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Thursday, 23 August 1973
Page: 315


Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - Whilst this is the first time in Australian history that direct budgetary allocations have been made to a cities program it is an inevitable natural flowon from the action taken last year by the Liberal-Country Party Government to establish the National Urban and Regional Development Authority under the chairmanship of Sir John Overall. This decision was taken after considerable research and discussion at the departmental level and between the States. It is true that efforts in the area of decentralisation by the various States have not been sufficient to stop the drift to the cities, as the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) pointed out in his statement, but it has been only in the last 3 years, at the most, that there has been any real ground swell of public acknowledgement and support for the concept of comprehensive balanced development. I nevertheless congratulate the Minister for being the Minister responsible for the first direct appropriation to a cities program.

Let no one say this year's Budget allocation of $33m of repayable loans to the States is the final answer to or the financial formula for the rapidly growing population concentration problem. As the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) rightly said: 'Why repayable loans; why not specific nonrepayable grants to the States?' It would seem to be a silly inconsistency - indeed a divergence in policy initiatives - to develop selected growth centres with repayable interest-bearing grants and other centres with non-repayable grants from the Grants Commission. Let not the Minister delude us about his Government's real intention which in this regard is basically, so far as decentralisation is concerned, to reallocate resources from the rural sector to the cities. This Budget itself clips off at least $150m of assistance to rural areas. A whole range of additional costs now come upon the shoulders of country people. These include increased costs for telephone connections, increased telephone rentals, higher postage rates, higher air fares, a partial elimination of the petrol price equalisation scheme, a new meat tax costing $14m, elimination of investment allowances and the reduction of depreciation allowances for farmers costing the rural people in a full year at least $150m. Here, today, the Minister proudly announces his Government's decision to allocate $33m of repayable loans to the States for a vast program of balanced development.

Let me be frank. So far as my electorate of Gwydir is concerned, not one town or one community centre will benefit from this appropriation. In fact, the electorate as such will suffer as a result of the Budget proposal to withdraw incentives from rural areas. This will not in any way assist the program of decentralisation in the Gwydir electorate. I suppose that other electorates in rural Australia are placed in a similar position.

To return to the statement, the success of the Government's urban and regional development policy and the change in the pattern of development in Australia is in the balance, lt will depend on a number of factors including, firstly, a genuine desire to encourage comprehensive balanced development, achieving a balance between the need to cater for metropolitan redevelopment and the development of a large number of well located regional growth centres away from the existing metropolitan complexes; secondly, the successful cooperation and co-ordination of resources of the Australian State and local governments. Unless there is this high degree of goodwill and clear intention on the part of the Australian Government to work with the States, the right spirit will not be engendered and I am sure the result will be frustration and failure. However, I am pleased that the Minister has shown this keen desire for cooperation in all the discussions that he has had with the States. I have heard this from various quarters and I hope that this will become the pattern of his endeavour. The third factor is the provision of extensive quantities of Commonwealth finances annually; the fourth is the provision of an extensive range of Commonwealth and State government blanket incentives to business, industry and people generally to live in these new regional centres; and, fifthly, the provision of adequate safeguards for the property rights of those people already living in and having already invested in the specific regional growth centres.

On present indications, it is doubtful whether the proposed development of regional centres is on a scale sufficiently large and comprehensive to offer a significant proportion of Australia's people and industry a viable alternative to their establishment in one or two of the major capital cities. The Australian regional problem is characterised by the large disparity of population concentration between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. As at the census of 30 June 1971, the proportion of Australia's population living in urban centres of over 500,000 people amounted to 57.9 per cent, whereas the proportion of those living in centres from 10,000 to 20,000 people was 4.21 per cent. Thus the total proportion of our population in all centres from 10,000 people upwards at 30 June 1971 was 75.82 per cent.

However, it is not necessarily this concentration of population in metropolitan areas which constitutes the regional problem. The manifestation of the regional problem lies in the economic costs, the environmental problems and the social problems which are the result of this population concentration. It must be our national objective to ensure that our largest cities do not grow at their present rate and to such a size that human endeavour within them takes too great a toll of time of the individual and of comfort and pleasure from living. Any attack on the problem of regional development should be directed to ensure that people who prefer to live in country towns or medium sized rural cities can do so without foregoing a reasonable range of employment opportunities and a fair share of social and educational opportunities found at present only in the major cities.

