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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4122

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) - It is all too rare an occasion in this House when one side of the House seems to be on reasonably good terms with the other. I had hoped that this attitude would continue. I am afraid the last speaker, the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews), brought in a certain note of politics. I know it is extremely difficult in a place like this to keep politics out of it altogether but I feel it is a pity when we get back to that old political stock-in-trade of 'What did you do?'. Of course none of us have been as successful in the field of decentralisation as we would have wanted either in the Federal sphere or in the State sphere. The honourable member for Casey was blaming us for the drift to the city. There is no doubt whatsoever, and figures can prove it, that this drift occurred over a period. It did not occur only during the period of government of my Party. The fact that we were in power for 23 years did not give the Labor Party an opportunity to show just what sort of drift it would have had if it had been in power. The basic factor which has caused this - I am afraid the honourable member for Casey ignored it - is the vast change which has occurred in relation to land. In the old days - and I talk about the time when I first went on to my property - it was a manpower job. We were still using draught horses. In those days 10 men did less than 3 men would do towards the end of my time, because- manpower has been replaced with machinery. I am sure that the honourable member for Casey would not want us to go back to the days of almost peasant farming. If we go back far enough, it was peasant farming. We have got away from that situation and no one would think of going back to it. That is the basic reason why there has been a drift to the cities.

I do not wish to extol the virtues of anything we should have done. All I can say is that if we had not done a number of things we did do undoubtedly the drift to the cities would have been worse. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) mentioned the amount of assistance that was given to primary industry. This had a remarkable effect particularly at a time when everything was going against the man on the land - prices, seasons and everything else. In addition, of course, we had policies in regard to the location, encouragement and development of mining which had a tremendous effect. People do not often realise that during the decade of the 1960s at least 25 towns were established in Australia. Most of them were completely new; a few were resurrected from ghost towns. This had a tremendous effect on decentralisation throughout the whole of Australia but more particularly in the north.

Having said that, let me refer to this measure. I intend to make some critical remarks concerning certain aspects of the second reading speech of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), but this certainly does not mean that I oppose the principle of decentralisation. I only oppose the way in which the Government is carrying out some of this decentralisation. Ever since I came into this House I have spoken on many occasions on the necessity for decentralisation and the necessity for policies which encouraged a greater spread in the country. After all, we in the Liberal Party have decentralisation as our official plank. I was glad that it was the honourable member for Casey who mentioned the fact that one of the 2 meetings which led to the formation of the Liberal Party was held at Albury. Going back even further, Corowa, which is not far from Albury, was where one of the major meetings which was held which led to Federation and to the formation of the Federal Parliament in which we sit. It is interesting that that area should be selected for this growth. I believe that the Liberal Party is the only political party which has as one of its officials planks an Australian nation in which decentralisation of industry is encouraged.

A major problem in Australia, which has been brought forward and highlighted by previous speakers, is that it has a small population and an extremely large continent. I think that 40 per cent of our population lives in Sydney and Melbourne and 56 per cent lives in the capital cities. The worst feature is that the position is becoming worse. Between 1961 and 1969 the total population in New South Wales increased by 558,000. Of this number only 68,000 went into areas outside Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. Some humourists have said that N.S.W. stands for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong, and I think that it virtually does because the rate of increase in Sydney in that period was 6 times that in country areas. If this rate continues, there will be some extreme problems with traffic congestion, transport, sewerage facilities, pollution and the availability of houses, land and water.

As cities develop, public investment becomes more costly. I can recall the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon), when he was Minister for the Interior, telling me that a study carried out by his Department showed that it. cost almost twice as much to set up one person in Sydney as it did to set up one person in Canberra. This was because of the increased cost associated with traffic, roads, water, sewerage and all the other services that went from the public sector into setting up that one person.

I believe that all honourable members would like to see encouragement given to people and to industry to relocate in the country. There are advantages in country establishment and in dwelling in the country. I suppose that one of the greatest advantages is the fact that there is less pollution, a better life closer to nature and less time lost in transportation. It is not unusual for a person living in a city to take an hour or more going to work and another hour or more coming home from work each day. On the other hand, although there is less traffic congestion, very little public transport is available in country areas and this means that in most cases country residents need to have their own transport.

