Liveable, Workable, Beautiful: new vision for Sydney

It’s a real honour and privilege to have been asked to deliver this address in the greatest city, the greatest state, the greatest country in the world.

I’d especially like to acknowledge:

  • Michael Miller, Executive Chairman News Corp Australasia
  • the Bradfield Board
  • And my Ministerial colleagues here today

I’d also like to acknowledge the Daily Telegraph and their staff for the work they do in hosting this event.

In a few short years, the Bradfield Oration has become not just a fixture in the life of our city, but the benchmark for the best of public imagination.

I was hoping I’d be able to come here and not have to talk about living in the shadow of COVID.

But as has so often been the case over the past two years – we are still faced with uncertainty.

We have been confronted with so many setbacks Stops and starts.

Fears and failures.

For many, there has been heartache and loss.

It would be perfectly understandable to look back with frustration and to look ahead with despair.

But every generation is tested – and I believe that this is our turn and this is our test. Our state and our city have been through testing times before.

Fire, flood, famine, war and disease.

We have seen it, we have faced it – and we have overcome it.

So even though we meet in the shadow of the pandemic, nothing should overshadow our hopes for a better future or our confidence in getting there.

We cannot choose the circumstances in which we live – but what we can choose is how we respond.

So today I want to tell you how John Bradfield and his generation responded to the challenges of their age – and how we can do the same thing with a new vision for our city and for our state.

Different time, same challenges

But first, let’s rewind to just over 100 years ago.

It’s 1919, just after the Great War, and the world was going through another pandemic – the Spanish Influenza, which claimed somewhere between 17million and 100 million lives.

NSW recorded its first victim in January of that year – a returning soldier.

The virus soon spread – and at one point, some estimates say almost 30 per cent of Sydney’s total population had influenza and over 6,000 people died.

Now put yourself in the shoes of someone born in the late 19th century – someone like John Bradfield.

He would have lived through a few smaller epidemics in the late 1800s. Then the First World War.

Then the Spanish Influenza.

And after all that the Great Depression.

Now doesn’t that give us some perspective on the challenges we are facing today. But Bradfield and his generation responded not by backing down, but by building up.

They had a vision, and they made it real – building the Harbour Bridge, an engineering feat as impressive today as it was one hundred years ago.

And let’s not forget the political battles he had to fight too.

I came across this article from a hundred years and six days ago.

[I tried to get the original from the State Library but they said it would disintegrate – even with gloves].

This reports a rowdy debate over legislation in NSW Parliament about the so-called “North Shore Bridge Bill’.

This was the parliament’s third attempt at passing a Bill to build the Harbour Bridge. Frustrations were high. Insults were exchanged.

And the article reports “disorderly conduct” because a certain regional member was loudly and stubbornly insisting the money would be better spent in the country.

Outside parliament, ferry operators complained the bridge would put them out of business.

There were complaints about cost, land acquisitions, and the time it would take to build.

Any of this sound familiar?

John Bradfield was a visionary, but the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight can filter out the messy work of turning a vision into reality.

Vision is important.

But you can’t drive your car across Sydney Harbour on a vision.

What matters more is making it real, regardless of the circumstances that surround you.

That’s what Bradfield did then – and that’s what we are doing now.

For the last 10 years I have been part of a government that has worked every day – not just to articulate a vision, but to make it real.

We have made delivering mega-projects on a mega-scale par for the course. That is a great outcome for our state and our people.

But now we must deliver in the face of uncertainty, and in the midst of adversity. Well we can, and we will.

The Harbour Bridge was named the “Iron Lung”, because of the thousands of jobs it provided during The Great Depression.

In the same way, our infrastructure is the ‘Steel Spine’ of our future state, creating thousands of jobs today and into the post pandemic future.

My vision for Sydney: Liveable, Workable, Beautiful

By connecting the north and the south heads, Bradfield’s bridge changed the very meaning of Sydney.

Our big build of metros and motorways will change it again.

