Measuring our cities

Tracking the supply, diversity, affordability and location of housing in 21 Australian cities.


Kristin Brookfield

As the saying goes, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. In December last year, the federal government released the National Cities Performance Framework as a way to identify baseline data about Australia’s largest 21 cities (including Western Sydney as a distinct city).

With this data it will be possible in 12 months, and with hope in years to come, to more accurately gauge how Australian cities are growing. The data is intended to allow governments to track various datasets and to help in understanding whether our cities are more liveable, more affordable and more environmentally responsible over time.

The information will be collected under six key policy areas:

• jobs and skills
• infrastructure and investment
• liveability and sustainability
• innovation and digital opportunities
• governance, planning and regulation
• housing.

For housing the focus will be on three outcomes: the affordability of housing in these cities; the supply and diversity of new housing stock; and the location of housing, including the accessibility of jobs and services.

Within each of these policy areas, the framework has identified performance indicators. These consist of data that can be readily obtained, with 30 data sets included.

A variety of housing and population data will be collected to create a picture for housing supply. This will include: population size and growth, population density, dwelling type, household size, housing tenure, housing prices and household income.

Expanding on these figures, the performance indicators for housing will be:

• public and community housing
• homelessness rates
• rent stress
• mortgage stress
• housing construction costs
• dwelling price to income ratio
• population change per building approval.

City coverage of the National Cities Performance Framework

The Performance Framework covers Australia’s 21 largest cities, plus Western Sydney:

Cities in the Performance Framework

• Albury – Wodonga
• Ballarat
• Bendigo
• Cairns
• Canberra
• Geelong
• Gold Coast – Tweed Heads
• Greater Adelaide
• Greater Brisbane
• Greater Darwin
• Greater Hobart
• Greater Melbourne
• Greater Perth
• Greater Sydney
• Launceston
• Mackay
• Newcastle – Maitland
• Sunshine Coast
• Toowoomba
• Townsville
• Western Sydney
• Wollongong

What’s missing?

HIA, as a member of the Cities Reference Group, helped to develop the framework and identify data sources and more importantly data gaps.

The performance framework draws on a range of Australian and international performance frameworks, data sources and literature. But it is no surprise to HIA that many of the housing metrics simply were not available.

Since the demise of the National Housing Supply Council in 2014, the significant gap in timely and useful housing supply data has again widened. Several states have stopped reporting, or even stopped collecting the data that HIA sees as critical to managing Australia’s housing futures.

At the last meeting of the Cities Reference Group, HIA put forward a proposal to reignite the national coordination of housing data, through a new Housing Coordination Council.

For any government to confidently speak about Australia’s housing futures, they must have access to information across the seven stages of land supply. This information needs to be timely, meaning it should be no more than 12 months old. It must be consistently defined across state borders so that we are comparing ‘apples with apples’. And most importantly, it must be publicly reported at least annually.

The national framework is an important example of government working collaboratively with industry to understand our cities and to identify ways to improve their operation now and in years to come.

The opportunity to do more and to expand the framework in the future to provide even better information about our cities is real.

A variety of housing and population data will be collected to create a picture for housing supply

Making City Deals

The National Cities Performance Framework was developed as a part of the Smart Cities Program which was announced by the federal government in 2013. Another key element in the program is the creation of City Deals for the 21 largest cities in Australia.

City Deals bring together the three levels of government, the community and private enterprise to create place-based partnerships for a nominated city. The purpose of a City Deal is to align the planning, investment and governance necessary to accelerate growth and job creation, stimulate urban renewal and drive economic reforms in that location.

The first three cities to have a City Deal were Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney around the new Badgery’s Creek Airport. Geelong and Hobart have now been added to the list with deals announced in January 2018.

City Deals tend to focus on the improved delivery of new infrastructure to support city growth but they can address any priority that the particular city sees as an impediment.

What next?

Unfortunately we will need to wait 12 months to see the first set of data using the framework released. A federal cabinet reshuffle in December also means that there will be a new minister responsible for the framework.

The Prime Minister has been a strong supporter of the Smart Cities Program since its inception before the 2016 election, so we expect the work will continue in 2018.

For more information about the National Cities Performance Framework and City Deals, visit the Smart Cities webpage:

Performance Indicators

Jobs and Skills

• Employment growth (new)
• Unemployment rate
• Participation rate
• Educational attainment

Infrastructure and Investment

• Jobs accessible in 30 minutes
• Work trips by public and active transport
• Peak travel delay

Liveability and Sustainability

• Adult obesity rate
• Perceived safety (new)
• Access to green space
• Green space area
• Support in times of crisis
• Suicide rate
• Air quality
• Volunteering (new)
• Greenhouse gas emissions per capita
• Office building energy efficiency (new)
• Access to public transport (new)

Innovation and Digital Opportunities

• Knowledge services industries
• Broadband connections
• New business entrants and exits
• Patents and trademarks

Governance, Planning and Regulation

• Governance fragmentation


• Public and community housing
• Homelessness rate
• Rent stress
• Mortgage stress
• Housing construction costs
• Dwelling price to income ratio
• Population change per building approval

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