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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4395

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I move:

That the House of Representatives :┬╗et up a select committee to inquire into and report upon the future of provincial cities and regional development.

The motion, which is deliberately a short one, would enable any committee which was set up to make fairly wide sweeping inquiries into what is one of the major problems concerning Australia as a nation at this time and which has confronted Australia .as a nation over a considerable period. The degree of inactivity which exists on this matter is startling, to say the least, 'and is possibly a reflection of self satisfaction' by those people who believe, as we heard at question time today, that the problems of rural communities and provincial areas can be solved, not by development, not by the increasing and maintenance of population of those areas, but merely by altering the Electoral Act. A select committee of this Parliament would bring down recommendations which could reverse a trend which has been growing over a number of 5'ears.

I think that even at this early stage 1 should put .forward one proposition which will, I hope, counter the proposition put forward by the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) that the way to get a better deal in the rural areas is. to reduce the size of the rural electorates and thus give better representation in this Parliament. On the last occasion the Electoral Act was altered the allowable ratio between electorates was increased from 10 per cent to 20 per cent up or down. The census which has been taken since the application of that redistribution shows tha! the growth rate in country areas in Victoria has dropped from 3,53 per cent to 0.52 per cent. So the extra members, satisfied that their seats in Parliament are safe, have decided that . they need do nothing except at some further .date amend the Electoral Aci again.

That is not the way to approach the problem' which confronts Australia, lt is not the way lo deal with the very serious problem which is shown to exist by growth rate .statistics for any State. .1. have here the growth statistics for Victoria, which I think fairly accurately reflect the position in the rest of Au tralia. Because it is not good to fill a speech up with statistics I will deal only with those statistics relative to Victoria. The metropolitan area of Melbourne, which is changing statistically according to census figures.- in 1933 had 57.83 per cent of the population of Victoria and nonmetropolitan areas had 42.17 per cent. At the time of the last census in June of this year, the proportion of the population in the metropolitan area of Melbourne had grown to 68.1 per cent and the proportion in non-metropolitan areas, including Geelong, had dropped to 31.9 per cent, a drop of 1 1 per cent in a period of 38 years.

I would suggest that this is in itself adequate evidence of the decline in the activities in rural areas and the decline in the importance of provincial areas in Australia.. Since 1961 statistical divisions have been applied to the census so that the actual areas concerned are absolutely identical. "Since the 1961 census the population growth in the statistical division of Melbourne has been very close to 500.000 persons. The growth in the remainder of the State has been 50,000 persons. 10 per cent of the growth rate of Melbourne. That is the real evidence of the problem. It is a growing problem. To indicate how the problem is growing I will quote the growth rates in the non-metropolitan areas in Victoria between censuses. Between 1947 and 1957 there was a 21.8 per cent growth in the non-metropolitan areas of Victoria. In the next inter-census period the growth was 15.45 per cent. In the period between 1961 and 1966 - this is when the rot really set in - the growth rate, in nonmetropolitan areas in Victoria was 3.53 per cent. In the period from 1966 to the last census the growth rale was 0.52 per cent, or half of 1 per cent.

In case it may be thought that because of the changes the changing pattern of the metropolitan area resulting from the change in definition has altered the position materially, I point out that for the remainder of the State, leaving but the statistical division of Melbourne, the growth rate for the period between 1961 and 1966 was 4.61 per cent in non-metropolitan areas, and the growth rate between 1966 and 1971 was 0.94 per cent or less than 1 per cent. That is allowing for the fact that the figures for the metropolitan area of Melbourne relate only to those' areas within Melbourne's fixed boundary, which is in fact an unreal position, because the urban area of Melbourne is growing and these figures do not reflect the rural population of individual areas which are in the area of Melbourne but outside the statistical division. This is a real problem.

We have a current problem which I hope is temporary but which most likely is not. I refer to growing unemployment in rural areas. I think this subject is to be covered in a subsequent debate, and it has no real application to the problems which are the subject of this debate. Unemployment in rural areas is a problem but it is not directly associated with the matter we are now discussing. The question which I believe must be decided, and decided quickly, is whether we are to continue with our present method of dealing with rural and provincial depopulation, that is by amending the Electoral Act, or whether we are to do something about the maintenance of population and the maintenance of population ratios in the areas outside the major capital cities? It is ridiculous to suggest that in a nation of 3 million square miles we should be doing everything pos sible to squeeze all the population into a couple of thousand square miles. Is the rest of the nation not fit to be lived in? Some of it is not fit to be lived in by large masses but a great deal of it is and many provincial and rural areas are better equipped than are the metropolitan areas for the growth of population and the maintenance of the way of life we like to think is Australian but which in fact is not Australian. There are many areas of Australia where facilities for population growth already exist and it is necessary to provide the people in those areas with the necessary employment opportunities and the necessary facilities of life to keep these areas as viable population centes. There is hardly a non-metropolitan area in Australia that is at this time growing at a satisfactory rate with satisfactory employment opportunities for the full cross-section of our population.