But I believe it’s time we went beyond hard infrastructure, to now take stock – and take this once in a generation opportunity to reimagine what Sydney can be.

My vision for Sydney can be summed up in three words: liveable, workable, beautiful.

Liveable

In the long months of lockdown, we have all become acquainted with the good and the bad, the charming and the not-so-charming of our local communities.

COVID has made clear the power of liveable neighbourhoods.

It is at the local level that we find Sir Robert Menzies’ homes material, homes human, and homes spiritual – the homes of the hard-working aspirational families of Sydney.

Our starting point is that we want everyone to be able to enjoy the world’s best quality of life no matter what your postcode is.

So my Government will focus on policies to make that happen.

Home ownership is at the top of the list. This is a generational issue fast reaching crisis point.

If we want future generations to conserve our Australian way of life, we must enable them to claim their stake, so they have something of their own to conserve.

As Treasurer I viewed this problem through the lens of tax reform.

As Premier I will use every lever at my disposal – whether it’s tax, planning, supply, or working with the Commonwealth – to give more people in NSW the opportunity to own their own home.

Lifting home ownership is part of our drive to help families who are feeling the squeeze.

Now, we have taken major strides to lower taxes and put more money in the pockets of aspirational families.

And some people might say we are driving a voucher-led recovery.

But young families often have to face the biggest financial pressures of their lives before they are really established – and for them, every little bit counts.

So programs like Active Kids, Creative Kids, First Lap, toll relief and even Dine and Discover really are important to me, because they help families get ahead.

Middle Australia has no lobby group – and so my government will be their most passionate advocate.

Livability also means shifting our focus from the mega-projects to the local projects. Changing the emphasis from the train line, to the destination.

Our WestInvest fund marks the beginning of this shift: a $5 billion fund to improve quality of life in Western Sydney.

Parks, modernised schools, local pools, main streets and eat streets.

WestInvest isn’t just about the money. It’s a campaign mindset for my Ministers, that will endure long after every one of the $5 billion is spent.

It’s a mission to make it possible for everyone in Sydney – particularly in the West – to be able to love where they live.

This is about building more than bricks and mortar – but culture and community too.

A liveable city also needs world-class services within easy reach.

And our Government has led the services revolution in Australia.

People aren’t as impressed by Service NSW as they once were – because one-stop-shops and digital services at your fingertips are now the new normal.

People used to make fun of government service – and who could blame them? But now the private sector is coming to us to see how it’s done.

But despite the progress we have made, so many public services are still designed around government, not around the people we are here to serve.

Education should be designed around our children, not around the schools themselves. Healthcare should be designed around our patients, not just around hospitals.

So many aspects of government services are still stuck in Bradfield’s time and have never moved into the 21st century.

I will lead a modern government, that doesn’t accept the status quo. We’ve got to challenge the thinking and ask “why?”:

Why does the school day run from 9am to 3pm – and does it still suit the lives of busy working families?

Why can’t we make care more accessible and affordable – whether that’s childcare, health care, in-home care for our grandparents, or palliative care at the end of life.

These are services we rely on in profound ways, and they have a material impact on our lives, our families and our communities – on our entire social fabric.

A liveable city must strengthen and support our family and community bonds, because they are what keep our society together.

That is the kind of liveability I want for our city.

Workable

Sydney must also be workable. By that, I don’t just mean easy to get around.

I mean: Sydney has to be a place where no matter where you live or what your circumstances, you can have access to a great job.

For many decades the Eastern Harbour City has been the workhorse of our workforce.

In the past decade, Parramatta has emerged as a new productive powerhouse.

And today we are building the industries of the future around the Bradfield Aerotropolis.

Each of these centres must be a place where people at every stage of their career can find fulfilling work to sustain themselves and their family.

Sydney has many well-established sectors. But I want to build on what is already there, and increase our capacity to sustain great jobs.

That means nurturing the industries of the future. And that includes manufacturing.

Every economic powerhouse has a strong manufacturing base.

NSW cannot just be a service economy. We have to keep making things.

