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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4114

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - We are debating 4 Bills - the Albury-Wodonga Development Bill, the Albury-Wodonga Development (Financial Assistance) Bill, the Growth Centres (Financial Assistance) Bill and the Land Commissions (Financial Assistance) Bill. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) spoke in this debate for about 35 minutes. I was mildly amused to hear him claim credit for the program of decentralisation which is encompassed in this legislation. We all recall the haste with which the Liberals and the Australian Country Party suddenly discovered one month before the last election the problems facing the cities. After years of ignoring totally the problems in capital cities around Australia there was a sudden upsurge of interest. One would hesitate to suggest that it might have been the wrath of the voters that honourable members opposite were anticipating that broupht on this interest. But of course history will record that the man who was responsible for making the issue of the cities a national issue was the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), so ably assisted by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren). I can recall the famous Walter Burley Griffin memorial speech which set the tone and the pattern for political campaigns in 1969 and 1972.

What we are really encompassing in these 4 Bills is a totally new concept, a new vision of an Australia of the future. Decentralisation has been the catchcry of the Country Party down the ages. But unfortunately the Country Party has been singularly ineffective in its attempts to achieve anything remotely resembling decentralisation. It has had a total lack of success in implementing decentralisation programs. What we have seen has been a continued expansion of the growth of major cities. The population of Sydney is almost 3 million and in Melbourne it is almost 2i million. It is almost inevitable that those cities will progress to a population of 5 million each. It is not a question of stopping them now; it is a question of stopping them from rising to a figure of 10 million. The facts are that there has been a continual drift from the country to the cities. We have been unable to retain our population in the rural areas. There are a number of reasons for this. There was in recent years a rural recession. The main attraction of cities is that they offer employment; they offer a great range of educational opportunities; they offer cultural and recreational advantages that small country towns do not have. The primary attraction is employment. A wide range of employment opportunities exists in large towns. What we really have to do is to establish in other parts of Australia large towns equal in size to a city, such as Albury-Wodonga.

Mr England - Gosford is almost denuded.

Mr COHEN - I do not know to what the honourable member is referring. Perhaps he could explain it to me later. We are really aiming at 2 types of growth in this program. Albury-Wodonga represents an artificial growth stimulus. People would not have gone to Albury-Wodonga in great numbers unless there had been a massive program such as the one proposed by the present Government. The other aspect of our program is to plan properly those areas which inevitably would grow, for example, Holsworthy, Menai, Appin, Campbelltown and Gosford-Wyong. People were going in their thousands to those places anyhow because they are close to the city. They are new areas in which land is available and in which there is room to move.

There are 2 distinct types of growth involved in this program. I think people ought to bear that in mind because I have heard honourable members on the other side say what a terrible thing it is to say to people in an area: 'You will have 300,000 or 400,000 people'. In most cases that figure would have been reached anyhow. What is desired is that those 300,000 or 400,000 people will go into the area in a properly planned environment. I think it is important that the people of Australia recognise that there is no instant decentralisation formula. It is a long slow program. We have only to look at Canberra as an example of this. I said earlier that there had been no effective decentralisation. There has been one, and that is the development of Canberra. If there is one thing that the previous Government can take credit for it is the development of this city of Canberra. But in the early 1950s Sir Robert Menzies said: Yes, let us make Canberra the capital in reality, not only in principle.'

The Menzies Government set out on a program of encouraging growth - a massive rate of growth. Yet in the 20 years that has elapsed since that time the population of Canberra has risen from about 20,000 to only 170,000. In contrast the city of Sydney is growing by 70,000 a year. To keep Sydney's growth at that level we must aim at creating towns that are able to absorb 70,000 people a year. Clearly that is quite impossible. We will not see immediate results of the program. Planning in Canberra takes a long time. The creation of suburbs like Tuggeranong or Belconnen takes a minimum of 9 years from the time planning is started, the plans go into the pipeline and the suburb is established. In this program we will not see the results immediately. It will be a long slow process but it will lay the foundation stone for new cities and towns of the future. I hope the people do not expect to see this happen overnight because it is not on.

It is important that we should be selective. The 1968 report of the New South Wales Department of Decentralisation said for the first time that there must be selected growth centres; that if you spread decentralisation in a pepper and salt method all over the country you would achieve nothing; that a city had to get to a certain minimal size before it started to generate its own growth. The figure given for that was a city with a population of between 50,000 and 100,000.

