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Thursday, 27 April 1961

Mr BEATON (Bendigo) .- Tt is with pleasure that I rise on behalf of the Opposition, and on behalf of country communities generally, to support, in principle, the motion proposed by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond). The Labour Party has long been aware of the great need for a policy of decentralization of industry and population. Certainly one of the most disturbing features of this country's growth in the post-war years has been the abnormal concentration of industrial development and, consequently, population in the capital cities. The members of the Opposition are anxious, as is the honorable member for New England, to have the problem tackled with all speed. Accordingly, we endorse the proposal to set up a committee to examine the situation and to make recommendations for the implementation of a decentralization programme.

We believe, however, that the constitution of such a committee, as suggested in the honorable member's motion, would be far too cumbersome. With the inclusion of representatives of the bodies and authorities mentioned in parts (ii), (iii) and (iv) of paragraph 3 (b), the committee would consist of no fewer than 40 or 50 members, at a conservative estimate, and would be, in my view and that of my colleagues, unwieldy and unworkable. At this stage I should mention that the Labour Party has its own decentralization committee, of which my colleague, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), is chairman. Consequently, we have a full understanding of the great diversity of the material that comes before a committee of this kind.

While we support the motion in principle, we propose an amendment which would provide that representatives of the bodies and authorities to which I have referred, those concerned with local government, transport, water conservation, irrigation, power, roads and housing, and also financial and industrial experts as well as representatives of trade unions, may be called to give evidence, but not be represented on committee. In the final analysis, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the responsibility for decentralization and balanced development is the responsibility of government. Therefore, we believe that a committee consisting of representatives of the Commonwealth Parliament, together with parliamentary representatives from each of the six States, would be more effective in its deliberations.

Other bodies, particularly local government bodies, would have ample opportunity to present their views. After years of heart-breaking efforts to entice industry into their country communities, I have no doubt that they would readily avail themselves of the opportunity to do so. Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, I move -

That sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of paragraph (3) be omitted with a view to inserting the following sub-paragraphs in place thereof: - " (a) a committee be appointed to inquire into and report on the best means of securing effective decentralization of population, industry, communications and administration;

(b)   the committee consist of members of Commonwealth and State Parliaments; (ba) the committee be authorized to call evidence from -

(i)   local governments and semi-autonomous bodies engaged in water conservation, irrigation, hydro and thermal electric power,

(ii)   transport authorities, including State rail ways, also road transport, sea and air,

(iii)   authorities controlling ports and rivers and public works, including Main and Country Roads Boards and Housing Commissions, and

(iv)   financial and industrial experts and trade unions; ".

The struggle in country communities for a measure of decentralization of industry and population is a sorry story. It is a story of an Australia-wide endeavour by localgovernment authorities and other interested bodies and committees to entice industry into country communities so that they can develop and prosper and so provide young citizens with opportunities for employment and advancement in the localities in which they choose to live. These committees bear different titles. In Bendigo, we have the Industrial Expansion Committee; in Castlemaine, there is the Industries for Castlemaine Committee; and in Seymour, there is the Committee for Industrial Enterprises. Whatever their names and wherever they are, they have been born with one desire - to expand country communities. But their role has changed, Mr. Speaker. Now, they fight desperately to hold what industry they have, for the scales are heavily weighted against country industries. The strain of competition against the cities is forcing the closure of factories that are vital to the very existence of many country towns.

The accumulated evidence that is available to any investigation committee must surely present a powerful case for urgent action to be taken to develop country areas. It is estimated that in the past ten years, the natural increase of population in Victorian country areas was about 250,000. The actual increase of population was under 75,000 during that period. Melbourne enjoyed a natural increase of approximately 250,000, while its real increase was nearer the half million mark in those same ten years. Those figures indicate a great trek. Countless thousands of Australians, young and old, have joined in the journey to the city, a journey not of desire but of sheer economic necessity. Because of it, the breaking up of homes and the disruption of family life is painfully evident in country areas. Each year, thousands of youngsters leave school and gain employment in the capital cities. Why? Because the country communities from which they come are industrially stagnant and because employment opportunities cannot keep pace with the growing legion of youth.