As I have pointed out before, on present trends, Australia's population will increase by somewhere between 8 million and 9 million people in the next 28 years. On present trends 6 million of this increase will swell the populations of the 6 major capital cities. This prospect is an incredible proposition in the world's largest island continent. We have very large areas of relatively unexploited and unspoilt countryside suitable for modern town development. But even if one new city to accommodate 300,000 people were commenced each year for the next 28 years, only about 4 million people would be absorbed in these new cities by the end of that time and this would leave an additional 5 million people to be accommodated in the existing 6 capital cities. So, it is a matter of extreme urgency. It is a tremendous challenge to the Minister and the Government and to the Australian people to overcome that enormous problem.

The second factor that I mentioned was Commonwealth-State and local government co-operation. I am satisfied that the Minister is showing a desire to reach this accord wilh the various authorities and if this is achieved, I am sure that he will get the sort of community co-operation that is necessary to make the whole program a success. Obviously the States, with all their good intentions with respect to decentralisation, have not had the financial resources to cope with the problem. They have the powers and undoubtedly the will and they have the contacts through their local government organisations to help bring it about but they have not had the financial resources at their disposal. But it is clear to me that the Government will be most likely to concentrate its efforts within a 150-mile radius of the existing metropolitan areas. These, of course, will be the Minister's system cities on the fringes of the existing metropolitan conglomeration. We will probably see about 10 such system cities developed over the next 30 years.

Undoubtedly, the Labor Government will remain predominantly involved in the maintenance and improvement of the existing urban facilities in our 6 State capital cities. I am not an advocate of neglecting the needs of people living in the existing cities and of concentrating only on the creation of new cities away from the existing cities. I suspect though that the Labor Government will, because of pressure from the city electorates, give insufficient sustained attention to the financial needs of establishing new inland cities. Such an approach will not provide the balance that should be achieved to achieve the ideal of comprehensive balanced development. The only way in which a real impact on the problem of balanced development will be achieved will be by a joint CommonwealthState 4-pronged approach. The first prong should be the commencement on an annual basis of selected regional growth centres to accommodate up to 300,000 people each throughout Australia away from the existing cities; secondly, there should be metropolitan redevelopment to help overcome problems of population and environmental pressures in the major cities; thirdly, the provision of general incentives and subsidies to assist country areas to overcome their existing economic disadvantages to industry, commerce and investment and also the social disadvantages for the people; and the fourth prong is that State governments should be given every encouragement to continue with their selective support in country towns generally to maintain a healthy and viable growth rate in those towns.

I believe that unless we have that broad, 4- pronged comprehensive approach, there will not be sufficient total impact on the ugly trend of development that has taken place in this country. I do not say that either of the first 2 prongs I mentioned is more important than the other; they both are essentially important. But the other 2 prongs of the approach could be overlooked in an approach to the total problem. However, I believe that the main thrust in any decentralisation program must be towards selected decentralisation. I do not disagree with the Minister in this respect, in spite of the political considerations and parochial jealousies that can be aroused. The fourth point which I should like to deal with briefly is the need to offer a range of incentives to attract industry and people involved in tertiary industries to those areas. We cannot simply move people from one centre to another unless there is some incentive for them to move. So, the centres must not only be designed to neutralise disadvantages - either social or financial - but, also, I believe, to go further they must be done in a carrot-like fashion.

The other point that I want to mention before I conclude is the need to put people first once an area is designated. In the United

Kingdom one of the greatest internal political controversies has revolved around the problem of new town development, because too often the new town development corporations have gone into an area and frozen land prices and ignored the problems of property owners and house owners for the sake of a total objective. The United Kingdom has passed legislation to overcome the human problems involved in progress itself. Of course, we are setting out to achieve a better style of life for people, but no section of the community or no individual should be asked to bear more than his share of the price involved. It is essential for both Commonwealth and State governments to recognise that requirement.

Debate (on motion by Mr Hansen) adjourned.







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