The problem that we have had has been a political one. The Country Party has a sort of schizophrenic attitude towards the question of decentralisation. It wants it but it does not want it. Its members talk about it in their electorates. They demand that it be their bailwick. They all want it so long as it is theirs but they do not want it in the next fellow's area. They expect it to be in every country town and this is simply not on. If honourable members read that decentralisation report I referred to they will recognise the common sense contained in it.

The other problems with the members of the Country Party is that once they demand it in their own bailiwick they hope that it is not the one chosen because unfortunately decentralisation brings with it people who are known as urban voters and who inevitably vote not for the Country Party but for the Labor Party. Unfortunately the Country Party has had this schizophrenic attitude towards decentralisation. Its members talk about it. They are in favour of it just like the national anthem, motherhood, Anzac Day and the Returned Services League. But by God if it ever happened they would all be out of this place on their ears.

We must get away from ad hoc planning of the past. Unfortunately I have been asked to keep my speech within a limited time. I want to deal very briefly with the community which I represent, the community on the Central Coast of New South Wales. The development on the Central Coast is typical of the type of poor development that has occurred almost throughout the whole of Australia. The community has grown like Topsy. I do not say this in any derogatory sense but developers were allowed to pick off little sub-divisions hither and thither all over the Central Coast. They were able to move in on perhaps 100 blocks of land on the edge of a lake, near a river or down near a beach; flog them off without any kerbing, guttering, roads, electricity, telephone facilities-

Mr Hewson - No sewerage.

Mr COHEN - No sewerage, hospitals, libraries and recreation facilities. All those amenities have to be provided by the rest of the community. It is simply a matter of economics: If you have to provide all those sorts of facilities in a community to 60, 70 or 80 villages - and if honourable members are familiar with my area, they will know that it is broken up into a whole lot of little communities - it is a very expensive proposition. There are some major towns in my dec.troate, but there is an enormous number of places which one would describe as villages of 50 or 60 houses. Some little villages extend out 6 or 7 miles from the main centres. That means that the authorities have to provide 6 or 7 miles of bitumen road, telephone cable, electricity cable and so on. It is just as economical to provide those facilities for 1,000, 2,000 or 5,000 people as it is to provide them for 100 people. This is the way in which we have wasted our resources, and this is what we have to avoid in the future.

This is what this new concept will do. We will move in and plan townships with communities of 4,000 or 5,000 people and suburbs of larger towns which perhaps will consist of 40,000 or 50,000 people. The whole project will be planned at the beginning. It may mean that a vastly greater amount of money will be outlaid at the beginning, but in the long term the capital investment that is ploughed in in these early years will show an economic result in the future. We will do this rather than spend money constantly to get an adequate result, which we are doing now. For example, in the case of a road, a little dirt track is made, it is widened a few feet, a few years later a bit of bitumen is put on it, then as the population grows a 4-lane highway is put down, and so it goes on. Millions of dollars are expended over a long period of time, and this results in an enormous waste. If the project is planned, the 4-lane road is put down in the first place, and one bite is taken at the cherry. The same principle applies, whether it be telephone services, electricity, water, sewerage, schools, hospitals and so on.

The final thing I want to say in the last few minutes of my speech is that as Chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Road Safety I have viewed with grave concern the enormous number of pedestrian deaths that occur in our community. About one-quarter of the 3,500 people killed on our roads every year are pedestrians. In a planned community, such as Canberra, the pedestrian death rate is about one-sixth of that in any other community in Australia. In the next 30 years we will build as many communities as we have built in the last 140 years. The Committee has asked the Department of Urban and Regional Development to make a submission to it, and the Department will do so. By planning our communities in this way we can save many thousands of lives. Pedestrian deaths, I repeat, comprise one-quarter of all Australian road deaths, and in most cases little children or older people are the victims.

If we are looking for ways of saving lives, one way is to build communities in which one separates the pedestrian from the vehicle. The Radburn principle of planning, in which there are overpasses and underpasses, where children can play safely and walk to school, to playing fields and to shopping centres without ever coming into contact with a vehicle, is, I believe, the hope of the future. When I was in Western Australia recently I had the very great privilege of looking at a development called 'Crestwood', where a township is being built by a gentleman named Mr Sloane. It is a very fine performance. About 1,250 homes are to be built in an area in which the vehicle and the pedestrian are completely and utterly separated. I commend the Bill. I am delighted to see that the Opposition will support it. I look forward to the day when we will receive that unequivocal support on a whole range of measures.

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