Basically, there are more recreational facilities in the country, although one might not get some of the spectacles, such as Collingwood v. Carlton and similar football matches. Nevertheless, I suppose that if we can see the Benalla and Albury teams play that is almost as good. Cheaper land is available in country areas. In most cases there is no shortage of labour, particularly female labour. Generally speaking, the country work force appears to be more reliable and stable, although not always as technically competent and skilled. Normally, in most country areas it is possible to get cheaper water and sewerage facilities.

Against that, there are disadvantages. For instance, transport costs are more expensive. This is one of the greatest problems militating against industry setting up in the country, which involves the cost of bringing raw material to a factory, then working on it and then sending the finished product back to where the major markets are located - usually in the Melbourne and Sydney areas. Also, there is the problem of higher telephone charges. I shall say a little more about that later. Further, if an industry does move into a country area it is not easy to get those who are working in the industry - in some cases skilled labour - to move to the area. I can recall that when the Borg-Warner Company's factory was moved to Albury the company had considerable difficulty initially in getting its top management to settle in Albury. However, those who did go there were so thrilled with it after a short time that now there is a waiting list and people are anxious to go there as quickly as they can.

I do not need to mention again the fact that we set up the National Urban and Regional Development Authority. This has been mentioned already by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). Whether we had won or lost the election, this had been set up under Sir John Overall, an extremely able person. I believe that if a Liberal-Country Party Government had remained in power it would have been extremely likely that the Authority would have recommended that Albury-Wodonga be one of the first areas selected as future growth centres. I think the main difference between the Labor Party and our parties is the way in which our parties would have sought to build up Albury-Wodonga as a growth centre and to run the area. It is of interest to note that last year many of the citizens of Wagga, which also is in my electorate, were green with envy when they learned that Albury was to become a growth centre; but I can assure the Minister that today many of them are thanking their lucky stars that their city was not selected.

Mr Uren - That is not the impression that I got.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - The Minister needs to go there. I believe that a similar change has occurred in Albury - from a euphoria 12 months ago to a doubt, and I do not put it any higher than a doubt today. The Minister claims that the Bill represents 'our achievements', but the people of Albury are asking what has been the achievement. All that appears to have happened so far is a stopping of the natural growth. There was a rate of increase of about 6 per cent per annum and a great deal of this has been stopped. Of course, land prices have been frozen and very few sales occur now. The Albury City Council does not know what authority it has, if any. It has been directed to cancel 5 major development projects that it was about to approve. The result is that industrial builders, who depend on major industrial projects and are not equipped for home building, have had to stand down staff and their activities are virtually at a standstill.

Through me, the mayor and deputy mayor of Albury tried for some weeks - almost months - to see the Prime Minister about some of these problems. Finally, we received word that he was too busy. After all, he was the greatest and he was going off to China. Last year he had plenty of time to see them, but unfortunately he has none today. I am afraid that it is quite obvious to me that there is no place for local government in the new set-up. Sooner or later, the councils or shires in the area either will cease to exist or will have so little authority as to make it difficult to get anyone of top quality to stand for election to these bodies. Perhaps the Minister will point to the fact that the proposed Development Corporation will have 2 representatives of local government on it, one from New South Wales and one from Victoria. But they are in a minority of 2 to 3 government representatives. As three is a quorum, the State and Commonwealth representatives could operate on their own. Certainly, their view could prevail over that of the local people.

Mr Uren - Why are you so sour?

Mr FAIRBAIRN - I am not sour at all. I am only pointing out to the Minister the problems. After all, I live in the area. The Minister goes there only occasionally and on many occasions, no doubt, he would be speaking to officials there and would not get the feeling to the same extent as would a person who lives in the area. I am sure that when the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) speaks on this matter he will inform the Minister of the same problems.

