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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4117

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - Firstly, I take up one point that was made by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). He referred to the lack of progress that had been made over a long period of years towards achieving a better balance in the distribution of population in Australia. I cannot help but agree with the comments that he made. I do not do it in any political sense because, although all political parties may have had a good philosophical approach to the problem of decentralisation and a better distribution of population, it has been very difficult over the period to get sufficient public enthusiasm for this approach in Australia. Governments of all political persuasions in all States have been aware of the problem, but they have not been able to approach the problem satisfactorily. Obviously, there is only one way in which they can make the sort of attack on the problem that is necessary, and that is with the aid of finance from the Australian Government.

Honourable members, and indeed the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), will recall that last year the former Prime Minister introduced legislation to establish the National Urban and Regional Development Authority. This is the genesis of the legislation before us today. Indeed, in the debate at that time in September or October of last year I said:

This proposal marks an historic landmark in the direction of Australia's future development.

At the time of the introduction of this legislation to establish the National Urban and Regional Development Authority we also pointed to the mammoth task which would confront all governments, both State and Federal, in making a real dent on the problem. The Leader of my Party, the Right Honourable J. D. Anthony, made this comment when that legislation was introduced:

It marks the beginning of a major attack on the imbalance of population and industry that has plagued the nation for a long time.

The formation of the National Urban and Regional Development Authority was the result of many years of consultation between officials of the State and Commonwealth governments. They met together in an officers committee which was established to work out a formula that would provide a policy for the comprehensive and balanced development of Australia.

During 1971 and 1972 the then Department of the Interior, upon my instruction, undertook far reaching studies of ways and means to set in train a pattern of new town development. Indeed, I asked the permanent head of that Department, Mr George Warwick Smith, to undertake an overseas study of new town development in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Scandinavia. He prepared a valuable report as a result of those studies. I also had general discussions with Sir John Overall who was at that time the Commissioner of the National Capital Development Commission and who later became the Chairman of the Cities Commission. I asked him to turn his mind to ways and means of bringing about new town development in Australia. As a consequence of these efforts and the other efforts, and indeed the years of efforts of the present Minister, who brought to his Department a degree of knowledge and a very good approach to the problem, we are now seeing an approach to comprehensive and balanced development getting off the ground.

Although the Minister began the year with what I thought was a heavy hand in his approach to the States, I commend him for the way in which he has been able to negotiate with the various State governments to achieve the sort of machinery that has been necessary for new town development. It was no easy task. It would not have mattered as to what party the Minister had belonged; he would have had some difficulty in trying to accommodate the views of the various State governments, with their jealousies, and the position of the Commonwealth. I believe that if he had not approached the matter in the manner in which he has he would have imperilled progress towards any meaningful approach to any new pattern of urban and regional development. I think that the Minister has shown a great example of how other Commonwealth Ministers should deal in their discussions with State Ministers. So I commend the Minister quite sincerely for the way in which he has succeeded in getting the cooperation of the States.

Earlier this year at a meeting of the Ministerial Council it was agreed to establish an interim consultative committee in regard to the Albury-Wodonga growth centre. After protracted negotiations an agreement was signed on 23 October 1973. Although it did not completely conform to the New South Wales Government's position, a compromise was reached. The structure of the proposed development corporation ensured that the States of New South Wales and Victoria would have rights equal to those of the Australian Government.

The agreement also required the States to establish land corporations or commissions to acquire land under State legislation, with the State nominated deputy chairman of the development corporation as the chairman of the land corporation. There was a battle over land tenure. The Commonwealth took the position that leasehold would be the most desirable form of tenure for any designated area. However, once again the Minister expressed the view that before the Commonwealth took a position with regard to land tenure it should await the outcome of the findings of the inquiry into land tenure by Mr Justice Else Mitchell.

The States will retain the right to establish their own policies of acquisition and compensation payable in respect of land acquired for the development corporations. I understand that within the next week or so the New South Wales Government will introduce legislation to set up a lands commission, which is essential. One thing is clear, namely, that no land owner should be either the beneficiary of a great land boom windfall in a designated area or a loser as a result of an area being designated in an interim order. However, that is a matter for the States, although the Commonwealth is indirectly financing land acquisition by loans at the bond rate. Those loans are repayable by the States. There are provisions to assist the States in the repayment of some of those loans. There is provision also for grants to be made for specific projects.

One would hope that the Government would be generous with grants in such an important national program, which we hope will remove the pattern of ugly urban development we have seen in Australia. If the Whitlam Government is serious and sincere in its approach to this problem, it should ensure that generous grants are made to the Minister and his Department from the Treasury, so that there is a degree of flexibility and so that nonrepayable grants are available to the various State development authorities to enable the program to accelerate, now that it is getting off the ground. The allocation of $24m of loan funds for a new cities program is only a flea bite on the massive problem. The provision of $9m in repayable loans to enable the New South Wales and Victorian Governments to commence a program at AlburyWodonga is but a start. Admittedly, $30m has been provided for land acquisition. For any program of decentralisation to succeed, it must be one of comprehensive balanced development. The recent savage Budget - the Minister for Urban and Regional Development is not directly responsible for this - with its effect on rural areas in taking away a range of rural incentives, is a serious setback to decentralisation. The partial elimination of the petrol price equalisation scheme of the former Government and the threat of losing it all in next year's Budget, the increased postal and telephone charges in rural areas, the abolition of the rural investment allowances, the reduction of depreciation allowances and the increases in air charges and air fares will reverse any real efforts towards decentralisation in the rural areas of Australia. The total budgetary cost to rural Australia is of the magnitude of $140m at least, and must be regarded as a severe blow to the rural areas of our nation.

