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Tuesday, 27 March 1973
Page: 749

Mr DRURY (Ryan) - The announcement last year of positive steps towards a continuing program of selective decentralisation represented a major step forward in the development of our nation. For such a program to be successful there must of course be the closest possible consultation with the States in a truly federal spirit. The present Government favours the development of certain regions, starting with the AlburyWodonga region, and it has been suggested that a Bathurst-Orange development might follow, and then others, but a number of aspects must be considered very carefully if regional development is to be balanced and satisfactory. Much has been said and written, over the years, of the need for a clear policy on decentralisation. About 8 years ago a Commonwealth-State Officials Committee on Decentralisation was established to gather the information needed to justify a Commonwealth policy on decentralisation. The detailed work was carried out by a technical sub-committee whose reports were finally collated and considered by the CommonwealthState Officials Committee in October 1971. The Committee then prepared and circulated a draft report to the various Commonwealth and State authorities.

There is, of course, the question of the extent to which Commonwealth participation in a decentralisation program is allowed by the Constitution. Section 51 (ii) of the Constitution provides that the Commonwealth cannot discriminate between States or parts of States in matters of taxation. The Australian Industries Development Association has, within the past 12 months or so, published 2 penetrating articles of very great interest. One of the articles was published in March 1972 under the heading: 'Decentralisation: What's happening about it?' The other article, published in May 1972, appeared under the heading: 'An urgent need for decentralisation policy'. The August 1972 issue of 'Canberra Comments' published by the Australian Chambers of Commerce contained an excellent article entitled: 'Decentralisation and urban affairs'. interest in this whole subject has become more and more intense in recent months and the 'Manufacturers Bulletin' of 1st September 1972 reported a statement by the New South Wales Minister for Decentralisation and Development that about 700,000 people will have to be diverted from the Sydney metropolitan area to country centres of New South Wales over the next 28 years. The Minister said that this is equivalent to the creation of two and a half Newcastles, 23 cities the size of Wagga Wagga or 7 new cities of 100,000 residents. He went on to say that the climate had never been more favourable for a determined assault on the demographic imbalance which afflicts all Australian States and that there was now no question as to the attitude of all Governments, both Federal and State, towards decentralisation as an urgent national requirement. He then stated:

A measure of the possibilities open to us ls the acknowledgement of State Planning Authority of New South Wales that the Sydney Region Outline Plan will only work if 300,000 job opportunities are created outside the Sydney region by the year 2000.

Another eminent authority, Dr Colin Clark, has written extensively of the need to decentralise. In an article published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail' on 6th September 1972, he claims that our capitals in 20 years time will be unfit to live in unless urgent and positive steps are taken. I shall quote some passages from Dr Clark's article. He writes:

There is only one solution. Our growing Industry and population must be diverted to new towns. This emphatically does not mean 'satellite towns', which will only make the confusion worse.

Dr Clarkcontinues:

A new town must be economically independent, not just a commuters' residential area.

Dr Clarkclaims that such a new town: . . should be at least 90 minutes travel time away from any existing large town.

He gives examples from Britain to indicate what should be avoided. He points out that British new towns are now being designed for populations of 250,000', but that 'even this latter figure, unfortunately, must be regarded as a minimum'. Dr Clark goes on to say that nobody likes to work in a small town which principally is dependent on one or two industries because there is too much economic uncertainty. He continues:

Conversely, employers do not like to establish their businesses where the labour force is too small, with a limited range of skills and of ancillary enterprises.

Dr Clarkis critical of South Australia for developing Elizabeth only 15 miles away from Adelaide. He believes that it will be a mistake if another new town is built only 50 miles from Adelaide, with a population aim of only 200,000 people. He points out that some economists think a population of nearly 500,000 is necessary before the essential economic conditions are satisfied and that none would put the figure below 250,000.

Dr Clarkargues that, with our expected rate of population growth, Australia should be in a position to build a number of new towns during the next 20 years, but not an unlimited number. He claims that, instead of enlarging existing small towns, there is much to be said for designing new towns on vacant sites. He states:

The funds available for subsidisation being limited, Australia's strategy will have to be to start only one or two new towns and to run each of them up to near the economic minimum size as rapidly as possible before starting on others.

He suggests that no employer should be compelled to move to a new town, but that those who choose to stay in the capital cities should be faced with a payroll tax increasing year by year and the proceeds of this tax should be used to give substantial subsidies on the payrolls of employers in new towns. He also suggests that, to encourage decentralisation, there should be an equalisation of telephone charges over substantial distances and that the building of migrant hostels should he diverted to new towns.

The journal 'Canberra Comments' of August 1972 makes the submission that, because of the importance of containing cost-push inflation, great care will need to be taken to ensure the economic and efficient utilisation of resources in the decentralisation of industry. The article points out that Australia has examples of decentralised industrial development based on the processing of raw materials and that more of this kind of development could be encouraged, provided that Australia's cost structure can be improved relative to costs overseas. The article stresses the vital need for the closest co-operation not only between State and Federal governments but also between governments and private enterprise. It also emphasises that incentives for decentralised development will be effective only if the total economic environment in the decentralised locality is taken into account and that businessmen with first-hand experience of decentralised development will need to be brought into consultation with State and Federal authorities at an early stage to ensure that basic commercial considerations are not overlooked. One of the most important of such considerations, of course - it almost goes without saying - is an adequate supply of water.

I am sure we all agree that to counter the drift to the cities the formulation and implementation of a national policy for regional development, supported by both the States and the Commonwealth, is of prime importance. As the Australian Industries Development Association has pointed out, the vital element for successful decentralisation is the provision of employment, and secondary industry must provide the major thrust for successful decentralisation of the magnitude required. The Association suggests that, having declared a national objective, the following immediate steps should be taken: Firstly, we should nominate selected growth centres for decentralisation; secondly, planning bodies should be organised and forward cost studies prepared; thirdly, we should decide which industries are best suited for immediate decentralisation; and, fourthly, we should consider the proximity to markets, the readily available supply of labour, the ease of obtaining raw materials, the lowering of cost disadvantages and the improvement of telecommunications and rail and road transport to service markets. The Association emphasises the immediate need to subsidise those companies that are willing to decentralise straight away because the risks to these pioneer companies are greater and the disadvantages faced are more acute than those which would be encountered by firms choosing to decentralise at a later time, when a new city is more firmly established. Demographic surveys show that, of all the countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Australia is one of the most highly urbanised. I hope most sincerely that very careful steps will be taken to remedy the situation over the years ahead.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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