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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4399

Dr SOLOMON (Denison) - As I understand the burden of the complaint of the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) it is that this Government and various preceding governments of Australia and of the States are responsible for the population distribution of Australia. Unfortunately in the main I believe that is not so although there are certain things which governments might do to try to redistribute the population in some measure. I find myself in the position of being able to commend the honourable member for Corio in, I think, one respect only and that his proposition, real or implied, that a national view of this sort of thing is desirable.

I agree with that implicitly. However, I think that the honourable member fails to recognise some very substantial historical and geographical underpinnings of the situation which he has described and deplored in his speech this morning. The honourable member suggests that this is a major issue, and that is perfectly correct. He suggests that it is a major issue because of government inactivity. I do not want to traverse at this particular time the longish history of the distribution of population and the extent of urbanisation in Australia, or for that matter anywhere else, because it is a worldwide phenomenon. But the plain fact of the matter is that this country was settled through 6 port settlements which became towns and cities. Various other developments took place, notably in the economic life of the areas over which the port settlements came to have domination. Therefore population concentrated on those 6 centres.

Unlike the United States of America, which I think is the best comparative example which I can make, we have continued in that way. There has been a concentration, or perhaps an overconcentration and influence on and by 6 port capitals. In the United States there was a population movement westward. . Railways preceded the development of settlements and various centres were set up so that there was an urban frontier as well as a rural frontier in the early part of the 19th Century. The population moved on to the west coast and then something approximating the coastal distribution of population in Australia came into being. But in the meantime the middle of the American continent, which was basically settleable, had become settled. That was not the case inAustralia for reasons which are all too obvious to members of this chamber and to those outside it. So do not let us try to pin this thing on this Government or any other government.

There are other aspects of the matter on which, I hope, I will have time to dilate. However, basically what the honourable member for Corio was talking about is the process of urbanisation, which used to be called the rural-urban drift, by which people have increasingly concentrated in cities. This has happened not just in Australia. The process of urbanisation occurred in some ways in other parts of the world before it took place in Australia. Attention was drawn to this phenomenon in a notable work before the turn of the century. This work made considerable reference to the distrubition of population in. this process of urbanisation in Britain, Europe and elsewhere, but notably in Britain and Europe. So, initially, we are not talking really of provincial centres and regional development; we are talking about the process of urbanisation because from that stem any problems that may exist in provincial centres and in regional development. This area was touched on only lightly by the honourable member for Corio. In that sense I would criticise the honourable member's terms of reference, although he fundamentally is trying to do something which is sensible. But I believe that he puts gorward a too narrow term of reference for the consideration of this problem because the problem stems from the metropolitan situation and only from there, and after that, one may come up with certain rural problems.

The extent of urbanisation in Australia is well known, lt is not necessarily well known in degrees of particularity. I would like, if 1 may, to incorporate in Hansard a small table based on census statistics relating to the 6 State capitals. I will draw attention to it later in 2 or 3 sentences.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Isleave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -


Dr SOLOMON - The document merely shows how certain functions are concentrated in the capital cities. I do not wish fo dilate upon the whole matter. Although the figures are slightly dated, the relativity is roughly the same and we get the following kind of situation. Firstly 56 per cent of the population of New South Wales was concentrated in Sydney at the time of the 1961 census. Some 57 per cent of the retail activity and 73 per cent of the manufacturing jobs were concentrated in that city. That sort of situation can be reproduced through 4 other capital cities. The only exception is Hobart where, at the same date, 33 per cent of the population, 40 per cent of the retailing activity and 32 per cent of the manufacturing jobs were concentrated. Tn other words, there is in Australia only one example of actual decentralisation in operation. It has occurred, as it were, naturally. There is governmental influence but it has not occurred basically because of governmental influence.

This situation has occurred because the island of Tasmania was settled simultaneously through 2 centres - Launceston in the north and Hobart in the south. Tasmania even developed one or two other coastal centres of reasonable standing. As a result the island developed a decentralisation of various functions, not the least manufacturing, which has not been reproduced in any other States. This is the basic reason why we have the situation about which the honourable member for Corio complains. In saying that I do not suggest that it is impossible for governments to do anything about the matter, nor that it should be. But I find the honourable member somewhat less than factual when he makes certain suggestions. In fact, I am surprised that he concentrated on Victoria in this matter. I say that for several reasons, one of them being that the honourable member comes from that State.

He suggests that there is a great Victorian Government emphasis on "Melbourne to the detriment of the rural areas. Whether or not that is so 1 cannot prove in the course of the next 5 or so minutes, but the plain fact of the matter is that for governmental or other reasons, Victoria has the densest average distribution of population of any Australian State, including Tasmania, lt could even bc said - from some points of view that Victoria has the best population distribution in a balanced fashion which is partly a reflection on the fact that most of the countryside is able to be occupied and worked in some sort of way. I do not think I have found myself in a position before of making a brief for the Bolte Government but I would like to point out that the Liberal government of Victoria for some time have consistently tried all forms, of manufacturing and industrial locational incentives to get decentralisation moving in Victoria to a greater extent than already exists. So it is less than fair to suggest that the Government is willy-nilly interested in the promotion of Melbourne to the detriment of the " rest of Victoria.

