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Thursday, 28 March 1957


Mr ERWIN (Ballarat) .-! rise, first, to support the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, to express my loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen and to congratulate the mover and seconder of the motion.

Since I spoke during the last session on the formation of new States, I have come to realize that a great many people are interested in that subject. I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to Mr. Russell Jones, of Ballarat, who has given much time and thought to it. Australia to-day is entering an era of development which was never envisaged when the first settlement took place, less than two centuries ago, and which was not fully realized even at the time of federation, 56 years ago. There is no time more opportune than now to take stock, plan ahead and organize so that development will be smooth and beneficial to all and so that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated or aggravated. There is no doubt in my mind that Australia's No. 1 problem is decentralization. Decentralization means far more than encouraging a few industries to establish themselves outside the big capital cities, although this industrial movement may be termed the .core of decentralization. Decentralization is the spreading of our whole industrial, commercial and business life evenly over the land we occupy, according to each part's relative capacity. It is a vital national problem, and to succeed it must become a national way of thought.

We live in a country which, potentially, has the greatest promise of any in the world. What a grand thing it would be if we had a properly distributed population and industrial, transport and commercial strength, which, I believe, are vital necessaries for the proper and orderly functioning of our peace-time society and the proper and adequate usage of our country.

Now that we have our large cities, quite out of proportion to our total population, we are, to use a colloquial term, stuck with them. But if the nation is alert to the potential and actual danger of large cities then the development of these cities can be slowed and a better distribution of population and all the essentials of a modern society can be achieved. And decentralization must begin at the top. We must have wider and more intimate control through more States, because centralization of control in the big capital cities is the great barrier to the decentralization of every other form of activity.

All this cannot be achieved overnight, but if the will and the unity of purpose can be found, Australia could witness a revolution in the development of this land that would make her one of the greatest nations on earth. To deal fully with the question of new States, one must look back to Australia's history to see how the present division of administration occurred, and where it fell short of perfection. Its basic cause lies in the fact that for many years after 1788 Britain had no interest in Australia other than as a place in which to dump unwanted citizens. Nor could Britain, at that stage of history, with poor communications, appreciate any real potential in the country. But the spirit of men here was greater than the vision of faraway politicians, and gradually the people spread out from Port Jackson to the north, south and west. As new areas developed, demands for self-administration grew, and Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia emerged. It is difficult to understand why the division stopped there. As the people spread north to Queensland and into the New England and Riverina areas of New South Wales, one might have expected new colonies to arise as people got farther and farther away from the centres of administration, particularly in view of the slow transport facilities in those days. Yet to-day we have large administrative areas in which more than half the people live in or near big capital cities. The remaining half get government at a distance.

It is no criticism of a metropolitan government to say that it does not understand or appreciate the day-to-day problems of people hundreds of miles away. Members of Parliament are, after all, ordinary people. If a member of Parliament is born and lives practically the whole of his life in, say, Sydney, he cannot, no matter how hard he may try, have a proper appreciation of the problems of the people of Bourke, or Walgett or Coonabarabran.


Mr Roberton - Or Junee.


Mr ERWIN - Or Junee. In the first place, their way of thinking is entirely different; their lives are poles apart. And where there is no real appreciation, and no proper understanding of the problems of others, there can, unfortunately, be no true sympathy with them.

In all the mainland State parliaments metropolitan members outnumber those from the country. In Victoria, for example, there are two metropolitan members to every member from the country. If only half as many people live in the country as in the capital city it cannot, be claimed that this is unfair - no section can claim any greater proportional representation than another - but it does mean that up to twothirds of the State's parliamentary representatives " think metropolitan ". This is not unreasonable; in fact, it is only natural, as I have already pointed out. But it produces a state of affairs where those outside the big cities get government at a distance, and government not fully sympathetic to their needs.

I do not suggest for one moment that State governments have been totally unmindful of their obligations to all the people in their States. I am simply suggesting that people living long distances from the centre of administration would be better suited if allowed to conduct their own affairs. The metropolitan-mindedness of governments must always be a barrier to proper decentralization, and the claims of success made for decentralization policies are somewhat exaggerated. The big capital cities are still outpacing all other areas. The really big industries have all congregated in or near the capitals. After the war. many industries established annexes in country areas, setting them up in old school buildings, public halls or temporary structures. There was never any really permanent aura about them. Certainly some of them have remained, but just as many have now closed down. The movement came at a time when labour everywhere was in short supply. These industries soaked up the labour available in the country, and they have now returned to the big cities and have taken this labour with them, actually worsening the position. What happened, of course, in a great number of those instances, was that the industry so established in a country town was just large enough to utilize the spare labour available in and around the town. There were few big enough to create employment opportunities over and above the labour force available locally that would bring new people to the locality.

Now that the flush of post-war labour shortages has passed, the big industries continue to crowd the capital cities. It is argued that they must be established there because that is where the labour is. That is not a wholly valid argument. Obviously the labour is there, because that is where the jobs are. Continuing to provide avenues of employment in the big cities is only further ensuring that more labour congregates there. It must follow that if jobs are created elsewhere, then the labour will move to them. One of the classic examples of this is the Latrobe valley in Victoria. There could be no suggestion that the great industry of this valley should be established in Melbourne, because the very essence of it, the huge brown-coal deposits, happened to be 90 miles away from Melbourne. The development of the deposits was essential, and there has never been any suggestion that because they are nearly 100 miles away from Melbourne there was not sufficient labour available to do so. More often it has been that shortage of funds has caused labour to be turned away.