Now today, let’s not lose sight of the fact that NSW is home to more manufacturing than any other state.

This week I was at the Sydney Football Stadium to get an update on construction.

The roof is being fabricated by S&L Steel, a company from Glendenning in Sydney’s west.

That same company fabricated the roof for the original stadium over 30 years ago. What an amazing legacy.

Or take Custom Denning in St Marys – the oldest bus manufacturer in Australia.

But today they design, manufacture and assemble electric buses for our renewable energy future.

Where we can support traditional manufacturing in NSW – and help it adapt – we will.

But successful manufacturing nations don’t try to do it all – they play to their strengths, and we should too.

Our greatest strength is in advanced manufacturing.

From food and beverage, to medtech, to space and aerospace and more – NSW already

has a stellar reputation in advanced manufacturing.

We are home to world-beaters like Cochlear and ResMed.

The sector has grown with strategic government support. But I want to do more.

So today I can announce we will appoint a Commissioner for Modern Manufacturing.

The Commissioner’s role will be to identify local research and ideas that we can turn into manufacturing opportunities – and ultimately, jobs for our people.

This work will be supported by a taskforce headed by Tony Shepherd – who is here today – and one of the most experienced and dynamic business leaders in the nation.

Opportunities in advanced manufacturing are driven by research.

And research is one of our state’s hidden superpowers.

NSW is home to some of the world’s leading universities and research institutes.

But too frequently we see our homegrown ideas falter or flee elsewhere for lack of local support.

So in January this year, our Government launched an action plan for accelerating research in NSW and translating it into technology, products and services – and above all, jobs.

Now when I asked our universities for examples of research that can create economic opportunity and investment – I was inundated with ideas.

From quantum tech to bio-tech, sensors to semiconductors – we have the ideas, the talent and the resources to excel.

And with precincts like Tech Central and the Bradfield Aerotropolis we have the right infrastructure and eco-systems to grow.

But I want to do even more to cement Sydney’s reputation as the smart city down under. So we will establish a new Department of Enterprise and Investment.

And within that department I will appoint a Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology – to channel our home grown research into economic opportunities for the future.

What you will see from our government is a much better collaboration with the universities than ever before.

I want our universities to flourish because when uni’s flourish, ideas flourish – and our society flourishes too.

It’s the same with schools. A strong start for our children is a strong foundation for our civilisation.

The opportunities we create will fall to the 8 million people who call NSW home.

And we will equip them with the knowledge and skills to achieve great things.

The strongest foundations. The best lifelong learning.

From beginning to end, I am passionate about education, and we will make NSW the smartest state.

Beautiful

The final piece is beauty.

The Roman scholar Varro wrote: Divine Nature gave the fields, human art built the cities.

The truth is, in Sydney we haven’t always held up our end of the bargain.

We have coasted on Sydney’s natural charm and dined out on its stunning scenery.

Now clearly it’s not all bad.

The Bridge. The Opera House. The stunning sandstones.

Terraces and brickwork.

Humble homes, heritage and history – all built with love.

There is much beauty in many of Sydney’s buildings – buildings that sing in harmony with nature.

But the mistakes are real too – and don’t we know it.

One architectural aberration can have far reaching consequences. People often say the Cahill Expressway is an ugly structure.

But it’s so much worse than that.

It destroys the ambience of everything in its wake.

So it’s no wonder the wharves below struggle to live up to their potential.

Don’t even get me started on the Sirius building and the 70s modernist monstrosities lurking out the back of Macquarie Street that sever our city from the green beauty of the Domain and the Gardens.

These buildings become barnacles, impossible to scrape from the Harbour City’s majestic bow.

Sydney’s natural beauty deserves an elegant city.

Beauty matters.

Roger Scruton once said:

Art once made a cult of beauty. Now we have a cult of ugliness instead.

This has made art into an elaborate joke, one which by now has ceased to be funny.

I want to put beauty back in the public square – literally.

The first step is to uncover more of the beauty that lies hidden in plain sight.

