Maritime and Transport

Interview with Michael Frost of COAG Reform Council

29 Apr 2011, by Informa Australia

We have the opportunity to interview with Michael Frost, Executive Director of Capital Cities Strategic Planning Systems, COAG Reform Council.

1) Australian cities are facing major challenges in the near future. Population figures are projected to rise significantly within the next few decades. Urban congestion is inhibiting economic growth and is estimated to cost billions of dollars in lost productivity. In how far can existing urban rail and the provision of new rail infrastructure assist in supporting growth and relieving congestion? What role does policy play in this context?
ANSWER: There is no single answer to the problems of urban congestion. Existing and new urban rail infrastructure can assist in managing growth and congestion. How well it does this will depend in part on whether land use and related decisions are made with a view to using the existing network well and supporting the viability of new infrastructure. It will also depend on how well new rail is integrated into existing transport networks and into how each city works.

Policy plays a role in improving understanding about how best to integrate land use and transport planning, decision making and delivery. All governments are working on better integration of transport and land use, including through the COAG reforms and the Australian Transport Council’s National Guidelines for Transport System Management.

2) In the past, planned rail projects – especially in Sydney – have often fallen victim to political causes. How can a better cooperation across all levels of government prevent this? What role does/can the COAG reform council play in this context?
ANSWER: Ultimately, in a democratic system, this cannot be prevented. We have elected governments to make these kinds of decisions.
Intergovernmental cooperation can provide broad principles and approaches for funding allocation and reform and structures whereby each government to a degree holds the others to account. The COAG Reform Council plays a role too in reporting to governments and publicly on whether individual governments are delivering the specific reforms or outcomes that they have agreed to deliver. Accountability, however, comes from the public, stakeholders and the media using the information contained in the council’s reports to hold governments to account.

3) Capital cities are complex systems and an integrated approach across all modes of public transport is needed in order to ensure mobility over greater metropolitan areas. How can Infrastructure, transport and land-use plans be better coordinated?
ANSWER: As I noted in my answer to 1), this is a key question and one on which the governments are working. I think as a starting point the fact that all governments acknowledge the need to integrate their planning and delivery of infrastructure, transport and land use and are trying to do so will lead to their being better coordinated. The COAG Reform Council is in the process of reviewing, among other things, whether capital city strategic planning systems have integrated structures for decision making, budgeting and implementation across these functions. The view the council reaches will be provided to COAG by the end of 2011 and publicly released early in 2012.

4) There is currently a lot happening in Australia’s transport policy space. The Department of Infrastructure and Transport’s Major Cities Unit is working on a National Urban Policy, all states are required by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to produce Capital City Strategic Plans by January 1 2012, and Infrastructure Australia is currently working on a National Ports Strategy and National Freight Strategy. Are these various plans and strategies intended to work together? How can this be achieved?
ANSWER: I think the intent would be for these plans and strategies to be informed by the others. Certainly, there are many forums and opportunities for the various people and organisations producing them to engage with each other.

Among the criteria for the COAG Reform Council to review all capital city strategic planning systems against is a requirement to engage with other levels of government, which should include specific policies of the Commonwealth and local governments. The council is in the process of reviewing the strategic planning systems and will report to COAG by the end of 2011.

5) You are speaking at the 3rd annual ARA UrbanRAIL conference held on the 10th and 11th May in Sydney. What can our audience expect from your presentation?
I’ll be talking about the reasons for and importance of the focus on strategic long-term planning for Australia’s capital cities brought by the COAG agreement. One of the reasons why strategic long-term planning is important is that cities are complex systems with a great degree of inertia. Any of the specific outcomes of governments, such as improving productivity or reducing congestion, will require sustained effort underpinned by a vision of what needs to be achieved and what needs to be done. This includes providing the right transport infrastructure, in the right places, as well as making land use decisions to support the most efficient and sustainable use of the infrastructure.

For more information on the 3rd annual ARA UrbanRAIL conference, go to

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