Another example is Broken Hill, a city of 30,000 inhabitants in what is a barren and somewhat unprepossessing area. If labour can be found for the Latrobe valley because the brown coal is there, and labour can be found to establish a city of 30,000 people at Broken Hill because the silverlead is there, it must follow that if a big automobile plant is established in a relatively small town or city the labour will move to it. There is only one difference in the two cases. In one case circumstances force the establishment on a site, whereas in the other case private enterprise cannot be forced to set up its establishments in any particular place. But governments may point the way, and can encourage such movements, whilst industry itself should be able to realize that by crowding into the big cities it is contributing to their target potential in war and to a bad balance of population in peace.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.


Mr ERWIN - Before the luncheon adjournment, 1 pointed out that Australia's number one problem, the lack of decentralization, could bc overcome only by creating more States. 1 added that only governments, by encouraging such movements, could point the way, and that industry should realize that by crowding into hig capital cities it was contributing to their target potential in war-time and to an imbalance of population in peace-time. To bring about a change, only virile and aware leadership in both fields is needed.

In addition to the defence and population imbalance factors, there is a third reason why we must endeavour to slow down, stop, or even reverse the growth of the big capital cities. It is simply thai Australia cannot afford such large cities. A factor nol often realized, but nevertheless true, is that big cities cost money. These are costs that every nation must eventually- meet, but they should not have to be met on the present scale in a country with a population of only 9,000,000.

Like our over-large administrative divisions, our big cities are a legacy of our history. They began as ports, simply to supply the needs of the settlers. They became the administrative centres for colonies covering large areas. When people began to move inland, the governments stayed where they were. Commerce gathered around them, and- eventually industry followed. Because. of this administrative failure (o reach out into the new land, as the Americans had done, commerce, industry and administration all became concentrated in the one spot, lt was simply a case of applying a European administrative concept in an Americansized country.

There seems to be, in Australia, a general conception that a State capital must also be the chief port. That is not so. It is of interest to note that of the 48 American State capitals only two. Boston in Massachusetts and Providence in Rhode Island, are ports, and of these only Boston can be regarded as being a port of any importance in the American scene. There is also the view that the capital must be the largest city. Again, only thirteen of the 48 American State capitals fall into this category. Obviously, when, a century ago, our States became self-governing colonies, no consideration was given to whether the place where the administration had been set up for the convenience of far-away England was, in fact, the best site for the capital of the colony.

It is interesting to note that, in the last 100 years, the population of Ballarat has risen from approximately 47,000 to approximately 48,000, while that of Brisbane has increased from 22,000 to 500,000. The fact that Brisbane became the chief port for the south Queensland area made it inevitable that it would leap ahead of Ballarat which was, in any case, bound to lose population as the gold rush subsided. However, it is obvious that the retention of administration at Brisbane has resulted in the proportional increase being out of all reason. Naturally at this stage it is too late to make a change. Leaving aside the enormous cost that such moves would involve, it is doubtful whether any useful purpose would be achieved, for the capitals have developed where they are. However, we should recognize them as mistakes of the past and not repeat them in the future.

Unfortunately, the mistake is already being repeated in Darwin. The capital of a territory 1,000 miles long, it is being groomed as a future State capital for the whole of that area. It is the chief port, the chief air terminal and the administrative centre. As Darwin grows, commercial and industrial life will concentrate there while the remainder of activity in the Territory, except for mining and a few other allied industries, will be left to develop more slowly. It is another Sydney or Melbourne in embryo, and 1 00 years or 1 50 years from now the scattered inland people will feel just as badly about metropolitan-dominated government there as country people in New South Wales do now. Darwin has an assured future as a port and air terminal. The Administration should be assuring a future for some other centre.

The establishment of new States cannot adjust Australia's population imbalance overnight. In fact, the big cities have such a start that there will always be a fairly bad imbalance. However, with a realistic administrative approach to the problem, new States will achieve much that is worthwhile. First, they will give people who are now a long way from their administrative centres the opportunity to govern themselves. Secondly, they will produce more compact areas, with which the administration will be in closer touch. Thirdly, they will provide an opportunity to draw industries to particular areas. Fourthly, provided the total force is not simply enlarged, they will draw their public service from the existing and reduced States, bringing with them people to provide the necessary additional services. Fifthly, they will create avenues of employment - they will have to draw on the big cities for labour. Lastly, they will produce a change in the "centre of gravity " of people's thinking, a new spirit and a new interest.

All these factors must tend to slow down the growth of the big cities and build up smaller cities elsewhere, but they must be accompanied by a virile decentralization policy in the States governed from the big capitals to ensure a better dispersal of population to the new areas.

Many proposals for new States have been made. The most active movement has been in the New England area of New South Wales. Proposals have also been made for a new State in the northern half of Queensland; in the Riverina area of New South Wales; in the south-eastern corner of Australia - taking in a section of New South Wales and a section of Victoria; and in the western section of Victoria and the southeast of South Australia. This would give a total of eleven States. I propose that thirteen States should be formed in the populated area of Australia and that seven development regions should be established in the more sparsely populated area. It is difficult to say by what rules one would determine an area's ability to govern itself but it would appear that when some of the existing States assumed self-government a population of somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 was considered sufficient. All of the proposed thirteen States would have populations well in excess of the 60,000 mark. However, if any principle of minimum population were adopted it would affect the future of the suggested development regions.

There must be a general awakening to the fact that if we are to retain our present standards of living we must decentralize. There must also be a re-adjustment of the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. There must ba a new appraisal by the States of their role as the integral cogs in the machine of the nation. There must be a re-appraisal of the role of the Commonwealth and the States. There must be a properly integrated interstate highway system and a modern, efficient railway service. The question is: Do we fool about with this problem for the next 25 years or do we sit down in a responsible manner and work out our destiny in a quiet and orderly way? The land is here for us to use. We must use it so that no one will challenge our right to any portion of it and so that the millions of Australians yet to come will be able to rejoice in the heritage that will be theirs.







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