This week we announced plans for the Sydney Great Walk.

It will connect all of the Harbour City’s most iconic landmarks in a single, spectacular trail.

This will be the most iconic urban walk in Australia – there is simply no question about it.

The only real question is, why hasn’t it been done before?

We must also turn Macquarie Street into a genuine cultural precinct that is open to all people, and tells the story of Sydney.

From our earliest First Nation’s history through to today.

Right now, Macquarie Street is a weekend ghost town, when it should be a worthy gathering place.

This year Lucy Turnbull and Paul Keating produced an excellent plan. My intention is to put it into action.

These projects are focused on the Eastern Harbour City.

But the principles apply across the board.

As we plan. As we build. As we renew and revitalise – our goal should be to make every corner of our city beautiful.

The great cities of the world – Paris, London, Rome – inspire us with their built beauty that stands the test of time.

That should be our aspiration for Sydney too.

So that is my vision: a livable, workable, beautiful city.

And if we realise that vision, Sydney can be two things at once – fulfilling its dual destiny as a great global city, and a great local city.

Going to the next level

Lastly I want to touch on how our vision for our state is evolving too.

Great cities are hungry, and grow at pace.

What governments must do is ensure that as we grow, we grow well.

The point is not to plan for what NSW is today – but for what it could be tomorrow. That’s what John Bradfield did.

That’s what we must do too.

The pandemic has given us new ways to re-imagine living and working.

Technology is breaking down the barriers of distance and time, providing workers in many industries with newfound flexibility and choice.

So our thinking on how we plan our state should also change.

Five years ago, at this very forum, Lucy Turnbull launched our vision for a metropolis of three cities.

The chorus of critics again swelled into song, but now that is the Sydney we know:

The Eastern Harbour CBD, Parramatta’s Central River City, and the Western Parkland City.

Yesterday I was with Lang Walker, topping out the new tower in Parramatta Square.

As I stood at the highest point of the Central City – looking back at the Eastern City where we are today – it was clear to me what vision has achieved for our city.

And looking further west, to Bradfield, what it will achieve in years to come.

Because in just five years, our three-cities vision has already become strikingly real. Now is the time to start thinking bigger again.

At present our vision spans east to west.

But there is Newcastle and the Central Coast to our north, and Wollongong to our south. These are cities already undergoing rapid change and revitalisation.

They have been the industrial workhorses of the past. And they should continue on their trajectory to become future focused precincts of tomorrow.

So today I can announce our three cities strategy will grow to a six-cities vision.

Again, universities will be at the heart of this expansion.

Newcastle, the Central Coast and Wollongong are already home to campuses that punch well above their weight – with growing global reputations in fields like energy, engineering, and health science.

Enhancing and better connecting this expertise to local industries can supercharge these cities.

And connecting these centres to the three cities strategy will do the same thing for our entire state.

The east-west axis of the three cities connects our airports.

Adding a north-south axis connects our major sea ports.

Together this network will link every port – integrating six cities like never before.

And it will accelerate the next stage of our economic evolution – a NSW that is more open to the world than ever, and ready to take it on.

More trade opportunities. More job opportunities. More affordable homes and better lifestyles – world class education and world class services – all within reach of an urban hub.

To bring this vision to life, the Greater Sydney Commission will become the Greater Cities Commission.

And in my new cabinet, I will appoint a dedicated Minister for Cities – to maintain the momentum we have built, and deliver on the next evolution of our vision.

Our choice: to build, not bow out

Let me conclude by saying that I know the pandemic has not been easy for the people of our state and more challenges lie ahead.

But throughout history, the great cities of the world have responded to crises by going to the next level.

And today we are the beneficiaries of those who have come before us who choose hope over fear.

To build – not bow out.

In Sydney, this is the proud legacy of John Bradfield.

And this is the legacy that we here today inherit.

As leaders in industry, in media, in culture, in politics – our choice must be the same too. To combat crisis with confidence.

And to build a better future for those who are yet to come.

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