If we turn to this Government- and taking up the same point made by the honourable member for Corio - we clearly have example after example of governmental legislation, sometimes fully supported, sometimes supported to a lesser degree and sometimes even opposed in certain respects by those on the opposite side of the chamber, to assist rural industries. A substantia) proportion of our recent sessions has been taken up by measures to support rural industries. If the honourable member does not think that these measures have been designed to keep people on the land and in country towns I am not sure what he thinks they are designed to do. In the last few months we had a Bill - and other Bills have also been introduced - designed to keep the Shepparton cannery in operation for the sole purpose, one. assumes, of retaining the population in that centre instead of having it drift in the direction of Melbourne or some other capital city. Therefore I think the honourable member does less than justice, to put it mildly, to both Federal and State Governments as I have shown by a couple of examples in relation to this problem.

Decentralisation is an important matter. 1 believe that the honourable member who preceded me completely failed to appreciate the difficulties of achieving it. In the first place Australia has a great lack, by world comparisons, of medium sized towns and medium sized regional centres for tha reasons which I spoke of earlier in reference to the United States. He failed also to take account of the fact that possibly the most against decentralisation is that there is a lack of differential labour costs which is not the situation in the United States. In that country there are regional disparities in costs and one can employ people in the south east for about 70 per cent of the wage than would have to be paid for labour in New York or on the west coast. Clearly this is an incentive to decentralisation. It is an incentive to put industry down in the south east because the wage bill is a good deal less. If an industry is a labour intensive industry such as the textile industry, so much the better. We do not have the advantage, if it is an advantage, of an incentive for decentralisation. I think that in a speech delivered on another occasion I drew attention to a small experiment which took place in Townsville about a year ago. That place is probably one of our better examples, and one of our few examples, of significant decentralisation outside the capital cities.

A governmentally established industrial estate was set up at the cost of something like $600,000 and a year or so after having been set up it had placed on it one tilemaking industry employing, I think, 3 or 4 people at the time.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!As it is now 2 hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, tha debate is interrupted.

Motion (by Mr Garland) agreed to:

That the lime for the discussion of notices be extended until 12.45 p.m.

Dr SOLOMON - The situation is that certain efforts, which have been made over quite a long period of time in some cases to achieve decentralisation, have not been notably successful. In fact, at the base of the problem - I am not suggesting that an attempt cannot be made to solve the problem - there is the situation to which I havedrawn attention during my earlier remarks. Firstly, there has been historical, followed by geographical, inertia in which it is well nigh impossible or, at least, very difficult to move people off their pitch. If they arc well established with all their ramifications and industrial links and so on,, it is difficult to move them from where they are, and where they , are usually happens, to be the metropolitan, areas. I draw attention to other moves, which are [not exactly governmental moves, such as the new States movement. Look what happened to the New England new State movement. That could have been regarded as a popular move to decentralisation and the proliferation of Slates because our too few Slates or too many, however one regards' it,. is the. basis of our State-Federal problem in Australia.. However, that was, for whatever reasons, unsuccessful. So, I hope . I have made the point; it is not easy to decentralise.

In the few minutes remaining to me I should like to discuss how decentralisation may be achieved. There '.are, of course, many ways in which that can be done. I think probably the most telling factor would be, in a sense, a negative one. When the big cities reach a stage where economies of scale no longer operate and become diseconomies there will probably be the greatest incentive to . decentralisation. It was nm found in places like New York that those factors of diseconomy operated in any significant way until the populations reached at least 5 million and. in the case of New York, about 1.0 million. One or two people looking at Australia on a comparative basis with the United States certainly have come to the conclusion that those diseconomies are not likely to operate significantly in Sydney or Melbourne until they reach populations of the order of 5 million people. So. what are we left with? On the positive side, are the creation of manufacturing incentives and the making of incentives for service provisions. In fact, the latter may be more important than manufacturing incentives. Certain studies have shown that, in fact, people look lo areas - this is well known, I think - where their children can have a good schooling, where they have good access to markets and to their shopping provisions and so on. It may be that if governmental influence were to come to bear on creating service provisions before manufacturing provisions in certain decentralised places, more may;, be achieved. Nevertheless that is difficult .and it brings in .certain, other concepts of - a technical kind involving service functions which are regarded by geographers arid, others as basic functions on the one hand, and non- . basic on the other. The basic Junctions are those which .are city-growing and suburban forming functions./ The non-basic ones are those which . merely' serve the populations which are there.. There is no time. for me. to dilate upon that.

I was disappointed that -the honourable member for Corio did not speak more of regional 'development and' did not appear to . show an understanding that regions usually- operate in a context of what are called 'nodal regions, operating but of or dominated or influenced by: focal points. Again, :-we lack these focal -points. There may ;be. a case to stimulate : them but in stimulating ; them we face certain difficul-, ties. Finally, perhaps one should draw attention,. as 1 did in a question a week or so ago, to the proposition of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) which no doubt he will expand upon later in this debate, in regard to governmental proposals and -new structures of government which, from., my. reading of them, appear to divorce., the. rural areas from the urban areas. In fact, this would cut right across . the. whole functional basts of. regional development which is an integration of urban operation and of rural operation. "Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock) - Order! The honourable member's timehas e'\p:red.

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