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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2501

Dr SOLOMON (Denison) - There has been a number of useful contributions to the wide ranging topics which come under the head of these departmental estimates but despite their usefulness, I venture to suggest that the topic which I wish to embrace is in fact more useful than any which has preceded it. The great majority of environmental problems stem from the population growth of industrial societies around the world and the impact which they have made on both physical and social environments. In fact, the 2 often are not distinguished in common parlance. However, they are greatly distinguished in fact. The forces of industrial agglomeration - the forces which have led to scale economies in industry - have been until recent times, by which I mean the last few years, irresistible in the western world and are beginning to be irresistible in some parts of the eastern world. Until diseconomies occur in urban industrial agglomerations they remain irresistible.

Recent studies have shown that in some of the great cities of the world the forces of dis-economy came to bear only when populations of the order of 5 million or even more were reached. There are no cities in Australia with even approximately that level of population. While public and political awareness of the issues of urbanism, environmental control and the preservation of the quality of life in cities or, for that matter, in the countryside is highly desirable, it is undesirable to make a direct transfer of European or United States experiences and problems to the Australian scene without modification or qualification. In particular, I mean that they should be regarded with qualification in the matter of scale and of density of population. For example, there is a population equivalent to, or even more than Australia's population feeding itself into, or in one way or another and dependent upon the River Thames in south eastern England. To suggest that it is beyond our capacity, with a certain amount of will and expenditure, to control the flow of effluent in some of our larger cities or, for that matter, in some of our smaller ones, of course is stupid, when we look to other parts of the world and see the problems of scale and of population density with which they are coping and, in some cases, with which they have coped for upwards of a century.

It is highly desirable that we should know and be aware of the problems which depend on and flow from population density and urbanism in base, but we should not be alarmist about it. We should try to judge the situation as we have it, not as somebody else has it, although that does not prevent us from learning from their experiences. The interrelation of population distribution in toto - the whole population distribution of any political area - and of urbanisation - the process by which towns grow and by which, in recent history, an increasing proportion of the total population finds itself in those towns as distinct from the countryside and which in turn affects the issues of immigration, decentralisation and quality of life - must be recognised and given practical attention.

There are many aspects of urbanism. In fact, they are almost too numerous to mention in any short speech on such a subject. However, we are dealing with the questions of building regulations, traffic control, the conservation of air and water supplies and the preservation of buildings and other objects which are worth preserving as an historic heritage. All these things, some of which are more peripheral than others, must be taken into consideration if we are to be concerned about urban environment. I mention in passing that I have made one such study, extending over about 8 years, of our smallest capital city, Hobart. To my knowledge, it is the most intensive study which has been made in this country and possibly anywhere of a single urban organism. So, I hope I know what 1 am talking about in havingsome cognisance of what happens in these areas, why it happens and what might be predicted to happen in the future. I believe that the time has long since passed when this Government or, for that matter, any other government, should take unto itself this problem in Australia. I do not agree completely with the manner in which people such as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) have been putting their views forward. For example, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) tends to cry havoc and to talk of crises in practically every respect and this is set against Utopian visions of what might be but what never was in any other place in the world. 1 believe that this is an unbalanced treatment of the problem which only impedes the essential tackling of it in the best possible way.

As I suggested earlier, what we must do is assess the problem as it falls in our area. We should learn from other people's experiences and make judgments on the bases of scale and density, the amount of ill that is being done, what might happen and how it can best be controlled. We should stand on our own feet on this matter and not just import ideas as though the problems of Los Angeles, London, New York, Shanghai or wherever it might be were exactly the same as our own. I believe that we must follow a form to find out the things that we do not know. I think 1 can speak with reasonable authority in saying that there are things we do not know and things about which not enough is known by anybody in Australia to take any sensible action on them. It is not enough to advocate decentralisation without knowing its factual relationship or its predictable relationship to urbanism as it now is and as it might become. I believe we must conduct an inquiry of a very thorough - going kind, and I believe there is no better place for this inquiry to be conducted than in this House. The inquiry must be into such matters as future population distribution, the alternative forms of urban growth and the extent to which this Government should become involved in these matters. While making the last point, I do not believe that it is necessarily the province of the Federal Government to become a centralising authority and to take over the whole of this problem lock, stock and barrel. The expenditures involved might be enormous, but what we need to know is what should be done for the good of the country. We can talk later about who shall share the financial responsibilities and what should be done and at what rate it should be done. 1 should like to suggest in very simple terms what we need to look into. Firstly, we should examine the likely pattern of urbanisation in Australia by the end of this century, to take a date. Secondly, we should look into the implications of this for the utilisation of resources in Australia, because those implications do exist. Thirdly, we should look into the extent to which the Federal Government should encourage metropolitan growth or alternative forms of urbanism, or both. Lastly, perhaps, we should examine the likely cost of developments in fields such as urban transport and housing and also the related fields of decentralisation of industry and population. All these things are distinctly interrelated; in fact, it is impossible to unrelate them. One cannot proceed without the other. We cannot understand decentralisation or any proposal for decentralisation without understanding the forces of urbanism and the likelihood of moving those forces in another direction. Finally, I point out to honourable members on both sides of the House that the Greek word polis means a city, and politics can be loosely defined as the art of governing the city. There are few places in the world where a greater majority of people live in an urban environment than do Australians. So, I believe that a case has been fully established for an examination of this important area of environment, for the simple reason that the greatest number of people in this country will be affected by environmental changes in that particular area. The greatest number are involved in urban environments and by any predictions are likely to be. Therefore, despite all the problems of the countryside - and there are some in relation to agriculture and pesticide use and that sort of thing - the fact is that the quality of urban environment and the direction in which it is moving is the outstanding problem which remains for this or any other government in Australia to take on.

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