves simple and realistic transport goals and commit to working to achieve them. This should be targeted with local goals. For example, public transport from Gosford to Wynyard in 45 minutes by 2010 (London does it, why can't we?).

Sydney has a magnificent but underutilised harbour. The State Government deserves credit for reaffirming our main waterway as a working harbour after the recent oil spill at the Shell refinery. It also deserves credit for working co-operatively with the Federal Government to form the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to manage old defence sites around Sydney. However, I can't help but think that our Harbour is underutilised. As a transport corridor it isn't part of our mainstream thinking. The Manly ferry and cat services are, for some, an interesting novelty. They provide an essential service for large numbers on the Northern Beaches. However, water transport on the George's River and Middle Harbour is limited. And Central Coast transport solutions like high-speed rapid ferries deserve both further recognition and greater support.

The problem is that all our harbour transport strategies seem incremental rather than forming part of a total transport ambition.

Getting the best out of us all

Sydney must improve its intercommunity relationships.

For those who have heard me before on this matter I apologise but the relationship between town and gown in this city remains poor. Academics are treated as second-class citizens and too many corporates form the view that the campuses have nothing to do with them. Too often I see corporate Sydney gorging on the fruit of our campuses but when it comes time to tend the garden too many of our corporates fail to appear. Sydney's corporate sector needs to be more involved in our teaching institutions and do more for our universities and colleges than just recruiting graduates!

Sydney's corporate sector's interest in education must become more profound than as a vocation feeding ground. They need to take an interest in all aspects of education not just those with a direct benefit for them. Courses like history, mathematics and philosophy are as much a part of learning as law or commerce.

The City Council and the State Governments should put in place local programs that build town/gown relationships. I am the first to admit that more could be done at a campus level as well, however universities overall tend to move slowly and financial incentives may deliver more expedient and acceptable results.

It worked for Silicon Valley with Stanford University- it can work here.

The same relationship development is crucial for medical services and the CBD's. Whilst some peripheral activity occurs and business has taken a keen interest in St Vincent's and the Garvan Institute I am not sure that anywhere near the same local interest in Westmead, St George or Royal North Shore Hospitals is evident. Better interaction provides mutual benefits. It diversifies the interests of corporates, it commercialises publicly funded hospitals and it will deliver better community interaction with essential services.

Getting the scenery right

Finally, much of this is not possible without managing our environment. Our environment has a wide context and it means the water we drink, the energy we consume, the waste we make and the communities in which we live. Modern cities must offer quality of life beyond a decent weekly paycheck.

Whilst previous development of the city has allowed generous amounts of open space, including the "central lung" of the harbour and foreshore, as well as National Parks to our North South and West, our environmental management remains crucial.

For example Sydney's main water supply, Warragamba Dam, has fallen to less than 25 percent of capacity several times over the last decade.

If we are factoring in increased requirements from population growth over the next 20 years Sydney needs a strategy to deal with greater demand on our already stretched natural resources. We can no longer expect to be able to draw on our surrounding communities to feed this city's insatiable need for water. Nor can we draw more and more water from our fragile waterways.

Overseas experience, especially in drier climates, suggests greater emphasis on using our water better. We need to start thinking about managing our water at every point along the chain; we need to be thinking about recycling, desalination, wastewater management and similar. We need to ask ourselves whether its viable for precious drinking water to be used on our gardens and even our golf courses whilst our continent periodically lapses into drought. Better use of water will ensure that a population of 8 million or more is sustainable.

Population growth will also put pressure on the city's waste disposal capacity. Most councils encourage recycling initiatives, especially regarding putrescible waste.

However Sydney should be looking for longer-term solutions, including initiatives that focus on reducing commercial and domestic waste levels, before it reaches the wheelie bin, rather than just recycling its contents.

Our waste management strategies have not advanced since Arthur Phillip was the Governor. We can no longer accept our waste being pumped into the Pacific Ocean; regardless of how far out it goes. International experience suggests there are far more environmentally acceptable solutions that are both practical and achievable.

Part of our environment is safety on our streets, our homes and our families must be kept safe. It is self evident that crime is a fact of life however unpleasant it may be. We need to commit to a minimum standard of safety from which we will not deviate. Adequate policing is a resource intensive business but if our vision is clear and our benchmarks well understood we should be able to avoid the election based bidding wars that seem to perpetuate state politics. No community should be left behind whether it is Cabramatta or Carlingford. We should not accept policing that is below standard and we should not accept that our police can "drop the ball" in one community or another.

Without spending too much time dwelling on law and order, it is worth noting how successful New York has been in rebuilding its global image on the back of a law and order campaign.

The United Nations recently published its human development report, ranking Australia as the second best place in the world to live after Norway. The authors note that "people are the real wealth of nations".

The real wealth of Sydney is its people. We are blessed with generosity of spirit, enthusiasm for life and the preparedness to take on the world's best and routinely beat them. We are also blessed with the most beautiful God built city on earth.

Now is the time to construct our long-term future. It must be a partnership between our people, our infrastructure and our environment.

We can be a city with a 500-year future. But we need leadership that is prepared to articulate a vision. This is not the vision of one person but a shared vision that provides the benchmark for our future development. We must set our sites on our next performance and ensure we are seen as a city with an impressive body of work, not a one-hit wonder.