Perhaps the Minister will point also to the fact that there is to be set up a consultative council which will have the function of advising the Development Corporation. Those of us who have witnessed the ineffectiveness of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council over many years could not have any faith that the views of the proposed council would be listened to or that it would be likely to attract people of the quality and ability that we would seek. People are attracted to local government because they have an executive role and not an advisory role. On occasions the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council has resigned because its members felt that their advice was not accepted. I expect that the AlburyWodonga council will find itself in the same position. The situation is bad enough in Canberra. The Minister responsible for the Australian Capital Territory at least resides for some part of the year in the Territory. But it will be much more difficult to control the growth of Albury-Wodonga from 200 miles away.

A great deal will depend on the ability, especially in the field of urban development and city planning, of the Commission members. But the Minister is claiming that events have moved quickly and that the Government has achieved a great deal. I feel that all that it has achieved so far has been the creation of committees, councils and bureaucracies. We still seem to be a long away from getting a final plan or even a suitable interim plan. As a result, uncertainties and confusion exist. Neither has the Government foreshadowed any way in which Albury-Wodonga is to be encouraged to grow. Canberra has grown on the strength of the public servants mostly transferred from Melbourne, and later increased in number as Australia grew. I cannot see Albury ever housing very many Commonwealth public servants. It would be too remote from their Ministers, their departmental heads and other public servants with whom they are required to confer constantly. Albury-Wodonga must grow as the result of attracting industry.

There is no other way in which it will grow. What people are waiting for is some indication of how and when this is to be done. So far, the policies of this .Government, such as revaluation and tariff cuts, have led to the closing down of some local industries which appeared to have good prospects a year ago but which cannot today compete with overseas industries. What we want to know as soon as possible is this: What are these incentives to be? Will tax concessions be available to decentralised industry? Will subsidies be provided with respect to freights, rates, land costs, power costs, and fuel costs which, of course, as my colleague from Gwydir (Mr Hunt) pointed out have recently been increased?

When will the Government implement its election promise to give local call access by telephone from Albury-Wodonga to Melbourne and to Sydney? What is being done to enable aircraft larger than Fokker Friendship aircraft to land at Albury? When is an instrument landing system to be installed at Albury airport? What are the Government's proposals for improving the availability of primary and secondary schools to cope with the increased population which will result solely from the decision of the Whitlam Government to make this area a growth centre? Whenever one writes to the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) he says that this is a State matter; but it is not entirely so. The Commonwealth must take some of the responsibility. When are we to get a university or improved tertiary facilities at Albury-Wodonga? When will people know whether their land is to be resumed? If it is to be resumed, will they be compensated immediately or will they have to wait years, unable to sell their land, until the Government decides whether it wants that land? These are some of the questions which. I hope the Minister for Urban and Regional Development will answer when he replies at the end of this debate.

Will the Government agree to freehold tenure? This, I think, is probably the most important question of all- certainly from the point of view of the people who live in that area. They want a freehold tenure system, and it is desired by the State Governments of New South Wales and Victoria. How much of the funds which the States will use for land acquisition, development and building works will be repayable loan funds, carrying the present interest rates which, under Labor as we know, are running at the highest level in living memory? Should a 5 per cent preference be given to country industries and should loans be offered to those industries? I understand that such action is undertaken to some extent by State governments. Overseas it is not unusual for loans to be offered to industry, for example, in such remote areas as Sardinia or regions of Scotland where the setting up of industry is desired. Has the Australian Government plans to do the same?

I see that the time available to me in this debate has nearly expired. I say to the Minister that I am sorry if I have sounded overcritical. But the fact is that for 12 months now in Albury we have faced a situation in which all that happened has been a freeze. Things which were going ahead naturally have ceased to go ahead. We do not yet seem to have any firm development. Perhaps I am expecting results too quickly. But no doubt exists that, as yet, we have had nothing other than committees, commissions and bureaucracies; not one extra brick has been added to the area by the actions of the Minister. Having said that, I would be grateful if the Minister could give us answers to some of these queries which I have put up, because I know that the people who live in this area are considerably concerned as to what the future holds for them.

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