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Thursday, 28 September 1972
Page: 2197

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This debate concerns the role of the Commonwealth Government in urban and regional development. It follows the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 19th September. Dispersion of the Australian population into resource related locations and properly planned enironments can only ever emanate and be effectively fulfilled through inspired, informed and cohesive initiatives on the part of the Commonwealth Government. The widespread deprivation of country towns, the uneconomic and inadequately planned growth of cities with attendant squalor and sociological problems result from the lack of Commonwealth initiative. Now the Prime Minister after 23 years of successive Liberal-Country Party coalition governments, acknowledges this fact. For the first time the Government admits its liability and presumably its neglect.

It is hard to reconcile this new-found interest by the Commonwealth Government for, when all is said and done, this is the Government with the inspired concept of estabishing in crowded 'Melbourne a new Commonwealth office complex worth $60m to accommodate some 20,000 employees. This is the Government which recently proposed that in the bottlenecked peninsula of Wooloomooloo in the heart of Sydney a Commonwealth office complex should be built to provide accommodation at a cost of some $50m for 15,000 public servants. This is the Government which, for example, sustains the concept that there should bea military area of Holsworthy, crowding on to the southern perimeter of Sydney with some 72,000 acres of land tied up - some 85 square miles, I am told - an area which the State Planning Authority has sought for some considerable time for the purpose of providing some 40,000 job opportunities for the people of Sydney and for the purpose of providing residential opportunities for a quarter of a million people. This is the Government which is intent on establishing naval bases at South Head in Sydney in an area that ought to be preserved for a national park. This is the Government that takes away Cockburn Sound from the people of Perth because of its unwillingness to find a naval base in a more suitable part of Australia. So it is very hard to reconcile this new-found interest that the Government has in decentralisation and the environment.

No-one begrudges this new-found recognition of the role of the national Government in contemporary Australia. The tragedy is that a decade has gone since the awareness of the developing crisis in urban affairs and its preparedness to confront it. 1 want honourable members to hear part of what Hugh Stretton had to say in his book 'Ideas for Australian Cities'. I specifically refer to what he said about the 2 sides in politics in connection with this question. He said:

Liberal and Country Party governments of the Commonwealth have had simple, stable urban policies for 20 years. First, the Commonwealth determines the amounts of most of the states' housing and road moneys. Second, there are no other federal urban policies (outside Canberra) because the cities belong to the states. Third, the Commonwealth government in practice fixes the national levels and the states' shares of public investment and expenditure. The levels it fixes are alleged, by critics who include plenty of Liberal state premiers, to provide a squalid, half-starved public sector. Among other offences, the Commonwealth finances most of its own capital works out if revenue and makes the states and municipalities finance theirs by borrowing, so that loan interest eats up a rising proportion of whatever revenue they do get.

That is what Hugh Stretton, an acknowledged and unbiassed authority on these matters, had to say in regard to Liberal and Country Party governments.

I would now like to read to honourable members what Hugh Stretton bad to say about the Labor Party and especially about its leader. He said:

Whitlam is strong for new cities. This alone, if he could give effect to it, would be enough to distinguish his policies from those of the federal Liberal and Country parties, like life from slow death. His policy speech before the 1969 election promised means to enable governments to deal in urban land. He proposes commonwealth-state partnerships to establish regional development authorities, on the well tried models of the Snowy Mountains Authority and the National Capital Development Commission.

That concludes my quotes from Hugh Stretton who has summed up the situation quite effectively, in my view.

Overcrowding of our cities has continued unabated as an analysis of the census figures reveals. The 1961 census showed that 49.7 per cent of the Australian population lived in 4 cities. The 1966 census showed that 51.9 per cent lived in 4 cities - an increase in city congregation of 2.2 per cent in 5 years. Doubtless it has grown at a faster rate in the interim period since 1966. In 1961, 64.8 per cent of our population lived in 24 urban centres with a population size in excess of 25,000. In 1966 there were only 22 such urban centres accounting for 66.8 per cent of the population. The cost penalties for this unchecked expansion of urban growth are of hidden but astronomical proportions.

The Treasurer (Mr Snedden), in his Budget Speech, talked of a 3 per cent growth rate in the economy. What he did not explain was that we can have an increase of national income per head or an increase in gross national product and be individually and collectively worse off. In fact, national income does not measure the well being of the community in any meaningful way at all. Dr Max Neutze, head of the Urban Research Unit of the Australian National University, put some credence Into this assertion when he said:

The more money we spend on commuting and/or sewerage and garbage disposal the higher the national income.

Yet these are part of the costs we pay for living in cities. Not only we do fail to deduct some of the costs of earning our income, such as pollution and congestion, but when we spend money to minimise such costs, actually add it to the income.

It follows that to maximise the benefits of national income the area of penalties must be minimised. Our urban centres must be so proportioned as to reduce the liability of commuter costs and transport systems, pollution control and garbage and sewerage disposal, and all the sociological consequences that flow from a badly planned city. All this is best achieved by planning and avoidance rather than by any remedial or rehabilitative process.

