Nick Low launch (2016)

Presentaion by Nick Low

In her Quarterly essay this year (‘Political Amnesia, How we forgot how to govern’), Laura Tingle, political editor of the Australian Financial Review argues that Australia has ‘forgotten how to govern’. That is because government has lost its memory which was once embedded in a strong, expert public service.
Over the last twenty years the business of governing has been handed over to politicians focused on the immediate demands of day to day politics, and to consultants serving those political needs. We have forgotten that democracy also needs an expert state.
I want to argue that State Governments, and our own Government of Victoria in particular, have forgotten how to plan.
What we all here, and I believe most Melbournians, now want from government is a real land use and transport plan for the whole metropolis.
A real plan is not just a bundle of infrastructure projects and vague aspirations illustrated with pages of colour photos and diagrams.
A real plan is founded on facts: facts about patterns of movement and settlement coupled with a vision for how our city is to grow into the future in a way that meets people’s needs for housing and transport and their hopes for the ‘good city’.
The Scottish sociologist Patrick Geddes summed up planning in the simple formula: Survey – Analysis – Plan: for the City Region. We have had endless Plans from governments. But where is the survey? Where is the analysis? Where is the attention to the whole city-region of Melbourne?
Persuading the government to make such a real plan is possible. But we all have to take some responsibility for that task. It cannot be left solely to government.
The current situation as I see it is something like this. There is great and widespread dissatisfaction with Melbourne’s transport system and the future of a fast growing and changing mega-city region. There is also an underlying shared sense of what is needed.
But the actual pressure is dispersed among many different citizen groups and organisations, including Councils. There is no single voice and no unifying theme. The government listens to each group individually, and is confused by the diversity and plurality of the demands on it.
In these circumstances it is much easier for governments to go on doing what they have always done and listen to, and act on, the much more unified voices of the road lobby and the urban development industry, rather than to the multiple voices of the people of this city.
We ourselves need to send a clear and unambiguous message to government. We can’t expect governments to do all the hard work of getting to a reasoned consensus on the future we want. We the people have to do that for ourselves.
This is why we formed Transport for Melbourne. Our aim is to find a way of articulating the common elements inherent in all the specific demands of the many citizen groups.
If we can articulate these elements into a common theme or charter to which the many could subscribe, then this charter could be presented to government by every citizen group and every supporting organisation that it meets.
The business of forming consensus around a positive program is difficult. I wish I could be more upbeat on our chances of success. It’s going to take time and a lot of effort. We have only just begun to try. But there are reasons for hope.
Our first focus is transport, especially public transport – the most egregious example of planning failure, but as I indicated, the matter goes far beyond transport, into city planning.
We all know excellent examples of well-functioning transport systems that exist in cities elsewhere. Last Thursday I was in Vienna. I rode a beautifully integrated system of trains, trams and buses.
In the campaign against the so called East-West Motorway we have seen what citizens can do when united behind a single cause.
Whatever happens, will happen as a result to the continuing efforts and will of everybody here today.
Thank you