I believe that only by Government action designed to encourage the maintenance of population in and the movement of population into provincial and regional centres can the non-metropolitan population of Autralia he maintained al a satisfactory level. The stupid and short-sighted proposition which is promoted very often by the Government of Victoria that we should have 5 million people crammed into Melbourne and leave the rest of the State hare of people to me is almost akin to genocide, it will result in a population at some future time of absolutely neurotic morons. We cannot put people in cages continually. Without any policies to develop in the capital cities an environment which is comparable with the environment which people are able to enjoy outside the capital cities we are seriously damaging human beings. By economic pressures we are forcing people who are not urban dwellers or who are not psycholigically orientated towards urban living to move out of country areas into urban living, into areas where the basic facilities are not provided. This is a secondary but a very important problem resulting from depopulation of the country areas. Not only are we forcing people to leave facilities which have been developed and destroying communities which have grown: we are also creating areas of urban population which do not have the basic facilities because the

State governments and the municipal councils do not have the funds to provide and maintain them.

This Government is creating areas which are not satisfactory living areas and this must have the effect of downgrading our population.I would suggest that interdepartmental committees and intergovernmental committees could study these matters. There has been one such committee studying this subject for so many years that no-one can remember the last time that it actually did anything, if it ever did anything. Apparently it has not met for about 3 years. A parliamentary committee would highlight - this is very important - the needs and the problems of non-metropolitan areas and the need for the promotion of future growth. A parliamentary committee would serve to acquaint the members of this Parliament, andI would hope it might even acquaint some of those who represent the rural electorates, with the real problems which are developing, problems which have nothing to do with how many members there are in this Parliament but which have a lot to do with what members are prepared to do for these areas.

The rate of growth of non-metropolitan areas, asI have already said, is totally unsatisfactory. In fact, if it continues to decline at the rate which is shown in the last census we will reach a situation where not much more than 10 per cent of our population will be living outside the capital cities by the year 2000. That is the sort of problem with which we are faced and the sort of problem for which solutions must be found. There are no easy remedies and there are no cheap remedies for this problem. There are some things that the Commonwealth Government could do now. It could decentralise its own departments to a greater extent instead of transferring everyone into a centralised area. With the modern communciations and facilities now available this is quite a practicable step.

This Government could deal with the very severe burden which telephone charges place on businesses operating outside metropolitan areas. For instance in Victoria a business operating in Melbourne has access to a very wide area and a unit charge fee for the payment of a very small extra rental. But a business operating in the city of Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong or Mildura. which is in the electorate of the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) is faced with fantastic telephone charges. A person can make a call from Frankston to Newport or Melbourne for 4c and talk all day. A person who makes a call to the same areas from Geelong, which is a shorter distance, will be charged 20c or 25c for every 3 minutes of the conversation. I do not think that this is a realistic approach to a problem. I think that the realities of the situation are that businesses are seriously disadvantaged by this type of costing. The postal services available to businesses in country areas are less than satisfactory.

I had reason to protest recently about the advertising of jobs with the Commonwealth Department of Works at the Avalon airfield which is just outside Geelong. The jobs were advertised in Melbourne and the applicants had to go to Melbourne to apply for jobs in Geelong. That is the psychology of the Commonwealth Department of Works. The reason why the jobs were not advertised in Geelong, according to the Department, was that ithad to give a week's notice to country newspapers to insert the advertisement but it had to give only 1 day's notice to city newspapers. That is not true. The fact is that the Commonwealth Advertising Division was not prepared to place the advertisement unless it had a week's notice, so people living in the area where the employment was needed could apply for these jobs only by going to Melbourne but by the time they got there they had all been taken.

There is a very serious lack of facilities in country areas. There is very little reason why businesses would establish themselves in country areas at this stage. Country areas have many disadvantages and the Commonwealth adds to- those disadvantages. These areas have very few advantages other than a better environment and possibly a more stable work force. But the problems are such that economically the people in these areas are disadvantaged. The Commonwealth, no longer controls payrolltax but this is an area in which the States could take action in order to give advantage to country industries over and above metropolitan industries. In other countries there are means which are used to promote the growth of non-metropolitan industries in certain areas. These are matters which 1 think could well be taken up by this House and could well be put before a committee which could sift out the problems, such a committee should consist of people who are interested in this problem, of people who .have a voice in. this Parliament and who are able to be effective. Public servants are npt the people who should be inquiring into human problems which are the, responsibility of the Parliament.

Ibelieve that a parliamentary committee should be set up to investigate this matter. It may be that the terms of reference of the committee would not necessarily be those contained in the motion. Other terms of. reference may be more, desirable but 1 believe, the principle should be established. I will be very interested at the conclusion of this debate to see whether a vote is taken. I was told a few minutes ago that the debate will be chopped off at 12 o'clock so that some Government business can be brought on. But' if a vote is allowed,-' and I hope it will be, I will' be interested to 'see whether members of this Parliament are prepared to support the appointment of a parliamentary committee to inquire into the future of human beings in this country. We have. taken this action in regard to our wildlife. We have done. it,for fauna. It is about time that we did it lor human beings' because after all they are at least equally important.

Mr Bryant - Kangaroos may be more important.

Mr SCHOLES - Kangaroos do not get counted . under the provisions of the Electoral Act. I think that human beings are just as important even though they are not always, represented in this Parliament. Another point I .would like to make is that the statistical evidence of a decline, and a rapidly, increasing .decline, in the percentage of population iti non-metropolitan areas,, is beyond question. So. that honourable members may have available to them information on the population in Victoria I seek, leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard a table which sets out the census figures .. for metropolitan . and nonmetropolitan areas.

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