It is an accepted fact that 55 per cent, of the nation's population is to be found in the five major capital cities. It is true, too, that only 8 per cent, of the population of New South Wales is west of the Great Dividing Range, while Melbourne harbours about 70 per cent, of the population of the State of Victoria. Since the 1954 census, Melbourne's population has risen by 20.2 per cent., while the City of Bendigo has had to be content with a rise of only 10.8 per cent, in the same period. City dwellers might well ask, " What is wrong with the continued emphasis on the development of the big capital cities? " Time is too short, Mr. Speaker, for me to delve deeply into the pros and cons of the question, but, broadly speaking, three main factors - economic, social and defence - must be considered. All three factors point to the need for the correction of the bloated and lopsided growth which is so evident to-day.

Generally, it is thought that because the concentration of industry in the capital cities has occurred, it necessarily is the best distribution of industry on purely economic grounds. Taken on an individual industry basis, that is almost indisputable. The close proximity of major markets, the fact that the capital cities are focal points for road, rail, air and sea transport, and that there are available in the capital cities large labour forces equipped with a variety of skills, all add strongly to that argument. But reckoned in terms of costs to the community, a stage could be reached at which the sprawl of capital cities was uneconomic. Country people believe that that stage has already been reached in Australia. The great backlog of public works, such as the provision of sewerage, water, power, roads and footpaths, the over-burdened transport systems, the bloated land values, and the colossal time-wastage in travelling to and from places of employment, all add tremendously to the costs that the community has to bear. Those factors should be taken into account by governments.

Passing from economic to social factors, we find that there are three great needs.

They are: The need to improve amenities and facilities in country centres; the need to provide an adequate range of employment opportunities for all members of the family; and the great need for specialized educational facilities in country centres. There seems to be no need, Mr. Speaker, for an expert military assessment to make us realize that to-day the great cities of the world are extremely vulnerable. A nuclear attack could cripple this country within hours. The need for the dispersion of population, power supplies, industry and the defence services seems to be imperative. To me, all of this constitutes an overpowering case for action, not words.

There is a strong feeling current among country communities that they should have received a greater share of our industrial development, and that governments have not played their part in providing a more equitable distribution of population and industry. The Menzies Government is particularly guilty in this respect, because it has completely disregarded the plight of country communities. Indeed, its lack of concern is very much apparent at the present moment. I was dismayed to see that the speech of the honorable member for New England was boycotted by the Liberal Party. For much of the time that he was speaking, only one member of the Liberal Party was present in the House. It can be said that the Liberal Party is completely decentralized even at this moment, because there are only three or four of its supporters in the chamber.

A conference of Commonwealth and State representatives that was held in 1945, in the Chifley era, agreed on a basis of co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States for the purpose of achieving decentralization. Year Book No. 46 of 1960 contains an outline of the decisions of that conference which held the seeds of hope for country communities. As a direct result, countless industries blossomed forth in country areas, only to wither away and die under an uninterested Liberal government. The lack of interest of the Government and the standard of its co-operation with the States in regard to this matter can be measured by its reaction to the recent inquiry on the all-party Distribution of Population and Industry Committee in Victoria. Three times the Victorian Premier asked that two Commonwealth officials be allowed to give evidence before the committee, but each request was in vain. Why, Mr. Speaker, the very motion that we are now discussing has been on the noticepaper for eight or nine months, which indicates the Government's lack of interest in the need for a more balanced distribution of industry and population.

