This report gives an account of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities delegation to China on 2–6 July 2018.
Chapter 1 looks at the aims and objectives of the delegation’s visit to China, acknowledges the efforts of the various people who supported or met with the delegation, and provides a summary of the delegation’s principal findings.
Chapters 2–5 contain detailed descriptions of the meetings and site visits held in Beijing, Tianjin, Chengdu and Hong Kong respectively.
Appendix A contains the delegation program.
Aims and objectives
The delegation’s aims and objectives were to gain insight into the development of cities and infrastructure in China and the lessons from that that could be applied in Australia. The delegation was impressed with the scale and speed of development in China’s cities and the high level of coordination and integration of urban planning and infrastructure development at a national, regional and local level, and is of the view that there is much to be learned from China’s approach to urban planning and development.
The delegation participated in an intense, productive and highly interesting visit to China. The program was the product of the efforts of staff at the embassy in Beijing and consulates in Chengdu and Hong Kong. During the visit, the delegation was accompanied by embassy and consulate officials at each location, providing the delegation with comprehensive support and impeccable logistical assistance. The delegation greatly appreciates the effort that went into creating such a productive and seamless program. It was a credit to the competence and professionalism of embassy and consulate officials at all levels. In particular, the delegation would like to thank Dr Yin Qian, the Counsellor (Infrastructure) with the Australian Embassy in Beijing, who travelled with the delegation throughout its visit, easing its passage and ensuring everything went smoothly.
The delegation would also like to thank the many people and organisations in Beijing, Tianjin, Chengdu and Hong Kong who took the time to meet with the delegation and discuss matters of mutual interest and benefit. The delegation was met with openness and generosity at all stages.
Before looking at the aspects of the delegation’s visit in more detail it would be worthwhile to begin with a series of general impressions about the development of cities and infrastructure in China. To begin with, everything occurring in China is taking place on a scale that is inconceivable in Australia. The size of their cities, the scale of their infrastructure and the speed of development is an order of magnitude greater than anything happening here. The delegation also notes that China does not operate within the democratic framework of a democracy like Australia. This has significant implications for the way in which planning decisions are implemented. Nonetheless, there are significant lessons for Australia in the Chinese approach to urban development and infrastructure procurement. In China there is a strong emphasis on integrated planning, vertically and horizontally. Planning at all levels of government must integrate with those above, and ultimately with the directions set by the national government. Moreover, all planning of infrastructure is done in the context of broader urban planning—infrastructure development is directly connected to land use. There is a high level of master planning, ensuring that all development fits within a predetermined framework according to agreed priorities. These priorities are set broadly at a national level and implemented through master planning at the province and city level.
An important part of this is value capture. In mainland China, this is the outcome of government ownership and control of land, which allows the government to draw directly on the return on investment in infrastructure, essentially capturing the full value of any property value uplift. In Hong Kong, the MTR model involves comprehensive value capture under the ‘rail and property’ model (see Chapter 5). The outcome is rapid and coordinated development of infrastructure and commercial and residential space.
The Committee visited major infrastructure development sites such as the new Beijing airport site at Daxing, the port development in Tianjin, the Rail Port in Chengdu, and the metro system in Chengdu—all of which are testament to the scale and ambition of development in China. There is also an increasing emphasis on technological and design innovation, and green outcomes.
Nonetheless, there was also a strong emphasis on what China could learn from others, including Australia. There are opportunities for Australian companies with specific expertise in urban and transport development to engage with business in China. Likewise, companies such as MTR in Hong Kong and Didi (ridesharing) are already operating in Australia, and on the basis of their successful operation in their home markets have a great deal to offer Australia. MTR is already intimately aware of challenges and opportunities in Melbourne and Sydney for value capture to be employed to fund and operate transport infrastructure, and in particular as a way to fund the eradication of level crossings in Melbourne. They could apply their experience and expertise to fund HSR in the same way. MTR would appear to be a potential partner for government and private investors as a major player for the roll out of rail transport in Australia, sustainably funded by value capture. MTR is interested in pursuing these opportunities. It is the delegation’s view that Australian governments and companies must engage more effectively with their Chinese counterparts, exploring opportunities for investment and the transfer of knowledge and experience in a range of sectors.
The subtext of the visit was recognition of the strength and mutual benefits already existing in the relationship between China and Australia, and the strong desire on the part of both for an even greater level of understanding and engagement. Both sides also emphasised the importance of openness and free trade. It is the delegation’s view that, given the importance of Sino-Australian relations, and the part that Chinese trade and investment is likely to play in the future development of Australia, it is important that Australian policy makers have a stronger understanding of Australia’s principal trading partner. This understanding can only be gained through direct engagement with and experience of China. It was noted in a briefing to delegation members that in the past four years, nine committee delegations had visited Australia from China, but that in the last five years only three Australian parliamentary delegations had visited China. The delegation therefore believes that more opportunities should be created for Australian parliamentary delegations to visit China, thereby exposing more Members and Senators to the reality of modern China.