It is more severe when one realises that these measures came on top of the equivalent of 3 appreciations of the Australian dollar which reduced the returns to export industries, whether they be rural, mining or manufacturing. Our exporters are now at a 26 per cent disadvantage, in terms of currency and exchange rates, compared with their competitors in the United States of America and Canada.

Dr Gun - It would have gone up more if the Government had floated the currency. Your Leader is now advocating floating the currency.

Mr HUNT - It might be wiser to float the currency than to have it tied to the United States dollar when the United States dollar is getting stronger. We are continuing to appreciate from a high base as a result of 3 unilateral revaluations.

We are informed that this year's Budget is only phase 1 of the adoption of the recommendations in the Coombs report. Phase 2 and phase 3, certainly supported by the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun), are yet to come. Yet, these measures are replaced by a $54m loan allocation to the States to aid a new cities program for the development of new cities within 150 miles of our capital cities. The combined result of these programs will accelerate the drift of population to the cities. Needless to say, these measures tend to receive the applause of most of the metropolitan Press and editorial writers who are aiding what I believe to be a one-eyed, lopsided, crazy and ugly trend of population distribution and development in this country.

Australia is the largest island continent in the world. It has vast resources, enormous space and a relatively small population; yet it has the most urbanised population in the world. It has a Prime Minister who calls himself a cities Prime Minister and calls his Government a government of the cities. In truth, Australia has all the ingredients for an escalating cities growth trend, although it has the opportunity to achieve comprehensive balanced development. It must be our national objective to ensure that our largest cities do not grow at their present rates and to such sizes that human endeavour within them takes too great a toll of human time, comfort and pleasure in living. Any attack on the problem of regional development should be directed towards ensuring that people who prefer to live in country towns or medium sized rural cities such as Dubbo may do so without forgoing a reasonable range of employment opportunities and a fair share of the social and economic opportunities at present found only in the major cities.

The Whitlam Government's 2-pronged approach to comprehensive balanced development is not broad enough. In the longer term it will not be sufficient to alter the trend of population congestion in Australia. I believe that, if anything, it will tend to accelerate the drift in the movement of people to the metropolitan cities. The only way in which a real impact on the problem of gaining balanced development will be achieved is by a joint Commonwealth-State 4-pronged approach. I have said this before in the House. I reiterate it because I am sure that the Minister ultimately will see the sense in it, if only he can persuade his ministerial and party colleagues. That is not something that applies only to him; but it applies to all Ministers of all governments. If the Minister can persuade fellows such as the honourable member for Kingston on this point, then his job will be much easier.

The first prong in my suggested approach is the commencement, on an annual basis, of selected regional growth centres, each to accommodate up to 300,000 people, and located throughout Australia and away from existing cities. The Minister would agree with that entirely. The second prong is a metropolitan redevelopment program to help overcome problems of population and environmental pressures in the major cities. The third prong is the provision of general incentives and subsidies to assist country areas to overcome their existing economic disadvantages for industry, commerce and investment and social disadvantages for the people. The fourth prong is that State governments should be given every encouragement to continue with their selective support in country towns generally in order to maintain a healthy and viable growth rate in those towns. People who live in country towns with a population of up to, say, 10,000 or more are Australians and are just as important as those who live in the cities. We are one people, one nation and one Australia.

The first 2 prongs are of equal importance, and the prospect of any program achieving a balanced distribution of population, with people living at desirable standards, will depend upon the balance achieved in those 2 areas. The other 2 prongs in the approach are also important and appear to have been disregarded in the current approach to the problem. However, the main thrust in any decentralisation program must be towards selective decentralisation in spite of the political considerations and parochial jealousies it can arouse. I concur fully with the Minister in that regard. The success of the program will also depend on the incentives it can offer industries to relocate or locate their enterprises in these new centres. It will depend on how much confidence it can inspire among those in the private sector to invest in the new development. Incentives offered to industry, especially labour intensive industries, should be designed to make them better off than similar industries in metropolitan areas. If they only neutralise cost disadvantages because of rural locations they fail to achieve the carrot objective. This is especially so when an industry's viability is related to its proximity to markets.

Before concluding I wish to refer to one other aspect of the legislation - the land commissions. I have been provided with an information paper by the Department of Urban and Regional Development. Paragraph 3 on page 2 reads as follows:

It is proposed that an Australian Land Commission will eventually be formed as the vehicle through which the agreements between the Australian Government and the State governments would be brought into effect and monitored and through which funds would be made available by the Australian Government.

I just hope that this does not grow into some unnecessary monster bureaucracy, because the States will be establishing their own land commissions. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) in his second reading speech sought clarification from the Minister for Urban and Regional Development on several questions. I fully support him and his requests. I hope that satisfactory answers can be provided so that we can give a speedy passage to these Bills and enable the Australian and State governments to get on with the job of new town development and a new approach to comprehensive balanced development. The Australian Country Party supports these Bills.

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