Although the architect of the immigration programme - the Chifley Labour Government - planned differently, more than 75 per cent, of the newcomers to our land in the last decade have settled in the capital cities. Their coming provided a wonderful opportunity for a planned infusion of life into country communities, but the opportunity was ignored. In the light of happenings in recent months, the inactivity of the Menzies Government over the last twelve years has almost paled into insignificance. One of the great tragedies of the Government's economic policies, parties larly in relation to the relaxation of import controls, and the credit squeeze, has been the effect on country communities.

To make an- assessment of the true employment situation in country towns and provincial cities I consider that a realization of the picture in normal times is essential. Ministers have said on several occasions that Australia's economy is balanced on a razor's edge. Because of their failure to gain a fair share of Australia's industrial expansion, the economy of country towns is always balanced on a razor's edge. In normal times, employment in country towns is never plentiful. In normal times, youngsters in the country are forced by economic necessity to join in the drift to the cities. Any recession, mild or otherwise, is fell immediately in country centres where opportunities for alternative employment are extremely limited. Consequently, the situation after fourteen months of relaxed import controls and five months of credit restrictions is critical. The result of the Government's policies has been an acceleration in the movement of country people to the capital cities in their search for employment.

When these economic policies were introduced several Ministers stated that some redeployment of labour would take place. The words " and unemployment " should have been added, for the blight of unemployment is abroad in every country community, as it is in the cities. With alternative employment non-existent, the redeployment of the unemployed, if it is achieved, will take place in the main in the cities.

Let us look at the situation in a few of the country centres in Victoria. In Bendigo at least 300 persons have lost their employment in recent months, and a great number of others work for only three or four days a week. This week and next the summer seasonal employment will cease for another 200 or 300 people and they, too. will join the jobless. In Castlemaine more than 100 people have lost their employment since Christmas. Like other textile factories, the Castlemaine woollen mills have been delivered a shattering blow by the Government's economic policies. A similar situation exists at Wangaratta, Shepparton, Seymour and Ballarat and in most country towns. Another indication of the Government's unsympathetic attitude to country industry is found at Kyneton where Kyneton Meat Products Proprietary Limited is engaged in the killing and export of meat. The company had commenced extensions and had planned to employ an additional 25 to 35 people, the ultimate objective being a complete unit engaged in the export of meat. Because the company been refused credit, it has been forced to suspend its building operations, which are half-completed. The Government has said that it will offer incentives to export industries, but the application of that policy seems to be conspicuous by its absence, at least in relation to the Kyneton company. I have referred this matter to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) for sympathetic action.

An investigation into the financial factors influencing the possible establishment and maintenance of industry in country areas would reveal some remarkable facts. For instance, the transport of raw materials and finished products to the major markets - the capital cities - is a suitable cost factor. The inter-capital city freight rates between Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are only 2+d. to 3W. per ton mile, but the average rate between, for example, Melbourne and Bendigo is more than double those rates. Charges for power and water, which are so vital for country industries, are also higher than they are in the city. Clearly these factors, with others, do not encourage but rather discriminate against countryindustries.

Mr Jones - We could do with a Labour government in Victoria.

Mr BEATON - Yes, we could. The Commonwealth Government could well shrug off the problem as being one for the States, but the country people believe that this is a national problem which warrants the attention of the National Parliament. Commonwealth and State governments could employ a number of incentives to achieve what is loosely termed decentralization. There could be, first, decentralization of government activity, secondly, special regional taxation concessions; thirdly, offers of crown lands for the establishment of industries; fourthly, concessions in power, transport and water charges; and fifthly, special financial assistance to industries through a decentralization authority or fund. All these matters could be considered by the committee, if it is constituted.

It is my sincere hope that this debate will reveal a realization of the problems that confront country communities, and that effective action to arrest the drift to the cities will result. I commend the honorable member for New England for his longstanding interest in balanced national development, and I hope that his fervour will be matched by that of the Government. It has been suggested that this motion will take its place in the future as another proposal that has been postponed indefinitely. If this happens the Government will earn the enmity of country people generally who want, not words, but action.

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