There are many calls for urban planning in Australia to be reformed, although often in contradictory ways. For example, some argue it should be capable of delivering greater certainty to developers while others call for more flexibility in processes of urban development regulation; some would like to roll back its regulatory impact while others argue for a renewal of planning’s commitment to promoting social and spatial justice. The Australian planning system is also held to be hindered by a comparative lack of planning at and for the metropolitan scale. This is connected to the absence of well-developed structures of metropolitan governance in what is a three-tier federal system, with most power over planning concentrated at the State and Territory government scale. The paper explores this putative hindrance by considering three important issues in Australian urban policy debates about the efficacy of contemporary multi-level governance arrangements: spatial scale; identity and legitimacy; and efficiency and effectiveness. It includes some analysis of the case made for a more explicit and rigorous national urban policy and how this might relate to lower level planning regimes. The paper focuses on recent urban policy and planning initiatives in South East Queensland, one of Australia’s fastest growing metropolitan regions, and concludes that while incremental but nonetheless significant improvements in planning policy and practice are possible, these are unlikely to satisfy those calling for more radical changes to improve the Australian planning system.
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