The problems that have descended on our major urban centres result from excessive growth, inadequate planning and lack of finance. In all these matters the Commonwealth can be influential, supportative and with other areas of government, completely adequate. Why has the Government ignored the need for new cities? In the United Kingdom the New Towns Act of 1946 was used as the vehicle for the creation of 14 new towns between 1947 and 1950, one in 1956 and 8 more between 1961 and 1968. This Act - the New Towns Act - is currently employed to effect major expansions to 5 existing towns. In all, 30 new towns are being created for a total population of 2.5 million people. The planning and development of housing, industry and transport have been effectively integrated by the joint efforts of town development corporations and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. Where is the Australian counterpart for the sort of enterprise we see in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and other federal countries? Why is it that Australia has not emulated this example?

Professor Winston of the Department of Town and Country Planning at the University of Sydney contends it is mainly for political reasons. He says: . . it's because the Federal Government has the money but not the power and the State governments have the power but not the money.

Surely that is the case. The key to this situation is contained in the long-standing position of the Leader of the Opposition who says:

For all its difficulties and shortcomings the Australian Constitution is not an insurmountable barrier against social reform and social justice.

He claims:

If section 92 of the Constitution is held up as the bulwark of private enterprise, then section 96 is the charter of public enterprise and section SI is the key to national responsibility and national regeneration.

National regeneration has not even been regarded as a prerogative of this Government. Decentralisation will be achieved only when the Commonwealth sets out to deploy resources on a national basis in terms of the national need.

Under Labor a national development authority would take the lead in formulating a blueprint for new cities in the States and the Northern Territory. It will create a concept of development to utilise the major traffic corridors and to facilitate the growth of satellite communities as appendages to established cities. The implementation of the proposals which will evolve through consultative processes with the States will be under regional development authorities. Conditional grants will be allocated under section 96 of the Constitution to ensure that the serevices already available to the people of the Australian Capital Territory will become available to Australians in other parts of this land. An Australian Institute of Urban Affairs task force of urban planners has reported that Australia urgently needs 15 new cities with up to 500,000 people in each. It predicts that by the year 2000 Sydney's population could grow to 4.9 million and Melbourne's population to 4.6 million and warns that unless this drift to the cities is checked there will be rising dissatisfaction with traffic congestion, rapidly rising land prices, longer journeys to work and the drabness of life in remote suburbs. In all, these expert planners are saying that we should create 15 new cities urgently or confront the spectacle of a further 7 million people clustered around the 5 major cities of Australia. The task force report contains this strong warning:

A programme to build new cities - even- if started now - would not begin producing a large number of houses for 6 to 9 years.

In essence we are already too late, and this Government is guilty of allowing this situation to develop.

The Prime Minister, in this pre-election period, has developed grandiose visions of a new ministerial council made up of the passing parade of State premiers which, with him as its inspirational head, will lead us all to the promised land of planned decentralised urban living. But no-one is inclined to believe him. He speaks of a new urban and regional development authority and of advisory committees which will be comprised of representatives of unidentified organisations and groups, the representatives being chosen for their expertise in relevant fields. Who are these representatives? Obviously the Government has not the foggiest idea and this hastily contrived but vague concept will be no answer to the challenge of our times.

Where will these great centres be located and on what conditions will land be made available to industry, home seekers and the planning authority? Will it be leasehold land or privately owned land? Will we be freezing land prices? Has the Government any plan at all? Which industries will be encouraged to go to which growth regions, and what methods will be employed to get them there? Will there be tax concessions, payroll tax reductions, transport subsidies? Will there be free land and low interest capital? What incentives will there be? The fact is that the Government still has no idea on any of these questions. What is known of the resources required, the rainfall, the power and water supplies and the sewage outfall and communications systems? Who will build and finance the houses, the streets and schools, hospitals and fire stations, court houses and post offices, and the community centres and recreational facilities? This Government has shown that it disapproves of low cost leasehold land. It has caused the price of Canberra land to rise astronomically in recent years and particularly in recent weeks.

This Government does not concede that the Commonwealth has any responsibility for sewerage or local government services and does not do anything for them. The sewerage authorities of our major cities for some considerable time have been gathering and calling out for large amounts of money. The Sydney authority is calling for $ 1,000m over the next 10 years to meet the pressing sewerage needs of that city. Altogether the capital cities need $2, 500m over the next 10 years. Is it not a fact that the 900 local government authorities have been calling in vain through the Australian Council of Local Government Associations and that this Government has not heeded their call? Consequently nobody believes that in 1972, on the eve of an election, this Government has suddenly come to learn the folly of its misdemeanours and shortcomings and that it will turn over a new leaf. This Government is responsible for the decadence of the cities and has no plan by which to overcome the problems confronting the people of this country.

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